How Much Arsenic in Rice Is Too Much?

What are some strategies to reduce arsenic exposure from rice?

Those who are exposed to the most arsenic in rice are those who are exposed to the most rice, like people who are eating plant-based, gluten-free, or dairy-free. So, at-risk populations are not just infants and pregnant women, but also those who may tend to eat more rice. What “a terrible irony for the health conscious” who are trying to avoid dairy and eat lots of whole foods and brown rice—so much so they may not only suffer some theoretical increased lifetime cancer risk, but they may actually suffer arsenic poisoning. For example, a 39-year-old woman had celiac disease, so she had to avoid wheat, barley, and rye, but she turned to so much rice that she ended up with sky-high arsenic levels and some typical symptoms, including “diarrhea, headache, insomnia, loss of appetite, abnormal taste, and impaired short-term memory and concentration.” As I discuss in my video How Much Arsenic in Rice Is Too Much, we, as doctors, should keep an eye out for signs of arsenic exposure in those who eat lots of rice day in and day out.

As you can see at 1:08 in my video, in its 2012 arsenic-in-rice exposé, Consumer Reports recommended adults eat no more than an average of two servings of rice a week or three servings a week of rice cereal or rice pasta. In its later analysis, however, it looked like “rice cereal and rice pasta can have much more inorganic arsenic—a carcinogen—than [its] 2012 data showed,” so Consumer Reports dropped its recommendation down to from three weekly servings to a maximum of only two, and that’s only if you’re not getting arsenic from other rice sources. As you can see from 1:29 in my video, Consumer Reports came up with a point system so people could add up all their rice products for the week to make sure they’re staying under seven points a week on average. So, if your only source of rice is just rice, for example, then it recommends no more than one or two servings for the whole week. I recommend 21 servings of whole grains a week in my Daily Dozen, though, so what to do? Get to know sorghum, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, barley, or any of the other dozen or so common non-rice whole grains out there. They tend to have negligible levels of toxic arsenic.

Rice accumulates ten times more arsenic than other grains, which helps explain why the arsenic levels in urine samples of those who eat rice tend to consistently be higher than those who do not eat rice, as you can see at 2:18 in my video. The FDA recently tested a few dozen quinoa samples, and most had arsenic levels below the level of detection, or just trace amounts, including the red quinoas that are my family’s favorite, which I was happy about. There were, however, still a few that were up around half that of rice. But, overall, quinoa averaged ten times less toxic arsenic than rice. So, instead of two servings a week, following the Consumer Reports recommendation, you could have 20. You can see the chart detailing the quinoa samples and their arsenic levels at 2:20 in my video.

So, diversifying the diet is the number-one strategy to reduce exposure of arsenic in rice. We can also consider alternatives to rice, especially for infants, and minimize our exposure by cooking rice like pasta with plenty of extra water. We found that a 10:1 water-to-rice ratio seemed best, though the data suggest the rinsing doesn’t seem to do much. We can also avoid processed foods sweetened with brown rice syrup. Is there anything else we can do at the dining room table while waiting for federal agencies to establish some regulatory limits?

What if you eat a lot of fiber-containing foods with your rice? Might that help bind some of the arsenic? Apparently not. In one study, the presence of fat did seem to have an effect, but in the wrong direction: Fat increased estimates of arsenic absorption, likely due to the extra bile we release when we eat fatty foods.

We know that the tannic acid in coffee and especially in tea can reduce iron absorption, which is why I recommend not drinking tea with meals, but might it also decrease arsenic absorption? Yes, by perhaps 40 percent or more, so the researchers suggested tannic acid might help, but they used mega doses—17 cups of tea worth or that found in 34 cups of coffee—so it isn’t really practical.

What do the experts suggest? Well, arsenic levels are lower in rice from certain regions, like California and parts of India, so why not blend that with some of the higher arsenic rice to even things out for everybody?

What?!

Another wonky, thinking-outside-the-rice-box idea involves an algae discovered in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park with an enzyme that can volatize arsenic into a gas. Aha! Researchers genetically engineered that gene into a rice plant and were able to get a little arsenic gas off of it, but the rice industry is hesitant. “Posed with a choice between [genetically engineered] rice and rice with arsenic in it, consumers may decide they just aren’t going to eat any rice” at all.


This is the corresponding article to the 11th in a 13-video series on arsenic in the food supply. If you missed any of the first ten videos, watch them here:

You may also be interested in Benefits of Turmeric for Arsenic Exposure.

