"X" Marks specialty GF items that would, under normal circumstances, contain wheat. Instead rice is a primary ingredient (photo from 2012)

“X” Marks specialty GF items that would, under normal circumstances, contain wheat. Instead rice is a primary ingredient (photo from 2012)

If you have been reading my website over the last two years or so, you know I have been tracking the arsenic in rice story (Consumer Reports study in 2012 and FDA investigation in 2013).

Because arsenic is a known carcinogen, it is a concern that it is in our general food supply.  But, in my view, that concern is amplified for people in the gluten free community, since there tends to be more rice in our food (whether we are making rice on our own as a side dish or whether we buy a product that has rice as an ingredient).

In January, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire received an $8 million grant to look into arsenic’s impact on pregnant women and children.  Dartmouth received the grant from  the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  This research eventually may have an impact on the gluten free community including those with celiac disease.

According to an article from Dartmouth, the grant will, in part, allow the school’s  Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Center to expand.  Margaret Karagas, director of the center says, “We will have the opportunity to deepen our understanding of environmental exposures to common contaminants such as arsenic during fetal development and childhood and the impact these exposures have on childhood immunity, growth, and neurological development.”

Current Research’s Impact on Celiac

They are looking at exposure to arsenic from our drinking water and from our food, including rice and rice products.  Although the grant was awarded about 6 months ago, just this month I had the chance to ask one of the researchers a few questions about the research.  

Brian Jackson says people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are on their radar when it comes to arsenic in the food supply, because we have more of a rice-based diet. “We have a pilot study going on to assess arsenic exposure to celiacs by measuring urinary arsenic (both total and inorganic arsenic),” Jackson says.  They hope this study will be the preliminary data to fund a larger study.

Eventually, once they know more about the impact of arsenic in rice and rice-based products, they should be able to come up with a good estimate for daily inorganic arsenic exposure for people on rice-based diets.

Big picture, researchers want to know if there are any health effects associated with arsenic exposure for folks most at risk: infants, young children and people who eat largely rice-based diets.  But Jackson was quick to point out that this population actually is not the primary at-risk group for arsenic exposure. People who have private wells are an even higher risk group, “arsenic in groundwater can be much higher than the safe drinking water limit and the responsibility to have that water checked and to take action on rests with the individual,” Jackson said.

I look forward to hearing more about what they learn in this research.  

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