Getting Hysterical with Apples and Arsenic
We live in a world where hysteria sells, where the outrageous, the over-inflated, and the scary -- no matter how untrue they might be -- are embraced. For years I've written about how the mainstream media will take a flawed study on antioxidants, supplements, or some alternative health protocol such as detoxing and trumpet it with hyperbolic headlines such as:
- The antioxidant myth: a medical fairy tale1
- We’ve Been Wasting a Ton of Money on Vitamins and Dietary Supplements2
- Colon Cleansing Ineffective and Unsafe, Say Researchers
But make no mistake, it's not all one-sided. Voices from the alternative health community have been equally outrageous. Remember back in 2009 when the swine flu first hit and the internet reverberated with claims from the alternative health community that this new strain of flu had been deliberately created and unleashed by malevolent governments to "depopulate" the world -- only to do a complete 180 when dire pandemic predictions failed to materialize (as I predicted) and subsequently claim that the ineffectiveness of the swine flu was deliberate and "now" represented a government conspiracy to trick the public into spending billions of dollars for unnecessary, ineffective, and dangerous vaccines. Remember?
And even now, there are stories running through the blogosphere that Bill Gates has publically announced that the purpose of vaccination is to reduce world population by 10-15% -- by using the vaccines to kill off a billion children. The quote by Gates being cited reads, "The world today has 6.8 billion people. That's heading up to about nine billion. Now if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by perhaps 10 or 15 percent!"
Claiming that this is an admission by Gates that the purpose of vaccines is to "depopulate" the world by killing children is a gross distortion of his intent. It is also absurd and deliberately misleading. What Gates is actually saying is that vaccines, in conjunction with better health care and reproductive services, will by themselves result in a reduced population. What he's talking about is the "wealth effect" -- that when people aren't so afraid that most of their children will die, they tend to have fewer of them. When people are better educated (in terms of health and reproductive services) and earn more money, they tend to avail themselves of birth control, thus slowing down population growth. Ultimately, when people get well enough off and feel secure enough that any children they have will survive into adulthood, they slow down reproducing to such an extent that population growth can actually go negative -- as we now see in Europe and Japan -- no killing involved. The 10-15% drop that Gates refers to is simply a low end estimate of the wealth effect in third world countries. It has nothing to do with using vaccines to kill children as a depopulation tool. Claiming such is nothing but fear mongering, plain and simple. (By the way, if you decide to check it out for yourself, check out the entire talk and listen to the quote in context.3) That said, there is absolutely a valid case that can be made against forced vaccination, but this isn't it. Distortion and fear mongering never are.
Which brings us to the incident of the day -- hysteria from the man who may be the world's number one "health celebrity," Dr. Oz.
In mid-September, TV's most famous medical doctor and Oprah protégé, Dr. Mehmet Oz, announced on his nationally syndicated show that apple juice imported from China may be slowly poisoning children because the Chinese spray their apples with arsenic pesticide.4 Before going any further, it should be noted that he offered no evidence that the apples in question had actually been sprayed, thus putting the entire premise in question. Nevertheless, as he explained, his show had paid an independent laboratory to test for arsenic in several popular brands of commercial apple juice (including Motts, Juicy Juice, Apple & Eve, and Gerber) and was informed by the lab that they contained between 11 and 36 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic. Given that the FDA limits arsenic levels in drinking water to 10 ppb, Dr. Oz contended that these juices had unacceptable levels of this toxic element. Sales of apple juice immediately plummeted across America -- at least for a few days. Such is the reach of the "great and powerful Oz."
Sensing blood, the publicity groupies jumped onboard. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a written statement calling on the FDA to issue clear limits for an acceptable amount of arsenic in juices.5 He also noted that much of America's apple juice comes from China and announced, in a bit of shameless self-promotion for his state, "Apple growers in New York and the United States do not use inorganic arsenic in pesticides and perhaps a better option for juice makers is to use more New York grown apples in their concentrates." He did not mention (and for that matter, neither did Dr. Oz) that US Growers use organophosphate (nerve gas) pesticides and carbaryl (a probable carcinogen) on their apple crops. Both can have immediate effects on the nervous system, with symptoms including weakness, cramps, breathing trouble, nausea, and vomiting. In other words, they're not really much of an improvement on arsenic based pesticides. Pretty much all commercial pesticides are nasty.
