Arsenic is known best as a deadly poison, although in small doses it does have medical benefits. BBC News Online looks at the workings of the chemical infamous for its deadly effects.
Arsenic is often found in metal ores
What is arsenic?
Arsenic is a semi-metallic naturally-occurring chemical. It is all around us in the environment and we are all exposed to small doses on a regular basis.
It is difficult to detect as it is generally odourless and flavourless, meaning people have little idea when it is around.
What is the risk?
Arsenic is a very toxic substance that is found in food, water and household items. Tobacco smoke, laundry detergent, bone meal, sea food, beer and even drinking water are a few of the items arsenic can be consumed from. Headaches, confusion, sleepiness, and even convulsions can be the effects of arsenic poisoning. Vomiting, diarrhea, kidney, liver and lung problems can occur, including death in extreme cases. Here is how to avoid and cure arsenic poisoning.
Arsenic is found in many different places. Arsenic is used to poison pests such as rats and mice, and can be used to kill any living thing. Arsenic is found in tiny amounts in many things that we consume. Apples, for example, have a minute amount of arsenic in their seeds. If you eat apples daily and eat the seeds you are depositing arsenic into your system. Other food items that may contain arsenic are seafood, water, bone meal, dolomite, kelp, table salt, and beer.
If you work in a job that produces any kind of pesticide, agricultural insecticide or spraying of any of these, you are at risk of arsenic poisoning. Other jobs that are at risk are copper smelting, mining, sheep dipping and metallurgical industries. Continued exposure to arsenic builds up in the system and there is an accumulated effect. The more you are exposed the more serious are the consequences.
Exposure to arsenic is suspected as the cause of many types of cancer. The types of cancers that are found in workers that are regularly exposed to arsenic are: skin cancer, scrotal cancer, liver cancer, cancer of the lymphatic system, and lung cancer.
Arsenic can kill humans quickly if consumed in large amounts, although small, long-term exposure can lead to a much slower death or other illness.
Studies have linked prolonged exposure to arsenic with cancer, diabetes, thickening of the skin, liver disease and problems with the digestive system.
It has also been associated with nervous system disorders – feeling tingling or losing sensation in the limbs – and hearing difficulties.
How it is Diagnosed?
Arsenic poisoning is usually determined by a hair analysis. If arsenic is found in the hair follicles it will stay there for years. If it is in your hair follicles it is usually in your body as well. Arsenic is also deposited in the fingernails and skin.
What happens if you are poisoned?
A person exposed to large amounts of arsenic – either through eating or drinking it – will usually die, and symptoms will appear within 30 minutes of exposure.
There is a similar outlook for people who breathe large amounts of it, although the onset of symptoms may be delayed as the concentration is likely to be lower.
Physical contact with arsenic can cause, initially, the skin to thicken and, with prolonged contact, blood flow to the heart to become decreased.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of arsenic poisoning begin with headaches, confusion and drowsiness. As the poisoning develops, convulsions and changes in fingernail pigmentation may occur. When the poisoning becomes acute, symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the urine, cramping muscles, hair loss, stomach pain, and more convulsions. The organs of the body that are usually affected by arsenic poisoning are the lungs, skin, kidneys, and liver.
Symptoms include violent stomach pains in the region of the bowels; tenderness and pressure; retching; excessive saliva production; vomiting; sense of dryness and tightness in the throat; thirst; hoarseness and difficulty of speech; the matter vomited, greenish or yellowish, sometimes streaked with blood; diarrhea; tenesmus; sometimes excoriation of the anus; urinary organs occasionally affected with violent burning pains and suppression; convulsions and cramps; clammy sweats; lividity of the extremities; countenance collapsed; eyes red and sparkling; delirium; death. Some of these symptoms may be absent where the poisoning results from inhalation, as of arseniuretted hydrogen.
The final result of arsenic poisoning is coma or death.
You may click to see:-> pictures of Arsecnic poisoning
The first sensations include a metallic taste in the mouth, excessive saliva production and problems swallowing.
The next stage is to suffer vomiting and diarrhoea coupled with garlic-like breath, stomach cramps and excessive sweating.
As the poison’s effects progress, the patient will suffer seizures and go into shock, dying within a few hours. If death does not occur at this stage, it will happen a few days when the kidney fails.
