This toxic element, naturally present in some aquifers used for drinking, is currently a significant public health problem in at least 70 countries, including several developing countries and also parts of the U.S. Chronic arsenic exposure is associated with increased risk for skin, liver and bladder cancers, skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, and other adverse health outcomes.

The researchers found that treatment with 400 micrograms a day of folic acid, the U.S. recommended dietary allowance, reduced total blood arsenic levels in the study population by 14 percent. Folate, a B vitamin found in leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans, and whole grains, can also be taken as a vitamin supplement, and in the U.S., is added to flour and other fortified foods. “Folic acid supplementation enhanced the detoxification of arsenic to a form that is more readily excreted in urine,” said Mary Gamble, PhD, assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and lead author.

Folic acid increased the methylation or detoxification of arsenic in the body, allowing the body to change some of its more toxic metabolite, or methylarsonic (MMA) acid, to a form that could more easily be excreted from the body, thus lowering the levels of arsenic found in the blood.

“Clearly the first priority should focus on mitigation efforts to lower arsenic exposure. But this very exciting and significant finding implies that folic acid has therapeutic potential for people who have been exposed to arsenic,” said Dr. Gamble. “Although additional studies are needed, the results of this study suggest that a simple, low-cost nutritional intervention may help to prevent some of the long-term health consequences associated with arsenic exposure for the many populations at risk.”

MEDICA.de; Source: Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health