So, is the arsenic threat real; is it "the most shocking investigation in Dr. Oz show history" as they proclaimed in their pre-show publicity; or is it simply a cynical attempt to boost ratings?
As might be expected, the juice companies jumped right in to refute the claims. But more surprisingly, in what some might view as a Kafkaesque reversal of form, the FDA jumped in with an alternative health type of refutation, stating that there are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic.6 As the FDA said, "The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless." The FDA further stated that the results cited on the Dr. Oz show were for total arsenic levels and, did "not distinguish between the essentially harmless organic forms of arsenic and the harmful inorganic forms of arsenic." Further, the FDA stated that it had, in fact, tested some of the same batches of juice that Dr. Oz's lab had tested and found, contrary to Dr. Oz's lab, "very low levels of total arsenic in all samples tested." They concluded by saying, "These new results were consistent with the FDA's results obtained in the FDA's routine monitoring program and are well below the results reported by the Dr. Oz Show." In fact, according to the FDA, the apple juice which Oz claimed had 36 ppb of arsenic actually had a maximum of 6 ppb (regardless of its form), which places it well below the 10 ppb trigger level for drinking water. In addition, the juice companies also independently tested the same batches of juice and (not surprisingly) found arsenic levels about two thirds below Dr. Oz's announced levels.
So what's the truth?
All in all, Dr. Oz's show was essentially based on questionable data and hyperbolic speculation. If this truly was "the most shocking investigation in Dr. Oz show history," then it would call into question every other show he's ever done…one might suppose. But in truth, Dr. Oz is normally better than this. Let's assume it was the ratings pressure of a daily TV show that caused him to overstate the facts and "hyperbolate" a kerfuffle in this case.
Organic versus inorganic toxins
So, the issue of arsenic in apple juice turns out to be somewhat overstated, to say the least; but there are, nevertheless, several interesting elements that have emerged from it. First is the FDA's statement that "The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless." What the heck are they talking about? What does it mean? And in what alternate universe does the FDA promote the "virtues" of organic?
To begin with, we probably need to define the word organic as the FDA was using it. Most people probably think it means something like.
- Grown on an organic farm with fertilizers and/or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin.
- Or raised without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals -- as in organic chicken.
- Or maybe, as found in nature as opposed to produced in a secret government lab.
But in fact, none of these definitions really applies here. To understand what the FDA is talking about, we need to turn to the definition of "organic" you learned when you took organic chemistry (if you did), which is that "organic" applies to any chemical compound whose molecules contain carbon -- other than a handful of compounds such as carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. It has nothing to do with food and nothing to do with how things are grown -- just carbon.
So how does this apply to arsenic?
To clarify, arsenic is a naturally occurring element widely distributed in the earth's crust, in the oceans, and in most plant and animal matter. In the environment, arsenic is combined with oxygen, chlorine, and sulfur to form "inorganic" arsenic compounds. These are the highly toxic forms of arsenic that the FDA referred to and that are both poisonous and carcinogenic. But in animals and plants, arsenic combines with carbon and hydrogen to form "organic" arsenic compounds, which are far less toxic.
Why are they less toxic?
The toxicity of arsenic primarily depends on its valence state -- its proclivity for bonding with other molecules. Or to put it another way, the more a particular arsenic compound likes to bond, the more likely it is to lock onto human tissue and biological molecules, disrupting enzyme reactions and breaking down the high energy bonds in key molecules such as ATP. Most inorganic forms of arsenic are highly active and readily bond with molecules in the human body. In other words, the more likely it is to be toxic. Organic arsenic molecules such as arsenobetaine and arsenocholine, on the other hand, have little tendency to bond with human tissue and are rapidly excreted in unchanged form in the urine -- thus making them relatively nontoxic.
