Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Peril of the Shallows? Elevated Arsenic in Kelp Supplements

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Peril of the Shallows? Elevated Arsenic in Kelp Supplements

Article excerpt

Kelp, widely consumed in Asian countries, is a growing part of the U.S. supplement market. It generally is marketed as a concentrated source of iodine and other essential minerals. Because kelp is a nutritional supplement and not a drug, the FDA does not require manufacturers to demonstrate safety or efficacy. Now researchers at the University of California, Davis, report the case of a woman who received toxic doses of arsenic from kelp supplements [EHP 115:606-608; Amster et al.].

Arsenic occurs naturally in some soils, and can contaminate bodies of water. The metalloid concentrates in fish that eat arsenic-rich algae and can also be found in plants that absorb it from the soil or water in which they are grown. Human exposure typically comes from diet, contaminated drinking water, or occupational exposures, as in smelters; people ingest an average of 40 [micro]g per day.

The researchers investigated kelp supplements after a 54-year-old woman taking the pills was referred to the university's occupational medicine clinic. The patient had started taking kelp to treat minor memory loss and fatigue. She initially took the dose recommended on the bottle, then doubled it when her symptoms failed to improve. She took kelp for one year, during which her fatigue worsened to the point that she had to switch from full- to part-time work. She also experienced rash, diarrhea, vomiting, severe headaches, and hair loss. …

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