A new study by University of Manchester scientists, working in collaboration with researchers at the CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Kolkata, has proven a link between rice containing high levels of arsenic and chromosomal damage in people who eat a lot of rice as a staple.
In recent years, researchers have reported high concentrations of arsenic in several rice-growing regions around the world. The new study discovered that people in rural West Bengal eating rice as a staple had higher rates of genetic damage, suggesting rice grown in some regions of the world may pose a greater risk.
The study, published in the Scientific Reports, examined at the frequency of "micronuclei" damage — a tell-tale sign of chromosomal damage that has been shown to be linked to cancer — in more than 400,000 individual cells extracted from urine samples from volunteers.
The research team said their work raises concerns about health impacts of consuming high arsenic rice as a staple, particularly by people with relatively poor nutritional status — perhaps as many as a few hundred million people. The scientists added that it’s unclear how relevant the findings are people in the U.S. and other affluent nations, with lower consumption of rice and better nutritional status, but they said further research is warranted.
"Although concerns about arsenic in rice have been raised for some time now, to our knowledge, this is the first time a link between consumption of arsenic-bearing rice and genetic damage has been demonstrated," said David Polya, who led the Manchester team. "As such, it vindicates increasing concerns expressed by the European Food Safety Authority and others about the adequacy of regulation of arsenic in rice."
Ashok K Giri, M.D., who led the Indian research team, added: "Although high arsenic in rice is a potential threat to human health, there should not be any panic about the consequences, particularly as the health risks arise from long-term chronic exposure. We can avoid high arsenic rice by taking proper mitigation strategies for rice cultivation; moreover, one CSIR institute in India has already identified a number of Indian rice varieties which accumulate lower concentrations of arsenic, so we can easily address future human health risks with proper mitigation strategies.
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"Results of this study will not only help to understand the toxic effects caused by this human carcinogen but also these results will help the scientists and regulatory authorities to design further extensive research to set improved regulatory values for arsenic in rice, particularly for those billions of people who consume 10 to 50 percent rice in their daily diet."
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