Beginning to make sense?
As mentioned earlier, the FDA recommends keeping arsenic levels in drinking water below 10 parts per billion. But in drinking water, we're generally talking about inorganic arsenic absorbed from underground rocks. In fact, because arsenic is so omnipresent in the soil and ocean water, the average person consumes, on average, about 10-50 millionths of a gram of arsenic a day, with over two thirds of that coming from organic sources. And in truth, levels of 1,000 micrograms are not unusual following consumption of fish or mushrooms. But again, there is little danger from these sources because these are organic arsenic compounds and are virtually non-toxic.
Toxins in everything
When we mentioned that arsenic is present in virtually all the earth's soil and ocean water, we touched on a second very, very important concept. It's tough to avoid arsenic. It's actually the 20th most abundant element out of 90 naturally occurring elements. The earth itself contains an astounding 1.8 mg of arsenic per kilogram. That may not sound like a lot…until you consider that the earth weighs some 6.6 sextillion tons. Multiply that out, and it's a whole lot of arsenic. And the ocean is even worse, with concentrations of arsenic reaching double that found on land, or about 3.7 mg per liter. What that means is that anything that grows on the land or lives in the ocean is going to contain arsenic -- and anything that eats anything that grows on the land or lives in the ocean is going to pick up some of that arsenic.
In other words, arsenic, like virtually all the other toxic elements, is unavoidable. Everyone has some daily exposure to arsenic because it is found everywhere -- in water, soil, house dust, air, and food. The good news is, as we've already discussed, that plants absorb a lot of this inorganic arsenic and convert it to organic forms. That means that the majority of our exposure to arsenic is the organic arsenic found in food and is not usually considered harmful unless at extremely high levels and consumed over a long period of time. Inorganic arsenic sprayed on foods as a pesticide would be a different story. Inorganic arsenic that makes its way into drinking water is an entirely different animal. It is not converted to an organic form and maintains its predilection for bonding with human bio-molecules. In other words, it maintains its toxicity -- thus the FDAs' 10 ppb standard for arsenic in drinking water, which is based on the levels of inorganic (nor organic) arsenic in the water.
Now here's the surprise in the equation: despite the fact that inorganic arsenic is a deadly poison, it is also an essential trace element in its organic form, essential for life and health -- although the necessary intake may be as low as 0.01 mg/day.
Studies of animals such as chickens, rats, goats and pigs show that small levels of organic arsenic are most likely necessary for proper growth and reproduction. In these studies, the main symptom of not getting enough arsenic was retarded growth and development.7 Initial studies on arsenic deprivation in animals have shown that arsenic, in very small quantities, may have a physiologic role in the metabolism of the sulfur-containing amino acids, methionine and cysteine.8
And in fact, the same can be said to be true for several other "deadly" elements including vanadium, aluminum, and even strontium.9 (We'll talk more about aluminum in a moment.) That said, you don't want to consume more arsenic in any form (or any of the other "toxic" metals for that matter) than you have to. This becomes a problem when you consider that inorganic arsenic is used in great abundance in many countries in insecticides (outside the US), poisons, and weed killers. This added exposure ups the ante. Essential trace elements are "essential" only when they enter the body in trace amounts and in their organic form.
Aluminum and Fluorine
As I mentioned earlier, things that we consider deadly toxins are sometimes essential nutrients when present at trace levels -- and in their organic form. Aluminum, although not technically a heavy metal, is often considered one when it comes to health. It is one of the most abundant minerals on earth, and represents about 12% of the earth's crust. And even more so than arsenic, it is found in large biological quantities in every plant, animal, and human. At higher levels, and in an inorganic form, aluminum is considered toxic and is associated with cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease. But at trace levels, organic aluminum may be essential to life through its action on a small number of enzymes such as succinic dehydrogenase and d-aminolevulinate dehydratase. Succinic dehydrogenase10 removes hydrogen from compounds so that they can then be oxidized (essential for the survival of infants), and d-aminolevulinate dehydratase is involved in porphyrin synthesis (essential for the manufacturing of hemoglobin in your blood). Foods naturally high in organic aluminum include peppermint, spearmint, and bananas.
