Arsenic Linked to Atherosclerosis

A new study reveals long-term ingestion of inorganic arsenic, a contaminant often found in some well water, may be linked to heart attacks, strokes and diseased arteries.

For the first time, researchers report a strong dose-dependent relationship between arsenic exposure and accelerated development of arterial diseases throughout the body.

Researchers from the National Taiwan University observed more than 460 adult residents from a southwestern area of Taiwan known for its high prevalence of inorganic arsenic in well water.

Participants in the study were interviewed about dietary habits, personal and exercise habits, smoking and alcohol intake and water consumption history. They also underwent regular health examinations to determine cholesterol levels and plaque build up in their carotid arteries, or the arteries that lead to the brain.

Researchers gathered information to calculate how long subjects had consumed the well water, the average arsenic concentration in the water, and cumulative arsenic exposure.

Researchers found the prevalence of arterial disease increased as the amount of arsenic exposure increased. The group with the highest arsenic exposure had three times the risk of arterial disease compared to those who were not exposed to arsenic. Those in the mid-range group of exposure were twice as likely to develop disease as those not exposed.

Researchers of the study write, “From the strong dose-dependent relationship, we conclude that long-term arsenic exposure is an independent risk factor for atherosclerosis [disease of the arteries] and that carotid atherosclerosis is a novel marker for arseniasis.” The impact of this and other research has led to the regulation of arsenic levels in many areas. For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s maximum contaminant level for arsenic in drinking water has been lowered from 50 to 10 micrograms per liter.

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