Is the amount of arsenic in red wine harmful?
Researchers at the University of Washington tested 65 American wines and found that their average arsenic level was significantly above the 10 parts per billion deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency. Of the wines tested, all but one exceeded the recommended arsenic limits and some wines contained as many as 7.6 times more arsenic than is considered safe for consumption.
Arsenic is an element found in the natural environment, including in the air, soil, rocks and plants. Long-term exposure to arsenic can increase the risk of developing several types of cancer and heart disease.
“While data like this can seem alarming, it’s important to put it in context,” says Dr. Shelanda Hayes, family medicine physician at Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “It’s true that arsenic isn’t good for the body, but as with any chemical, the dose makes the poison. There are many reasons to consume alcohol in moderation, but an occasional glass of red wine is very unlikely to cause arsenic poisoning.”
In a companion study, the researchers agreed.
Stepping back to take a big picture look at the average diet, they sought to determine whether arsenic consumption should be viewed as a serious health threat. They examined foods known to contain arsenic, such as seafood, apples, rice, baby formula and milk, and calculated how much arsenic someone ingests by eating them.
Some foods posed more of a risk than others. Regularly drinking red wine would only meet a fraction of the recommended daily limit of arsenic, for instance, but eating smaller amounts of seafood and rice could push people much closer to the limits.
“Eating a well-balanced diet can help lower your overall risk of harm,” says Dr. Hayes. “There are some groups that are more susceptible to the risks of arsenic exposure, like pregnant women, older people and infants. It’s best for them to eat these foods in moderation. Your average American eats a wide variety of foods, which means their exposure – and risk – is limited.”