What is the treatment?
It is extremely important to seek medical advice immediately if arsenic poisoning is suspected. One way to test for arsenic poisoning is by checking hair follicles. If arsenic is in the bloodstream, it will enter hair and remain there for many years.
Chemical and synthetic methods are now used to treat arsenic poisoning. Dimercaprol and Succimer are chelating agents which sequester the arsenic away from blood proteins and are used in treating acute arsenic poisoning. The most important side-effect is hypertension. Dimercaprol is considerably more toxic than succimer.
In the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, Keya Chaudhuri of the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology in Kolkata, and her colleagues reported giving rats daily doses of arsenic in their water, in levels equivalent to those found in groundwater in Bangladesh and West Bengal.Those rats which were also fed garlic extracts had 40 per cent less arsenic in their blood and liver, and passed 45 per cent more arsenic in their urine. The conclusion is that sulfur-containing substances in garlic scavenge arsenic from tissues and blood. The presentation concludes that people in areas at risk of arsenic contamination in the water supply should eat one to three cloves of garlic per day as a preventative
Arsenic poisoning can be treated if it is caught early enough, through a series of injections into muscles.
The patient needs 2.5mg to 5mg per kilogram of body weight of a drug called dimercaporal every four hours for the first two days followed by two injections on the third day then one a day for the next five days.
If you suspect that you are being exposed to arsenic your diet needs to include lots of sulfur. Sulfur can eliminate some of the arsenic from the body. The foods that contains sulfur are; eggs, onions, beans, legumes, and garlic. Sulfur can be bought and taken in tablet form also. The amino acid that provides sulfur is cysteine.
Fiber can also help to leech the arsenic from your system by attaching to it and washing it out. Include a lot of fiber in your diet by eating whole grains and cereals, fruits and vegetables.
If someone accidentally ingests arsenic administer 5 charcoal tablets immediately. Take 5 more charcoal tablets 15 minutes later and again every fifteen minutes. Go immediately to an emergency room. Charcoal tablets should be a part of every medicine cabinet for any type of poisoning.
Chelation therapy is an option if you have arsenic poisoning. Chelation therapy is used to remove toxic metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury from our bodies. Metals and minerals can clog our systems and can be removed with chelation therapy. The procedure has been done for forty years in the United States and is safe. Chelation therapy is a series of injections of ethylenediaminetetra aacetic acid (EDTA) that is done in a doctors office.
You can also do chelation therapy at home with over the counter chelation formulas bought at a health food store or a drug store. Most are made with alfalfa, garlic, fiber, turin and selenium. Alfalfa liquid or tablets, taken three times daily with meals, detoxifies the liver and chelates substances from the body. Coenzyme Q(10) improves circulation of the blood which allows the toxic substances to leave the body. L-Lysine, an amino acid, detoxifies harmful heavy metals from our systems. Rutin and apple pectin can be taken to bind with unwanted toxic metals and remove them from the body through the intestinal tract.
When doing any chelation therapy, make sure that you replace lost essential minerals by taking alfalfa, iron, kelp and zinc in addition to your regular multi-vitamin
What is the environmental threat?
There is growing concern about levels of arsenic in the environment, both from natural occurrence and from pollution.
Forty million people in West Bengal and Bangladesh are thought to be at risk from arsenic-contaminated water supplies, although studies are continuing into what effect the poisoning is having.
The contamination is thought to have occurred naturally, as a result of arsenic being released from rocks into underground water supplies.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has an ongoing research programme to look into arsenic in the environment and to establish what constitutes a safe level.
What are the benefits?
Small doses of arsenic have been shown to send some forms of cancer into remission, and it can also help thin blood.
Homeopathists have also used undetectable amounts of it to cure stomach cramps.
However, therapies involving the chemical are still in the experimental stages.
This page contains basic information. If you are concerned about your health, you should consult a doctor.
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Arsenic beats cancer
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West Bengal India and Bangladesh Arsenic Crisis Centre
Disclaimer: This information is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advise or help. It is always best to consult with a Physician about serious health concerns. This information is in no way intended to diagnose or prescribe remedies.This is purely for educational purpose