Fluorine is another "toxin" that is essential for health -- but only at trace levels and only in its organic form. The organic form of fluorine combines with calcium (when in the presence of molybdenum) to form calcium fluorapatite, which is an essential component of healthy teeth and bones. Organic fluorine is present in tiny amounts in most foods, but is particularly abundant in tea and some seafood. Unfortunately, while the FDA is now asserting the health differences between organic and inorganic arsenic, they have not chosen to make the same distinction when it comes to fluorine, which means that many people are now saturated with inorganic fluoride in their toothpastes and drinking water. Unlike organic fluorine, inorganic fluoride does not contribute to bone and tooth health (it actually creates brittle bones and teeth) and readily causes fluoride poisoning at even very small doses.
Conclusion: back to apple juice and Dr. Oz
In the end, the issue isn't really about overstated trace amounts of arsenic in apple juice. As we've seen, the story on arsenic (and a whole slew of other "toxic" metals) can't be reuced to a simplistic media headline.
- Far from being toxic, at low trace levels, many of them are essential.
- There is a huge difference in how the organic forms and the inorganic forms of all these elements behave in the body. As the FDA says for arsenic (and should say for all of them), "Organic good. Inorganic bad."
- And even if you want to totally avoid them, you can't. It's impossible. They're everywhere -- in every plant, in every animal. You just want to minimize your exposure to the inorganic forms.
- And if you're concerned about them, you can always do a periodic heavy metal detox. Look for a formula based on cilantro and chlorella.
- Cilantro changes the electric charge on intracellular deposits of heavy metals to a neutral state, which relaxes their tight bond to body tissue, freeing them up to be flushed from the body. In other words, it overcomes the key toxic property of heavy metals. Studies have shown that levels of mercury, lead, and aluminum in the urine increase significantly after consuming large amounts of cilantro.
- Once free, the next step is to actually facilitate the removal of the metals from the body. And that's where chlorella comes in. Chlorella possesses the capacity to absorb heavy metals. This property has been exploited as a means for treating industrial effluent that contains heavy metals before it is discharged, and to recover the bio-available fraction of the metal in the process. In studies undertaken in Germany, high doses of chlorella have been found to be very effective in eliminating heavy metals from the body -- from the brain, intestinal wall, muscles, ligaments, connective tissue, and bone.11
- Together, these herbs create a powerful oral chelation formula.
But the real question is not about how much organic arsenic you can find in bottled apple juice (regardless of where it comes from), but rather, "Why in the world are you drinking processed, pasteurized, bottled apple juice in the first place?" As I have explained on many occasions: fresh juices, despite their high sugar levels, are a treasure trove of healing nutrients; bottled juices are essentially sugar water, with almost no health benefits left -- other than a handful of fugitive vitamins. For example:
- Fresh apple juice contains an abundance of pectin, which is a soluble fiber that absorbs toxins in the colon and helps keep you clean. Bottled clear apple juice contains almost none. Research has shown that apple pectin can reduce the damaging effects of cholesterol.12 Raw apples are the richest of fruits in pectin.
- Fresh apple juice contains upwards of 1% malic acid, which helps prevent kidney stones and sludge from forming. Bottled apple juice contains about one third that amount.
- Fresh apple juice is extremely high in antioxidants, just behind cranberries. Most of those antioxidants have been processed out in clear apple juice.13
- Fresh apple juice has notable antiviral properties, making it a valuable preventive measure against colds, bronchitis and other viral infections. Bottled apple juice not only has minimal antiviral activity,14 but because of the high sugar content, actually weakens your immune system.
As I have pointed out on more than one occasion: a good juicer is probably the single best investment you can make in your health. And if you juice it yourself -- choosing only organic produce when possible -- you don't have to worry about the possibility of arsenic pesticides ending up in your juice.