Only two major questions remain: Should we moderate our intake of white rice or should we minimize it? And, are there unique benefits to brown rice that would justify keeping it in our diet despite the arsenic content? I cover these issues in the final two videos: Is White Rice a Yellow-Light or Red-Light Food? and Do the Pros of Brown Rice Outweigh the Cons of Arsenic?.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Topical Lemon Balm Lotion for Alzheimer’s

Improving cognitive performance with aromatherapy in young, healthy volunteers is one thing, but how about where it really matters? As I discuss in my video Best Aromatherapy Herb for Alzheimer’s, a group of Japanese researchers had a pie-in-the-sky notion that certain smells could lead to “nerve rebirth” in Alzheimer’s patients. Twenty years ago, even simply raising such a possibility as a hypothetical was heretical. Everybody knew that the loss of neurons is irreversible. In other words, dead nerve cells are not replaced, an important factor in neurodegenerative diseases. That’s what I was taught and what everyone was taught, until 1998.

Patients with advanced cancer volunteered to be injected with a special dye that’s incorporated into the DNA of new cells. On autopsy, researchers then went hunting for nerve cells that lit up in the brains. And, as you can see at 1:14 in my video, there they were: new nerve cells in the brain that didn’t exist just days or months before, demonstrating “that cell genesis occurs in human brains and that the human brain retains the potential for self-renewal throughout life”—something in which we can take comfort.

It still doesn’t mean smells can help, though. An aromatherapy regimen of rosemary, lemon, lavender, and orange essential oils was attempted for a month. At 1:43 in my video, you can see the trajectory of the subjects’ cognitive function and their ability to form abstract ideas starting six weeks before the treatment. Prior to the aromatherapy regimen, there was a rather steady decline, which was reversed after the aromatherapy. The researchers concluded that aromatherapy may be efficacious and “have some potential for improving cognitive function, especially in AD [Alzheimer’s disease] patients”—all, of course, without any apparent side effects.

What about severe dementia? We always hear about the cognitive deficits, but more than half of patients with dementia experience behavioral or psychiatric symptoms. Thorazine-type antipsychotic drugs are often prescribed, even though they appear to be particularly dangerous in the elderly. “Antipsychotic medication may be viewed as an easier option than non pharmacological alternatives,” such as aromatherapy. Another study examined the effect of rubbing a lemon balm-infused lotion on the arms and face of patients twice daily by caregiving staff, compared with lotion without the scent. “During the 4 weeks, significant improvements were seen” in agitation, shouting, screaming, and physical aggression, as were improved quality of life indicators, with patients less socially withdrawn and more engaged in constructive activities, compared to the unscented control. This is important because antipsychotics cause patients to become more withdrawn and less engaged. They are like a chemical restraint. The drugs can reduce agitation, too. So, aromatherapy with lemon balm “is safe, well tolerated, and highly efficacious, with additional benefits on key quality of life parameters.”

These findings clearly indicate the need for longer-term multicenter trials,” but we never had any, until…never. We still don’t have any. This study was conducted in 2002, and there have been no follow-ups. Is that a surprise? Who’s going to fund such a study: Big Balm?

I’ve produced one other video on lemon balm: Reducing Radiation Damage with Ginger and Lemon Balm. We grow lemon balm in our garden. It makes a delicious tea. Give it a try!


For more on the potential (and limitations) of aromatherapy, check out:

It’s better, of course, to prevent dementia in the first place. Learn more:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Food Combining for Prostate Cancer

What would happen if you secretly gave cancer patients four of the healthiest foods?

In my video Pomegranate vs. Placebo for Prostate Cancer, I discussed how pomegranate pills appeared useless in the treatment for prostate cancer, and the same disappointing results were seen with a pomegranate beverage, but that was just a pomegranate extract as well. So, maybe the pomegranate itself “cannot be blamed for the ineffectiveness seen in the study” but rather the low dose of the pomegranate active principles in the extract. But what is the active principle? Extracts will boast about the level of ellagic acid, definitely “one of the most potent of the phytochemicals found in pomegranate. However, it is not as strong as pomegranate” itself.

What researchers mean is that the components may act synergistically: The whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. As you can see at 1:07 in my video Best Supplements for Prostate Cancer, human prostate cancer cells in a petri dish churned away at 100 percent growth, but after dripping on a pomegranate fraction, the cancer growth rate was cut by 30 percent. However, dripping on a different fraction appeared useless. What do you think would happen if you added them both together? 30% suppression + 0% suppression = 70% suppression! That’s synergy, where 1 + 1 is greater than 2. Under a microscope, prostate cancer cells appeared sparser with the combination of fractions. “Any attempt to characterize the phytoceutical power of a medicinal food by standardizing a single chemical is missing the entire point” of plant-based medicine. So, the standardized extracts represent a “cynical, lucre-driven [money-driven] attempt to replace the power of the pomegranate with the power of ellagic acid. The pomegranate needs no such tricks or enhancements.” It’s powerful as is. So, why don’t researchers just try the fruit on cancer patients?

