Rice Consumption In Bangladesh Linked To High Arsenic Exposure & Toxicity

A study of more than 18,000 people in Bangladesh has established a link between rice consumption and arsenic exposure and toxicity.

AsianScientist (Nov. 20, 2013) – A study of more than 18,000 people in Bangladesh has established a link between rice consumption and arsenic exposure and toxicity.

The study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE, was led by Dr. Habibul Ahsan from the University of Chicago with co-authors from Columbia University, UChicago Research Bangladesh Ltd and De Montfort University (DMU).

Tests carried out on those who ate large amounts of rice showed higher levels of arsenic in their systems compared to those who did not. Furthermore, those who ate more rice had more symptoms such as skin lesions, a sign of arsenic toxicity in the body.

Scientists believe the results have implications for people whose diet is heavily rice-based, particularly those in Bangladesh and parts of Cambodia, China, India and Vietnam where rice intake is high and the population is also exposed to arsenic through contaminated drinking water.

“Although we were the first to demonstrate that there is a correlation between arsenic exposure and rice consumption, our study was restricted to analysis of urine samples from a small number of Bangladeshi residents in the United Kingdom,” said co-author Dr. Parvez Haris, head of the Biomedical Environmental Health Group at DMU.

“The current study supports our previous findings but with a much larger population of Bangladeshis residing in Bangladesh, where the problem of arsenic in water and the food chain is a serious problem,” he said.

The study is based on data from the Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study (HEALS) in Araihazar, Bangladesh. It used the urinary and dietary analysis of 18,470 Bangladeshis.

The problem in Bangladesh is more pronounced because the groundwater in the country is contaminated with arsenic, a naturally-occurring element, Dr. Haris said. Rice is the staple food for over three billion people, approximately half the world’s population.

“It is also the cereal that is fed most widely to babies in their first year of life and is often the cereal of choice for people with Celiac disease who are sensitive to gluten. The bad news for rice consumers is that we and others have shown that it contains high concentration of arsenic, especially the toxic forms of this element known as inorganic arsenic,” he said.

Dr. Haris added that most Bangladeshis are heavily dependent on rice for their nutrition and caloric intake. They consume on average 1,645 g of cooked rice daily and hence are at greater risk from arsenic exposure. The situation is further worsened by the fact that they also consume arsenic contaminated water at levels well above the limits set by the World Health Organization.

“Although the PLOS ONE paper did not determine the content of arsenic in rice consumed by the study group, we have analyzed more than 100 rice samples from Bangladesh and have detected inorganic arsenic and other arsenic species in rice types that are commonly consumed by people in Bangladesh,” he said.

Dr. Haris recommends that people in Araizhar and other parts of Bangladesh reduce their dependence on rice as their main source of calorie intake, and to diversify their diet by for example increasing their intake of wheat and consuming rice varieties that are low in arsenic. The team previously showed that rice from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh has lower arsenic content, as does aromatic rice.

The article can be found at: Ahsan H et al. (2013) Urinary and Dietary Analysis of 18,470 Bangladeshis Reveal a Correlation of Rice Consumption with Arsenic Exposure and Toxicity.


Source: De Montfort University.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Asian Scientist Magazine is an award-winning science and technology magazine that highlights R&D news stories from Asia to a global audience. The magazine is published by Singapore-headquartered Wildtype Media Group.

Related Stories from Asian Scientist