AchooAllergy.com Blog
Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, July 24, 2014
Vaccines have often been the subject of potential treatments for allergies, and as we've discussed before, a UK firm, Circassia, has been through several stages of testing a vaccine for cat allergies. Research recently released by a team working at the University of Iowa's College of Pharmacy takes the idea of an allergy vaccine and puts a new twist on it. It's this novel approach that is not only showing positive results but providing new hope for the tens of millions that cope with the dust mite allergy on a daily basis.

New Dust Mite Vaccine on the Horizon?Similar to the mechanism used with successful cancer vaccines, the new dust mite vaccine uses an adjuvant (an agent that enhances the body's immune response) in addition to the antigen (the substance that actually induces the immune system to produce antibodies). The way this works is a package (of the adjuvant and antigen) is introduced to a patient. The adjuvant essentially raises the alarm, calling the immune system forward to what it perceives as an "all hands on deck" situation. The immune system absorbs and disposes of the package, but the tangible result of this is speeding up the adsorption process and increasing the rate of absorption of the vaccine.

In this instance, the adjuvant (CpG) was packaged with the vaccine and given to mice. Not only was the package absorbed 90% of the time but subsequent daily exposure to the dust mite allergen Dust Mites Under a Microscope - The Most Common Allergy & Asthma showed higher production of antibodies and lower rates of lung inflammation. While more research is needed, this outcome is one of the very best that researchers could have hoped for.

With nearly 10% of the population allergic to dust mites, they are easily among the most common allergens on the planet. Often found in mattresses, carpet, upholstered furniture and bedding, dust mites are microscopic pests that feed on dead skin cells. They are one reason why your mattress can double in weight after ten years of use. Millions of these tiny creatures call your mattress home, and it is their tiny decomposing body parts and feces that cause the sneezing, wheezing, congestion, and coughing that are commonly associated with dust mite allergies.

The most common methods of coping with dust mite allergies often include a mix of several things, including allergen avoidance (the use of quality allergy bedding covers or a HEPA air purifier, more frequent cleaning and removal of carpet from the home), medication to the treat the symptoms (most commonly antihistamines), and allergy shots (to increase the tolerance of the allergen). Each of these tackle different aspects of the allergy, and even with promising research such as this, a vaccine or simpler longterm solution is still likely several years away.

Building Blocks - MoleculesFor more information, see the official University of Iowa press release.

Author: K. Gilmore

P.S. Just in case you were wondering what CpG stands for... the "C" is for cytosine triphospate deoxynucleotide. The "G" is for guanine triphosphate deoxynucleotide, and the "p" is for the phosphodiester that links the two nucleotides. You may recognize cytosine and guanine. They are two of the four bases of DNA (along with adenine and thymine), and that concludes today's biology lesson!

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Reliable Enviromate Premium Steam Cleaners $100 Discount
Reliable Enviromate EV1 Tandem Steam Cleaner Now $100 Off with Free EMC2 System UpgradeApparently Reliable thinks that this summer is the year you finally make the decision for a healthier home and a greener way to clean by purchasing a Reliable steam cleaner. As if the $100 discount on Reliable Enviromate premium steam cleaners wasn't enough incentive, they are now adding in their patented EMC2 system for free with Tandem and E40 steam cleaner models.

Reliable manufacturers a wide range of steam cleaners, from the economical to some of the most versatile steam cleaners available. Steam cleaning is a relatively newer way to clean here in the U.S., but its benefits are hard to overstate, particularly for those who have allergies, asthma, MCS or are sensitive to the harsh odors and residues left from traditional chlorine or ammonia-based Reliable EV1 Steam Cleaner Sale - Steam Cleaner & HEPA Vacuum All-in-One home cleaners. Unlike traditional cleaning methods, steam cleaners offer you the ability to completely rethink the way you clean. No longer do you simply clean so your home appears clean, Reliable steam cleaners give you the ability actually improve the health of your home, safely, effectively and without the problems associated with introducing more and more chemicals into your home environment.

Using simple tap water that has been heated under pressure to create powerful, clean vapor steam, steam cleaners use the process of heat transfer to deep clean and sanitize surfaces, killing germs, viruses and bacteria while loosening heavy solid and ground in debris. Steam cleaners can also unlock trapped odors molecules and chemical residue that fill the pores of even hard surfaces. Reliable steam cleaners to do all this without the use of harsh chemicals.

Two of the three models now on sale will also come equipped with the Reliable EMC2 system for free. This patented system softens hard tap water without the use of sodium, which over time can damage the water tanks and heating elements of a steam cleaner. Instead, this process breaks apart and crystallizes mineral Reliable Enviromate E40 Steam Cleaners Sale - Now $100 Off with Free EMC2 System Upgradecontent into smaller pieces that won't settle in the bottom of the tank or form scale inside the steam creating system. This means no residue in your tank or on the surfaces you clean!

Clean better. Clean and sanitize for a home that not only looks clean but truly is cleaner and healthy. Take advantage of this limited time offer and purchase the premium Reliable E40 GO steam cleaner or the dual use, steam cleaner and HEPA vacuum in one, Reliable EV1 Tandem.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, July 17, 2014
Back in 2012, I highlighted a study that was presented at the European Respiratory Society conference that focused on the link between the use of common asthma treatments and a child's height. In this study, researchers examined the use of budesonide, a corticosteroid that is the active ingredient in Pulmicort, a commonly prescribed asthma medication. This morning, two new studies were released that further the correlation between lower growth velocity and the use of corticosteroids.

Inhaled Corticosteroids - Dosage Effects Child GrowthCorticosteroids are commonly prescribed for persistent, moderate to severe asthma. Often inhaled, this type of drug is used to prevent asthma attacks. While the previous study focused on one particular corticosteroid, these latest studies expanded that to include six and five, respectively, different types of inhaled corticosteroid (ICS) drugs.

In the first study, six ICS and 25 trials involving nearly 8500 children were reviewed. Over the course of a year, there was about a .5 cm difference in growth between children who used ICS and those who used placebos or non-steroidal drugs. This review suggests much the same as the one mentioned in 2012, that though small, there is some reduction in growth velocity and overall height associated with the use of ICS. And again now, as then, the lead author of this most recent review suggests that the benefits of using ICS to control moderate to severe asthma outweighs this minimal, but significant, reduction in growth velocity.Inhaled Corticosteroids Effect Child's Height

In the second study, 22 trials were reviewed, with the main focus being the effect of low to medium doses on ICS on growth velocity. While the information collected was incomplete in the majority of the trails examined, a correlation between growth velocity and the amount of ICS administered was observed. Simply put, those with low dose ICS treatments experienced a smaller reduction in growth velocity than those who were treated with larger doses of ICS.

Overall, both studies highlight two points and further refine previous research. First, inhaled corticosteroids do have an impact on height/growth velocity. This is not limited to a particular type of corticosteroid and appears with many of the most common ones. Second, higher doses of ICS correlate with less growth. The smaller the dose, the less the effect on a child's height. Again though, it's worth repeating that they're not talking a major reduction in height, fractions of a centimeter annually. Most professionals who have either conducted these studies or have read them still agree that the benefits of ICS in controlling moderate to severe asthma outweigh this small reduction in height.

Studies like these are important for a few reasons. They highlight a potential side effect that has been previously not known or often discussed. It is also good to remember that these studies show results that effect more than just those who are coping with asthma. Some of the drugs used in the studies were beclomethasone dipropionate, budesonide, ciclesonide, flunisolide, fluticasone propionate and mometasone fumarate. These are the active ingredients used in common asthma AND allergy medications like
  • Symbicort
  • Pulmicort
  • Elocon
  • Flonase
  • Veramyst
  • Alvesco
  • Omnaris
  • Omnair
They also highlight the importance of what we do here at AchooAllergy. If blocking dust mites in your bedding or replacing carpet with hard flooring or using a high quality, HEPA air purifier reduces irritants in the home, the net benefit may likely be less reliance on medication and a lower risk of having to deal with the side effects. If your child has been diagnosed with moderate to severe asthma and inhaled corticosteroids are recommended, you should have a discussion with your doctor, and as is often the case with medication, the lowest dose that provides relief is the best dose.

To read more about the larger study of ICS on growth rates or the study of ICS doses and growth rates.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Wednesday, July 16, 2014
A recently published case report in the journal Pediatrics takes aim at some of our most commonly used devices as a potential source for skin problems. While it can be argued that a lot of us spend too much time with our faces and hands firmly affixed to laptops, tablet and smart devices, the case of an 11-year-old San Diego boy highlights the potential for allergic reactions to these same devices. How can my iPad make me itch? One word, nickel.

Nickel allergies are not entirely uncommon, and for those who deal with them, jewelry, belts, and even piercings can cause allergic reactions. This latest case means you can now add electronic devices to that list. Electronics, like the iPad contain some amount of nickel in the metal case the encloses the back of the device, and exposure, as was the case with the boy in San Diego, can cause problems that are easily misidentified.

For nearly six months, the child struggled with a persistent, generalized rash (contact dermatitis). Despite using the same allergy creams he had in the past, there was no positive results. After being admitted to UC San Diego's Rady Children's Hospital, a skin patch test showed a nickel allergy, and further sleuth work by the attending physicians discovered the link to a 2010 model iPad the child was using at home.

What does this all mean? Well, if you don't have a nickel allergy, not much. If you do have a nickel allergy, you shouldn't toss your favorite electronics. There is one really easy way avoid exposure while still using nickel containing electronics - cover them. With the iPad, a protective cover that encloses the back of the device not only shields you from the nickel in the metal housing, but it also protects the device from drops and spills. The same is true for smart phones that may contain nickel. There are a variety of protective covers that can not only prevent you from having to deal with problems related to nickel exposure but also protect what is often no small investment. So much like any item containing nickel, avoidance is key, but that doesn't mean you have to give them up.

For more information of nickel allergies.

Author: K. Gilmore

Tags: Allergies
Posted by R. Power on Friday, July 11, 2014
Sadly, My Vision of WineMaking and Reality Are NOT the SameAt the end of a stressful day, I like to go out on my porch with a glass of wine and enjoy the relative peace. It is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day pace of things and fail to set aside a little time to simply unwind or decompress. Recently, I came across an article that discussed the use "fining agents" that caused me to rethink my evening glass of wine.

Eggs are used in wine production? All along I thought my glass of wine was made from grapes in a barrel sprinkled with some yeast. After doing some research, I discovered that not just eggs, but other fining agents are used to remove suspended proteins and solids from wine. These substances clarify the wine before being bottled. So while looking at my Riesling, I wonder if people with egg allergies are able to enjoy a little wine without fear of reactions.

So what are some of the fining agents used in the winemaking process? Here are a few of the most common things you might have never expected to be used in wine production.
  • Egg Whites - The albumen found in egg whites is used to clarify red wines during barrel aging. This is the oldest fining method in winemaking.
  • A Nice Port WineChitosan - Composed of exoskeletons of crustaceans (shrimp, crab, shellfish), is a very common agent for finishing white wines.
  • Gelatine (gelatin) - Derived from animal protein, it is recommended for red wines to help reduce excessive tannins and astringency.
  • Isinglass - Made from collagen, a protein extracted from the swim bladders of fish. It's a very gentle fining agent, as it does not strip the flavor of the whites and blushes.
  • Casein - Not necessarily used for fining, but used to clarify white wines.
Technically, after racking (separating the fining agents and collected solids from the wine), there should be no fining agents in the wine. This means that by the time the wine reaches the bottling stage, any additional substances should be removed. However, due to the potential risk of allergic reactions from fined wines, the European Union requires all foods with potential allergens to be labeled accordingly. As of now, labeling potential allergens in the United States is voluntary but there has been current debate on whether it will be obligatory in the future.

For those who are highly allergic to lactose/dairy, eggs, or shellfish or for vegetarians and vegans, the best way to enjoy a bottle of wine without compromising your health is to check the labels, and try to stick with Old World wines (European). Cheers!

Author: R. Power

Posted by R. Power on Wednesday, July 02, 2014
With the 4th of July upon us, for many people, it's time to get out and enjoy some fresh air. From time with family to extended vacations, millions of us will be heading outside and enjoying the local park, greenway and hiking trails. Spending time out and about isn't without some risk though. Aside keeping your pets free of ticks and you free of mosquitoes, one of the most common things you will come across outdoors is poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. Here are some tips on how to spot these rash-inducing plants and avoid itching, swelling and annoyances they can cause.

These plants are all in the genus Toxicodendron (Greek for "poison tree") and contain a resin called urushiol. Urushiol is found in the resin canals of leaves, stems, vines, berries and roots of the plants. When parts of these plants are damaged (stepped on, torn, bruised, etc.) the resin is released. Poison Ivy - The Most Common of the Three It is this resin that causes varying degrees of contact dermatitis for many of us.

Although the resin in these plants is consistent all year round, the probability of coming into contact with your skin is higher in the summer. Why? Summer weather is when we tend to spend more time outdoors in shorts and t-shirts. Plus, it's more difficult to damage a plant when it's buried under a foot of snow.

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

"Leaves of three, let it be."
  • Groups of three green leaves that change to yellow and red in the fall.
  • As a deciduous woody perennial (can have woody stems and grow back annually) it can grow in the form of low lying plants, shrubs or as a vine. So no tree hugging!
  • Poison Oak - Looks Like White Oak Leaves, Only MUCH ItchierThey can grow anywhere, and are found in woodlands, wetlands, on road sides, and seemingly just about anywhere.
Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)
  • Basically the same as poison ivy, but with a set of three leaves that look like the round, white oak leaves.
  • The urushiol causes a delayed allergic reaction with the body's immune system, so the worst symptoms won't appear until days or weeks later. Unfortunately this gives more time for the skin to absorb the resin.
Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron Toxicodendron vernix)
  • Can grow as a shrub to a small tree (small being approximately 30 feet high).
  • Leaves have 7-13 leaflets, and are two to four inches long, with a similar shape as the poison ivy.
  • Tend to grow in very wet soils, such as swamps and peat bogs along the east coast and into Canada.
  • Poison Sumac - Least Common But Most HarmfulAlthough not as widely distributed as poison ivy and poison oak, it's much more potent than the other two.
For preventative measures, wear high wool socks and pants (if the weather isn't too unbearable), long sleeves and disposable gloves while outdoors to avoid any low lying toxicodendron species. Learn how to identify these plants so when you're trailblazing you won't have your outdoor adventures hampered by these itchy plants. If you notice that you've come in contact with these, try to wash the affected area with cool water and a mild soap as quickly as possible. The oil can sit on your skin and continue to create problems over larger areas for up to two days. In general, if you've been outdoors, it never hurts to wash your hands, arms and legs when you come in (besides it literally only takes a few minutes).

If you already find yourself itching or blistering, take comfort in calamine lotions or hydrocortisone creams. Take a few minutes to clean your nail beds in case you've gotten any of the resin underneath your nails. Some people will develop large, sensitive blisters. While the fluid in the blisters cannot spread the itch, popping them can lead to more severe problems, like infection or even blood poisoning. Blisters are the body’s natural way of healing certain types of wounds, so let your body's natural healing mechanism do its job. If you experience severe reactions or massively large rashes, you should take a trip to a doctor.

Just remember, "leaves of three, let it be", wear the right clothing when outdoors, and wash exposed areas when you can. If you want to completely avoid any of these pesky plants just stay by the pool side, on the golf/tennis courts, or at Six Flags. Enjoy your summer eveyone!

Author: R. Power

Posted by kevvyg on Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Miele FreshAir Allergy Vacuum CleanersHere at AchooAllergy, we have long touted the filtration of Miele vacuums and how they are particularly helpful for those dealing with allergies, asthma, COPD or other respiratory issues. Others know Miele as a durable luxury vacuum brand with products that display the latest in innovation and style. The two new FreshAir Miele vacuums are the perfect blend of both of these realities.

The Miele FreshAir vacuum cleaners share many common features. They both feature the Miele AirClean System of filtration. This 12-stage system quietly and efficiently removes all visible dirt and dust that the vacuum sucks up and has been independently tested to remove 99.99% of particles 0.1 microns and larger. Both also feature the workhouse, Miele Vortex motor that provides more suction Miele S8 Fresh Air Allergy Vacuum Cleanerwith less noise than comparable motors in uprights or canisters. Three mini-accessories that tuck away neatly into the body of each vac are also included as is Miele's super-quiet operation, self-sealing filterbags, durable ABS construction, and superior warranty. Lastly, both are Arctic White, which is only fitting for a pair of HEPA vacuums as hygienic as these.

The main difference between these two vacuums is mainly in that one is an upright while the other, a canister vacuum. This also means the cleaning head of each is different, as the upright is geared specifically for those with carpet while the canister is targeted for mainly smooth floors.

The independently-driven brushroll of the Miele S7 Fresh Air upright deep cleans while automatic height adjustment raises and lowers the cleaning head depending on the Miele S7 Fresh Air Allergy Vacuum Cleaner surface. Flip the brushroll off and you can use suction only to clean smooth floors with this versatile upright. With the canister, the STB 205-3 powerhead uses Miele's suction to power the brushroll and clean low pile carpet and rugs while the included combination AllTeQ tool performs well on smooth surfaces of all types. The bag capacity will be higher with the upright, but the Miele FreshAir S8 canister has the auto-rewind feature for the power cord and foot operated suction control.

In all, both showcase the core features that make most Miele vacuum cleaners not only luxury home appliances but vacuums built specifically for those who want a cleaner, healthier home. Both are priced at $599 and are delivered the next day for free!

To see our full line of Miele premium vacuum cleaners.

Author: Kevin Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Monday, June 30, 2014
Arsenic In Our FoodSo we've touched the issue from a few years ago, of arsenic in apple juice, but what has taken its place in the limelight is rice. Rice is a staple in the diet of people around the world. Towards the end of 2012, Consumer Reports did a large study of arsenic levels in a variety of rice and rice products commonly sold here in the U.S.[5]

Like the testing of apple juice, nearly every form of rice tested had measurable amounts of arsenic, both the organic and more toxic inorganic forms. On the heels of this research, the FDA did a separate evaluation of many of the same products and again, like with apple juice, found lower levels of arsenic than published in previous research. With the finding of levels (of both organic and inorganic arsenic) averaging below the 10 ppb threshold that is now in place for drinking water and juice, the FDA essentially recommends nothing other than eating a balanced diet and thoroughly rinsing white rice.[6]

USDA Food Pyramid Gets a MakeoverIt's interesting to note that both studies found higher levels of arsenic in brown rice. Yes, the same brown rice that many choose as the healthier alternative over more refined white rice, and with regard to white rice, the more it is rinsed prior to being prepared and consumed, the more nutrient value is stripped away. Though the FDA recommendation to "diversify the diet" and to eat a greater variety of foods sounds like a great idea, if you're eating rice, breakfast cereal, rice 'milk', apple juice, snack bars, foods that contain brown rice syrup, grapes, baby formula, pear juice, or any number of things, you will still likely be consuming measurable amounts of arsenic. Talk about a catch-22!

Arsenic in Rice - Why?At this point, you might think that we would finally have stopped using arsenic in food production, but when you considering how relatively recent it was that some of the last arsenicals were banned for agricultural use, you would be wrong. More troubling, even as recently as last year, the FDA still trying to limit the reintroduction of arsenic into the food supply via arsenic-containing poultry feed components by drug makers Pfizer and Alpharma.[7] This was not even a year ago, and by the time the agency did take action, the producers had seen the writing on the wall and ceased production in the U.S. (it was and is still produced for sale and use overseas).

One of these three drugs, Roxarsone, was re-approved for use as recently as 2009, but has been in use since it was first approved in 1944. Though the drug uses the less toxic organic form of arsenic, arsenic can and does change form. An examination of chicken litter from poultry that had been administered this drug showed higher concentrations of organic arsenic as well as levels of inorganic arsenic. As a result, four rice farmers in Arkansas filed a lawsuit against large poultry producers. Chicken litter from poultry producers is sold as fertilizer, and in Arkansas where much of this country's chicken and most of its rice comes from, this fertilizer often ends up in rice fields.

Fertilizers & Pesticides - Continuing Links to the ProblemSo to simplify this, the theory is,
  • Poultry administered arsenic based drugs to increase weight and fight a digestive tract disease.
  • Some of the arsenic changes form to the more toxic inorganic form.
  • Concentrated organic and now the more toxic inorganic arsenic comes out in chicken excrement.
  • Chicken excrement/litter is sold as fertilizer and spread on American rice fields.
Ultimately the lawsuit was dismissed, with the National Chicken Council noting that the findings of the research reflected “very low levels of arsenic,” and were not worrisome. This would likely not be as troubling to consumers if the link, between chickens being purposefully fed arsenic-based drugs and higher concentrations of arsenic being found in rice, didn't appear to be so linear. Still, some damage had already been done to the rice industry. As a result of the FDA and Consumer Reports study done on arsenic in rice, S. Korea suspended bids for U.S. Ironically, though S. Korea imports nearly all of its U.S. rice from California (not Arkansas), they were still concerned enough to suspend bids.[8]

This case highlights one of the big issues facing the food supply and potential problems. The food supply chain is an global one. This is why here in the U.S. we can get blueberries or bananas or mangoes year round. On some Traditional Rice Farming level all countries are dealing with these types of issues. Less than two weeks ago, Iran, the largest importer of basmati rice from India, cut imports due to concerns over arsenic levels.[9] In the Philippines last year, authorities have asked import surveyors to screen for excessive amounts of cadmium in rice imported from China. Last week, WalMart announced it was tripling its food safety budget in that country to nearly $50 million dollars over two years.[10]

That is just a brief sampling, but you could literally spend days online reading similar articles for other countries and food supply issues around the globe. As the food supply chain becomes more closely linked to other countries and more imported food finds its way onto American tables, the issue of food inspections becomes even more important. So it is extremely troubling to find that the Agriculture Department has seen nearly a 20% drop in its budget, and currently less then 3% of imported food into the United States is ever inspected.[11] Take heart though. If you think we're doing a poor job here in the U.S., just remember that just a few short years ago, 1 of every 2 food inspections in China, failed.[12]

With the global nature of the food supply chain, the issue of inspections is one that affects other countries as well. From the EU, with strict standards of government inspection, to Australia, which relies on producers to inspect their own product, countries are grappling with serious issues of free trade and safe food.

Changing Role of the USDAThough few recognize it, the change in U.S. policy is being done with no input whatsoever from the U.S. consumer. Some would argue that the USDA inspection process is inefficient and use this as a reason to push for the privatization of the process. On the surface, it's a valid argument but fails to show how inspections could be far better and more thorough if more of the USDA budget was actually spent on inspections, as opposed to crop insurance, farm subsidies and S.N.A.P. (food stamps). Regardless of all of this, change is coming. Food safety, much like the increased reports of food recalls and foodborne illness in the news, will undoubtedly be an issue that comes up with greater frequency in the future.

All of this makes me particularly thankful for next weekend. I'll be traveling back to Ohio to visit the family and, as usual, taking my cooler with me. Of the two dozen or so cattle that roam around on the family farm, there's a steer that has recently joined the freezer up there and needs to be "liberated." No shots, no hormones, no antibiotics, and a grass/hay diet - I think I have room in the cooler for that.

Finally, I did want to mention this. As I was finishing this article I happened to come across a piece from the satirical site, The Onion. The coincidental timing of this article is truly uncanny. FDA Recalls Food.

5 Consumer Reports Arsenic in Food
6 FDA - Arsenic in Food
7 New York Times - Arsenic Based Drugs
8 Jakarta Post - Korean Rice Imports
9 Time of India - Iranian Rice Imports
10 Washington Post - WalMart Food Safety in China
11 New York Times - Food Inspections & Illness
12 AsianInspection.com - Chinese Food Inspections

To read the first part of this food safety blog.

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Friday, June 27, 2014
The other morning, as happens many mornings, I spent some time on the back patio, enjoying the relative silence and cooler temperature over coffee and a reading through of some morning news stories. There was an article that I came across that caught my attention, and it dealt with the use of the term "all natural" on food labeling. I have always lumped "all natural" into Arsenic in my rice you say? the same category as "hypoallergenic" - essentially throwaway terms with very little meaning (this is the reason why you don't see that term used too often on the AchooAllergy site - I try to severely limit the use of it here).

As I am often prone to do when I read, one article lead to another, then another and another, and before I knew it, I had to rush to get out the door before Atlanta traffic turned the roads into parking lots. While looking at the use of the term "all natural" I came across another article that mentioned some of the common pollutants found in our everyday foods, and while there are literally tens of things to write about in this regard, the curious case of arsenic in rice was one that stuck out.

Few of us would ever associate eating rice with ingesting arsenic, cadmium, or other heavy metals, but just as eyebrows were raised over research showing elevated levels of arsenic in apple and pear juice a few years ago, there has been growing concern over arsenic and other heavy metals in rice. This poses a variety of problems but is severely complicated by the fact that rice is the grain of choice for much of the world. I admit, it has been difficult to clearly define and limit this topic since it touches on so many things that affect our daily lives, from the foods we eat to the growing holes in the food inspection system, politics, and international trade. That's a lot of ground to cover for a topic that could literally start with a morning bowl of Rice Krispies!

This is going to be a two part post with the first touching on arsenic as a compound, sources of exposure and past problems with arsenic in food and the second dealing with arsenic in rice, the growing holes in food inspection and the international nature of this problem.

Arsenic is an element but, as a compound, can be divided into two types, organic and inorganic. When most of us hear the word "arsenic" we're likely thinking of the inorganic type. Inorganic arsenic is what is most toxic to humans. Exposure to high levels of arsenic can cause a variety of health issues and in the most extreme cases, death.

Arsenic is still in wide use today. From semiconductors and use in metals to pesticides and food additives (yes, food additives) arsenic, in its many forms has a wide range of uses.

In the United States, arsenic compounds (arsenicals) were used extensively to spray orchards (as an insecticide) or to treat wood (as a preservative). Even though its use in orchards waned decades ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) still mentions "runoff from orchards" as a source of arsenic contamination of drinking water.[1] It's no small wonder FDA though. Since the early 1900's, arsenic-based insecticides/pesticides have been used across the country to a tune of over one million tons. Over the years, studies have linked brain damage, and other health problems, to the use of these compounds and have lead to bans or conversions to using the organic (less harmful) form of arsenic. It's always worth noting that while we would like to think that using arsenic to spray crops is long a thing of the past, it wasn't until just last year, December 31st, of 2013 that the use of arsenicals was officially banned for agricultural use, EXCEPT for use in cotton production. [2]

Arsenic is naturally occurring, particularly in ground water, but it's elevated levels of arsenic that can cause severe health problems. Exposure, either in intermittent but concentrated levels or consistent but only slightly elevated levels have been linked to diabetes, several types of cancers, compromised immune response, organ failure, and death. There's good reason why it has historically been used as a poison, but it’s important to remember that like other carcinogens, the effects of arsenic on the human body are not just short term and often take years of decades to show themselves.

Apple Juice and Arsenic The EPA sets the permissible level of arsenic at 10 ppb (part per billion) though some countries and even some municipalities here in the U.S. have lowered the permissible level further. With arsenic being so pervasive in everything from soil to drinking and seawater, it is not difficult to see how some amount is getting into the food we eat, but what about elevated levels of arsenic in foods? Which foods and how is this happening?

Many of you may remember the Dr. Oz episode where they tested several brands of apple juice and found alarmingly high levels of arsenic. Shortly afterward, Consumer Reports performed a similar study that showed similar results.[3] At the time, there were no FDA limits on the amount of arsenic in apple juice, but thanks to the exposure of this issue there is now a standard in place, the same 10 ppb limit as is allowed in drinking water.

There are two main takeaways from this. First, while the testing used could, and was, criticized, subsequent testing by Consumer Reports and the FDA did show elevated levels of arsenic in the juice, just not as high was what was presented on the show. Second, if nothing else, it raised awareness of not just the issue of arsenic in this particular type of food but started a conversation about food supply safety as a larger topic.

Though I will touch on this more in the second half, but as it relates to apple juice, it's key to remember where this product is made but more importantly where the ingredients of product originate. Ever notice the language "made from concentrate" on your bottle of juice? Unlike fresh squeezed orange juice, this language means that somewhere, apples were pressed and squeezed, then likely treated with enzymes and clarified (filtered) then dehydrated, packaged and sold to juice producers. Most of us probably think that the countless bottles of apple juice (and other juices too since apple juice is actually the base of most juice cocktails and mixes) Orchard Runoff Is Still Primary Sources of Arsenic Exposure are made from freshly pulverized apples grown right here in the U.S. That would have been true a few decades ago, but not anymore.

Of the 70+ million tons of apples produced every year on this planet, only about 10% are sold as the raw fruit that you see sitting in the produce section of the grocery store. Currently, the largest producer of apples in the world is China, and one of their biggest clients? You guessed it, the United States.[4] The U.S. imports nearly 85% of the apple juice and concentrate it uses for apple juice, with the vast majority of that coming from China.

While apples can be stored commercially, in climate controlled environments for months at a time, it is a curious fact that China mainly exports things like apple concentrate at a far greater rate than whole apples. From Europe to the U.S. there have consistently been concerns over quality, but anyone who's worked in food production can tell you that the quality standards for a whole food vs. those of processed food are not equal.

Even here in the U.S. you see this distinction with milk. Grade A milk is what you see in the plastic jug at your grocery store. A lesser grade milk is produced, but it's not discarded. Where do you think cheese often comes from? Grade B milk. This is similar to what you see with apples. If the quality is high, it's more likely that it will be sold as a whole apple, but if the quality is lower it's not discarded. It is often turned into concentrate or juice.

This is just one example, but as the food supply chain becomes increasingly globalized, the case of arsenic in apple juice highlights not only the global nature of what we're putting on the dinner table but exposes the shortcomings of food inspections, research and the lack of standards from one country to the next. It's a topic I've mentioned before, and one that won't be going away anytime soon.

Check back in a few days for the second half of this post where I will go into the issue of arsenic in rice, problems surrounding food inspections on an international level and ultimately what's being done nationally to address this and future problems.

Footnotes

1 EPA Arsenic in Water
2 EPA Arsenical Registration
3 Consumer Reports
4 USDA Apple Export/Imports

Author: K. Gilmore

Posted by kevvyg on Thursday, June 26, 2014
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Author: KevvyG

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