Because you can’t stuff a pomegranate in a pill, so you can’t compare it to an indistinguishable sugar pill placebo. Drugs are easy to study. People don’t know if they are taking the active drug or a placebo, but they tend to notice if they’re eating a pomegranate or not. So, if you gave a bunch of cancer patients some pomegranates to eat and the cancer slowed down, you wouldn’t know if it was the pomegranates or just the placebo effect. Of course, the patients wouldn’t care. They’d just care that they got better. But, to change medical practice, we want to know if the fruit is actually something special. I suppose you could create some kind of pomegranate smoothie versus a fake smoothie, but that sounds logistically difficult. So, researchers tried powdering it. Three times a day, 199 men with prostate cancer got either a placebo or a tablet containing 100 mg of powdered whole pomegranate—the whole fruit with just the water taken out. How much can fit in a tablet? It comes out to be about six pomegranate seeds’ worth a day, about 1/100th of a pomegranate each day. Since so little could fit into a pill, researchers tried to maximize their chances of beating back the cancer using diversity.

As you can see at 4:01 in my video, two groups of people ate approximately the same amount of fruits and vegetables, but one group ate a relatively low biological diversity diet, where they ate tons of really healthy foods but just less variety than did a second group who ate smaller servings of a high diversity diet. Which group do you think would win in terms of protecting their DNA from free radical damage? The high diversity group. This suggests that “smaller amounts of many phytochemicals may have greater potential to exert beneficial effects than larger amounts of fewer phytochemicals.”

Same result for inflammation. Greater variety in fruit and vegetable intake is associated with lower inflammation even if you eat the same number of servings. Same with improving cognitive function, too. Greater variety in fruit and vegetable intake is also associated with a better mental status, executive function, attention, and memory function in some cases, even after adjustment for total quantity. So, if you have two people eating the same number of servings of healthy foods, the one eating a greater variety may do better.

Going back to the study with the 199 prostate cancer patients getting either a placebo or a tablet with 100 mg of powdered whole pomegranate three times daily, the researchers didn’t just put in pomegranate powder. They also added powdered broccoli, powdered turmeric, and powdered green tea concentrate. So, the tablet contained a fruit, a vegetable, a spice, and a leaf in tiny amounts—about one floret of broccoli a day, less than an eighth of a daily teaspoon of turmeric, and about one sixth of a tea bag worth of green tea. All great plants, but could such tiny amounts actually affect the progression of cancer? Yes. As you can see at 5:55 in my video, in the group of men with early stage prostate cancer trying to avoid surgery, the PSA levels in the placebo group rose nearly 50 percent, indicating that the cancer continued to flourish, whereas the PSAs didn’t rise at all in the pomegranate, broccoli, turmeric, and green tea food supplement group. And, in those with more advanced disease—patients who had already had surgery or radiation and were trying to avoid chemo—there was a 70 percent greater rise in PSA levels in the placebo group. This was enough to significantly delay some of these more toxic treatments. Indeed, the study found significant, short-term, favorable effects. However, they only had enough money to run the study for six months, because it was a “non-commercial” endeavor, funded by charities, not some supplement company. In fact, there was no supplement until the investigators dreamed it up from scratch for the study. Of course, now there’s a supplement, given the study’s extraordinary results, but the only reason the researchers put the foods in pill form was to match it with a placebo. In my mind, what this study should tell cancer patients is to eat curried broccoli with fruit for dessert and to sip some green tea. A completely plant-based diet may even shrink the tumor, not just slow it down, but there’s no reason we can’t do both with a plant-based diet chock full of especially powerful plants.

I love that study! You and I both know why these types of studies aren’t performed more often. Who would profit? (Other than the millions of people suffering and dying from cancer, of course!)

The note I ended on, the landmark Ornish study, is detailed in Cancer Reversal Through Diet. For those unwilling or unable to make such significant dietary changes, there’s still something you can do. See Prostate Cancer Survival: The A/V Ratio. Changing a Man’s Diet After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis isn’t easy!


For more on the 2 + 2 > 4 concept, see Food Synergy.

What about preventing prostate cancer in the first place? Check out my videos like Prostate Cancer and Organic Milk vs. Almond Milk and Eggs, Choline, and Cancer to get a sense of what you might want to avoid. But, in terms of what to eat, see The Role of Soy Foods in Prostate Cancer Prevention and Fermented or Unfermented Soy Foods for Prostate Cancer Prevention?.

Also, see: 

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations: