Arsenic and Heavy Metals: Risky Business for Horses, Dogs, Humans…

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A rare type of kidney disease (CKD) in humans has killed thousands of agricultural workers along Central America’s Pacific Coast, in Sri Lanka, and in India. Emerging evidence is pointing to the heavy metals contained in pesticides and herbicides. The government of El Salvador announced last week a ban on 53 chemicals including glyphosate (Roundup).

An ongoing study, conducted with the Pan American Health Organization, suggests that pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers containing heavy metals may be to blame. The findings from the ongoing study show that samples of soil and water taken from a village whose population has been heavily affected by CKD, confirm the presence of high cadmium and arsenic levels.

Differences Between Organic Arsenic and Inorganic Arsenic

Organic arsenic is found in soil, rocks, and water. It is a “naturally” occurring element. There is no evidence that arsenic in small amounts  poses any health risk to animals or humans. Inorganic arsenic, however is formed when arsenic bonds with oxygen, chlorine, or sulfur. Inorganic arsenic is considered a carcinogen, and has been linked to problems with the GI tract, kidneys, liver, lung, and skin. Man-made pesticides and herbicides can contain high inorganic arsenic levels.

Inorganic arsenic in the US

The large rice-growing states in the US — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Florida — have higher inorganic arsenic levels in their rice than rice grown in California. Eighty percent of the rice in the US is from the south central area on lands that have been sprayed with arsenic pesticide to reduce cotton boll weevils. In addition, water runoff from industrialized farming operations where pesticides and herbicides are heavily used is also considered a contributor to the rise in inorganic arsenic.

Elevated heavy metal and arsenic levels start here.

An agricultural worker sprays a rice field with pesticides | Photograph by IRRI Images

A new published study (September 18, 2013) in the esteemed periodical JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) shows that arsenic-tinged rice display significant cellular changes linked to cancer development. Researchers quantified results by analyzing urine samples of participants for damaged chromosomes no longer able to participate in cell division.

Inorganic Arsenic in Animal Feed

Inorganic arsenic is commonly used in animal feed to make hogs and chickens grow faster. This inorganic arsenic is not only in the animals, but also the manure, which if spread on soil will ultimately and significantly raise the inorganic arsenic levels in ground used for growing food. Maryland is one of the first states to ban inorganic arsenic for poultry farms.

University of California, Davis

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, carried out the first-ever study on dietary exposure to 11 toxins, including acrylamide, arsenic, lead, mercury, dioxins, DDE, chlordane, and dieldrin. The participants included 364 children aged two to seven, 446 parents of young children, and 149 older adults. The researchers found that average exposure levels of the children and adults exceeded cancer benchmark levels for arsenic, lead, dieldrin, DDE, and dioxins. The children exceed cancer benchmark dioxin and arsenic levels 100-fold.

Arsenic in Water

The standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion (ppb). That level is twice what the EPA proposed. Well water could possibly test even higher, depending on the proximity of industrial farming, glyphosate, and chemical fertilizer applications in surrounding neighborhoods. Proximity to coal mines and other mining operations can also increase contamination of water, as can the sewage sludge (biosolids) frequently used as fertilizer.

Arsenic in Fruit

The organic form of arsenic can be found in some fruits, at very, very low levels, but the inorganic arsenic levels can be high in apple juice and orange juice. This is because apple concentrate that is often used to make apple juice is commonly imported from China, where arsenic is still used in pesticides. Likewise, orange juice can be made with “flavor packs” that are oils from the orange peel, often from Brazil, where a specific arsenic-containing fungicide is used. Best to buy apple juice and orange juice from fruits grown in the US.

MSMA: Monosodium Methyl Arsenate

This is an arsenic herbicide compound sometimes applied to Bermuda grass pastures and hay. The EPA has recently stated that MSMA and other arsenic herbicides are ineligible for re-registration. However, residue from arsenic herbicide application can remain in soil and leach into streams.

Food For Thought

Our horses and dogs and cats are facing greater health challenges than ever before, as are our friends and family members. Cancer is the number one killer of dogs, and is on the rise in equines. Metabolic disease is now common in dogs, horses, and humans. Kidney disease in dogs, and cats is escalating. Allergies in humans, dogs, cats, horses are nearing epidemic levels. The rise in Alzheimers Disease has skyrocketed from a ranking of 32 in 1990 to number 9 in 2010.

Photograph by Jannes Pockele

Photograph by Jannes Pockele

Recent research published in Entrophy (April 18, 2013) pinpoints the role of glyphosate’s suppression of cytochrome P450 enzymes (also known as CYP enzymes). These enzymes play a crucial role in dextoxification of xenobiotics (chemicals not normally produced or expected to be present in an organism). The suppression of these enzymes, according to the research, enhances the damaging effects of chemical residues and environmental toxins, increasing inflammation, which damages cellular systems throughout the body and causes a disruption of the biosynthesis of amino acids by gut bacteria.

If a dog or horse or human is eating food with GMO ingredients, it is possible that the body is unable to disarm other toxins like inorganic arsenic or another heavy metal or other chemical toxins because of the suppression of P450/CYP enzymes.

Detoxifying Heavy Metals

If your horse or dog has tested high for heavy metals (arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, uranium) there are gentle ingredients that can help the body eliminate these toxins:

Calcium Bentonite Clay: due to its adsorbtion properties, this clay can adsorb toxins with its negative electrical charge.

Bladderwrack (Sea Vegetable): this brown seaweed provides alginate, which helps bind heavy metals.

Blue Green Algae (Spirulina, Chlorella): binds heavy metals, increases oxygen.

Protecting Our Animals

  • If you are feeding your horses or pets food with GMOs, or if you are eating GMO food yourself, you might want to consider alternative food sources, like organic foods or GMO free foods.
  • Do not use glyphosate (Roundup), and avoid chemical fertilizers for lawns and pastures.
  • If you are on a well, have your water tested yearly.
  • If you are feeding a feed with rice bran, or use rice bran as a supplement, please verify from what state the rice was grown in. You have the right to request a certificate proving state of origin of the rice.
  • If you feed rice to your dogs, either in a commercial food, or whole grain you cook at home, please check with the company and get verification of state of origin.
  • Make sure the orange juice or apple juice you buy is from US oranges or apples. Avoid oranges grown in Brazil unless they are organic or pesticide/herbicide free. Avoid apple concentrate from China.
  • Have your hay tested, as arsenic content can be high depending on where the hay is grown, and how it is grown.
  • Support the microbiome of the GI tract with active probiotics.
  • Support the liver with medicinal mushrooms. For equines, you can use True Balance EQ, and for canines you can feed Terra Biota K9.

In the last few months, I have had more clients tell me that their horse has tested high in arsenic based on hair analysis. Hair analysis is a useful tool, but it doesn’t tell owners what is happening now in the horse’s body, only what has occurred. If your horse tests high in one or more heavy metal toxins, it is a good idea to get a blood test to confirm the high presence of these toxins present in the body.

May our horses and dogs stay well and healthy!

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