And finally, can we tone down the rhetoric and fear mongering, everyone? It not only works everyone up into a foolish frenzy, it distracts them from the things that truly affect health. And to Dr. Oz, let me just say, "You already have a large TV audience. You don't need to fear monger. This apple juice story is beneath you. You're better than that."
- 1. > Lisa Melton. "The antioxidant myth: a medical fairy tale." NewScientist. 05 August 2006 Magazine issue 2563. <http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19125631.500-the-antioxidant-myth-a-medical-fairy-tale.html>
- 2. Brad Tuttle. "We’ve Been Wasting a Ton of Money on Vitamins and Dietary Supplements." 11 October 2011. Time Moneyland. Accessed 11 October 2011. <http://moneyland.time.com/2011/10/11/weve-been-wasting-a-ton-of-money-on-vitamins-and-dietary-supplements/>
- 3. "Bill Gates on energy: Innovating to zero!" TEDS Talk Director. 20 Feb 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JaF-fq2Zn7I>
- 4. "Dr. Oz Investigates: Arsenic in Apple Juice." 12 Sept 2011. The Dr. Oz Show. Accessed 8 Oct 2011. <http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/dr-oz-investigates-arsenic-apple-juice>
- 5. "Schumer Calls On The Fda To Put In Place Standards For Juice Concentrates After Questions Emerge Over The Level Of Arsenic Found In Chinese- Produced Concentrates." 19 Sept 2011. Senator Charles E. Schumer. Accessed 8 Oct 2011. <http://schumer.senate.gov/record.cfm?id=334105&>
- 6. Donald Zink, Ph.D., Senior Science Advisor, FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "Getting to the Core of the Issue: Apple Juice and Arsenic." 14 September 2011. FoodSafety.gov. Accessed "10 Oct 2011. <http://foodsafety.gov/blog/apple_juice_and_arsenic.html>
- 7. Uthus EO. (Chappell WR, Abernathy CO, and Cothern CR, eds.) "Arsenic essentiality and factors affecting its importance. In: Arsenic Exposure and Health." Northwood: Science and Technology Letters, 199-208, 1994.
- 8. Eric O. Uthus. "Arsenic essentiality: A role affecting methionine metabolism." The Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine. Volume 16, Issue 4, pages 345--355, 2003 <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jtra.10044/abstract>
- 9. S. Pors Nielsen. "The biological role of strontium." Bone. Volume 35, Issue 3 , Pages 583-588, September 2004. <http://www.thebonejournal.com/article/S8756-3282(04)00181-4/abstract>
- 10. B. L. Horecker, Elmer Stotz, And T. R. Hogness. "The Promoting Effect Of Aluminum, Chromium And The Rare Earths In The Succinic Dehydrogenase-Cytochrome System." From the George Herbert Jones Chemical Laboratory of the University of Chicago, Chicago. Received for publication, November 28, 1938. <http://www.jbc.org/content/128/1/251.full.pdf>
- 11. Klinghardt, D. "Amalgam/Mercury Detox as a Treatment for Chronic Viral, Bacterial, and Fungal Illnesses." Annual Meeting of the International and American Academy of Clinical Nutrition, San Diego, CA, September 1996. <http://www.saveyourteeth.com/metals2.htm>
- 12. Lam CK, Zhang Z, Yu H, Tsang SY, Huang Y, Chen ZY. "Apple polyphenols inhibit plasma CETP activity and reduce the ratio of non-HDL to HDL cholesterol." Mol Nutr Food Res. 2008 Aug;52(8):950-8. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=18496813>
- 13. Oszmianski, J., Wolniak, M., Wojdylo, A. and Wawer, I. "Comparative study of polyphenolic content and antiradical activity of cloudy and clear apple juices." Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 2007. 87: 573--579. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.2707/abstract>
- 14. Konowalchuk J, Speirs JI. "Antiviral effect of apple beverages." Appl Environ Microbiol. 1978 Dec;36(6):798-801. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=PMC243148>