A new study released Monday by researchers at Columbia University finds that folic acid supplements can dramatically lower blood arsenic levels in individuals exposed to arsenic through contaminated drinking water.
This toxic element, naturally present in some aquifers used for drinking, is currently a significant public health problem in at least 70 countries, including several developing countries and also parts of the United States.
Chronic arsenic exposure is associated with increased risk for skin, liver and bladder cancers, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, and other adverse health outcomes. The study results are published in the October issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The researchers found that treatment with 400 micrograms a day of folic acid, the United States recommended dietary allowance, reduced total blood arsenic levels by 14 percent in the study population in Bangladesh.
Folate, a B vitamin found in leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and whole grains, can also be taken as a vitamin supplement, and in the United States, is added to flour and other fortified foods.
"Folic acid supplementation enhanced the detoxification of arsenic to a form that is more readily excreted in urine," said lead author Mary Gamble.
"Although additional studies are needed, the results of this study suggest that a simple, low-cost nutritional intervention may help to prevent some of the long-term health consequences associated with arsenic exposure for the many populations at risk, " said Gamble.
(Xinhua News Agency October 9, 2007)