EDF Health

Selected tag(s): arsenic

Heavy metals in food: Carrageenan as an example of the need to improve ingredient quality

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant.

Arsenic, cadmium and lead levels in carrageenan varied widely but were within international standards. This is not reassuring since current specifications for the heavy metals are inadequate. Food manufacturers can and should set tighter limits to better protect their customers. Consumers, especially those buying from internet-only retailers, need to ask the ingredient supplier how much of the heavy metals is acceptable.

In the fall of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bought 10 samples of carrageenan from 5 companies sold through internet-only retailers to test for three heavy metals – lead, arsenic (total and inorganic), and cadmium. The agency published the results on its combination metals testing webpage in September 2016.

Each of these metals are carcinogens. In addition, lead and inorganic arsenic are widely acknowledged as harming children’s brain development even at low levels of exposure. EDF found that more than one million children consume lead in amounts that exceeds the maximum exposure level set by FDA in 1993, a level that subsequent research shows is of great risk to children’s health. Further, recent research has strengthened evidence of the relationship between low levels of lead exposure in adults and cardiovascular deaths. In 2011, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) took the extraordinary step of withdrawing its previous tolerable intake level for lead because it could not determine a safe level of exposure for children.

In light of these risks, we must make every effort to reduce the levels of these heavy metals in food to the greatest extent possible – without undermining other food safety measures or compromising quality. A key step to success is examining the levels of heavy metals in all ingredients used to make a food since the risk is based on the cumulative exposure – even if the amounts in individual additives are small. With this in mind, we revisited FDA’s analysis of carrageenan.

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A new power couple: The combined impact of the microbiome and chemical exposures on disease susceptibility (Part 2 of 2)

Allison Tracy is a Chemicals Policy Fellow. EDF Health Scientist Dr. Jennifer McPartland and Senior Scientist Dr. Richard Denison contributed to this post.

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I reviewed scientific evidence that the gut microbiome interacts with ingested chemicals to influence susceptibility to obesity and diabetes.  This hypothesis is the focus of a recent review article by Suzanne Snedeker and Anthony Hay.  Having reviewed evidence of the link between the microbiome and obesity and diabetes as well as the link between chemical exposures and obesity and diabetes, we now proceed to address this question:  Can the gut microbiome act in concert with ingested synthetic chemicals to predispose people to obesity and diabetes?

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A new power couple: The combined impact of the microbiome and chemical exposures on disease susceptibility (Part 1 of 2)

Allison Tracy is a Chemicals Policy Fellow.  EDF Health Scientist Dr. Jennifer McPartland and Senior Scientist Dr. Richard Denison contributed to this post.

When you’re standing at the kitchen counter this holiday season wrestling with the nebulous world of weight gain, think about synthetic chemicals.  A good number of them are in you.  And studies show that some of them are pretty busy in there, interacting with various biological systems – including your metabolism.

But they’re not the only show in town.  Microbes are busy in your gut doing important things like digesting food and degrading harmful compounds.  But could they also influence the size of your love handles?  New science suggests that these microbes—in concert with certain chemicals—may have just this effect.

It is becoming increasingly clear that it’s not just your genes and your self control that determine your risk for obesity and related complications like diabetes.  Environmental factors are a big part of the equation, and those factors just might extend to synthetic chemicals to which you’re exposed, such as the flame retardants in your furniture and the plasticizers in food can linings.  Read More »

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What are you, really? How our microbiome mediates chemical exposures

Allison Tracy is a Chemicals Policy Fellow. Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

For millennia people have contemplated the question “who am I?”  But how about the even more fundamental question, “what am I”?  The human body is made up of about 10 trillion cells that form our tissues and organs.  But did you know that the human gut is the home to microbes that comprise 10 times more – that is, 100 trillion – cells?  And that, while the human genome contains about 23,000 genes, there are some 3 million genes in the microbes living in the human gut?  Obviously, this complicates things.  It arguably means we could be considered to be more microbe than human!

These numbers should tip us off to the importance of what is known as our “microbiome.”  New science is shedding light on the central function of the microbiome as a mediator between external agents to which we’re exposed and the impacts of those exposures.  Recent studies show, for example, that as chemicals pass through the gastrointestinal tract, they undergo major changes in bioavailability (i.e., how easily they are taken up into our bodies) and in their toxicity.  Recognition of the role of the microbiome is shifting the playing field for toxicology in fundamental ways.   Read More »

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