Presence of Arsenic in Drinking Water may Change Heart Structure

Arsenic trioxide, Illustration purpose only, source: Public domain

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By News Desk, Neucrad Health India June 1, 2019

In a heartbreaking study conducted by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, researchers have found that drinking water contaminated with arsenic can even lead to structural changes in heart, and further increase risks of cardiac ailments in future. The study was published on an American Heart Association journal, Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging. Scientists have confirmed that prolonged exposure to arsenic can cause thickening of the heart’s main pumping chamber in teenagers and young adults. Individuals consuming water from private wells, not regulated by government or health authorities should exercise caution. Gernot Pichler, M.D., Ph.D., M.Sc., and the principal scientists of the research team advocated testing of unregulated wells should be the first action to prevent this exposure.

What is arsenic?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring metalloid present in earth’s crust. Traces of this metalloid is present in air, soil, rock, and water. It combines with other elements to form organic and inorganic compounds. Studies have proved that the inorganic forms of arsenic are more harmful than organic ones. It can lead to heart diseases; diabetic and high blood pressure patients form a high-risk group. The inorganic compounds react with human cell, displace specific elements from them, and can even go to the extent of changing cell functions. World Health Organisation (WHO) permits a maximum of 10 μg/L of arsenic in groundwater. However, if we believe recent studies, then 140 million people in 50 countries consume water regularly which has this metalloid much above the WHO-accepted value.

How does arsenic enters the human body?

The most common source of arsenic exposure for humans is through contamination of groundwater. Many countries in the world including Argentina, Bangladesh, China, Chile, India, Mexico, and the United States of America have an arsenic level much above the permissible value in the groundwater. In America, several regions of Arizona, Oklahoma, and North and South Dakota have an arsenic concentration in groundwater above the standard level.

How did the researchers at Columbia University conduct the study?

The research group at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health reviewed the data collected by Strong Heart Family Study where health experts evaluated the heart ailment risks among American Indians. Urine samples from 1337 adults (group size with an average age 30.7 years and including 61 per cent female) were taken for study and their heart shape, size, and function was also evaluated using echocardiography. Data for this study got recorded for an extended period of 5 years, and at the beginning of this phase, none of the patients had a history of diabetes or heart-related diseases.

What is the outcome of the arsenic study?

The research team of Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health came up with some startling facts after the end of the study. Overall arsenic concentration in the urine sample was found to be higher than the general population of the country. However, the level of this metalloid was lower than the average population of Mexico and Bangladesh. With two times increase in arsenic in the urine, individuals manifested 47 per cent higher chance of thickening of the left ventricle. Individuals developing high blood pressure in the group, have 58 per cent chance of thickening of the left ventricle. This study suggested that arsenic poisoning can lead to pre-clinical heart ailments in population. Though researchers collected this data from the tribal communities in rural areas of north, central and southwestern United States, health experts can generalise it for rural populations across the world where the water level has a moderate level of arsenic concentration.

So, this was, in brief, the harmful effect of arsenic poisoning on the heart structure in a study group of America. Finally, we can say that arsenic is a toxic metalloid having adverse health effects, and the Government should employ initiatives of providing arsenic-free drinking water to their citizens.