Please Pass The Arsenic…

And the Boron shaker while you are at it…

The Poison Is In The Dose

A very very true thing, most often observed in the ignoring of it. From water and salt, both essential to life, but lethal in too high a dose, to radiation and now arsenic; both flat out poisons in almost all minds, yet close observation shows radiation in small doses results in fewer deaths and now arsenic is showing up in normal metabolism.

All things tend to the continuum in nutrition. We evolved in a soup bowl of volcanic mud full of all sorts of “evil” things, and found ways to have them not hurt us, and in some cases put them to work inside our cells. Just sometimes in very tiny amounts.

Oh, and kudos for Hamsters… boldly going where no human has gone before…

Magnes Trace Elem. 1990;9(4):227-32.
Effects of arsenic deprivation in hamsters.

Author information

1United States Department of Agriculture, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks.


An experiment was conducted to ascertain the effects of arsenic deprivation in hamsters. Male weanling Golden Syrian hamsters were fed a casein-corn-based diet containing approximately 12 ng arsenic/g. Controls were fed 1 microgram arsenic/g of diet, as Na2HAsO4.7 H2O. After 6 weeks arsenic deprivation elevated heart weight/body weight ratio and the concentration of liver zinc and decreased the concentrations of the plasma amino acids alanine, glycine, phenylalanine and taurine. Although no biological role has been found for arsenic, the findings indicate that the hamster is a suitable animal for arsenic deprivation studies and support the hypothesis that arsenic may have a physiological role that influences methionine/methyl metabolism.


Note the sizes here. nano-grams is deprivation. micro-grams is not. Grams? Don’t go there…

Now hamsters are not people, and one feeding study is not a metabolic elucidation… so what else is there?

More Critters and Wide Species Range

Environ Geochem Health. 1992 Jun;14(2):55-8. doi: 10.1007/BF01783629.
Evidence for arsenic essentiality.

Author information

1United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, University Station, PO Box 7166, 58202-7166, Grand Forks, ND, USA.


Although numerous studies with rats, hamsters, minipigs, goats and chicks have indicated that arsenic is an essential nutrient, the physiological role of arsenic is open to conjecture. Recent studies have suggested that arsenic has a physiological role that affects the formation of various metabolites of methionine metabolism including taurine and the polyamines. The concentration of plasma taurine is decreased in arsenic-deprived rats and hamsters. The hepatic concentration of polyamines and the specific activity of an enzyme necessary for the synthesis of spermidine and spermine, S-adenosylmethionine decarboxylase, are also decreased in arsenic-deprived rats. Thus, evidence has been obtained which indicates that arsenic is of physiological importance, especially when methionine metabolism is stressed (e.g. pregnancy, lactation, methionine deficiency, vitamin B6 deprivation). Any possible nutritional requirement by humans can be estimated only by using data from animal studies. The arsenic requirement for growing chicks and rats has been suggested to be near 25 ng g(-1) diet. Thus, a possible human requirement is 12 μg day(-1). The reported arsenic content of diets from various parts of the world indicates that the average intake of arsenic is in the range of 12-40 μg. Fish, grain and cereal products contribute most arsenic to the diet.


For anyone wondering, yes, spermidine was first found in sperm and is important in a bunch of cellular functions. Oh, and it might make for a longer lifespan…

Sperm, Grapefruit Slow Aging
Spermidine found to increase lifespans of fruit flies, worms

By Rob Quinn, Newser Staff
Posted Oct 8, 2009 1:25 AM CDT

(Newser) – The fountain of youth may be filled with grapefruit and human sperm, according to Austrian researchers. The scientists found that spermidine, a chemical compound abundant in both sperm and grapefruit, increased longevity by around a third in fruit flies and worms when it was added to their diet. Human immune cells also lived longer when cultured in the compound. The spermidine slowed the aging process by making cellular processes more efficient, according to researchers.

So if you would live longer, eat your grapefruit and get enough arsenic via fish and grains… (And no caustic remarks about young looking hot older women, ok? This article is about arsenic… and we don’t want them using it in quantity, now do we?…)

Now I also note in passing that cats don’t eat a lot of grapefruit and grains, and those who can’t fish don’t get much fish. So cats might tend to naturally be low in arsenic. Cats also can’t make their own taurine, so for them, it is an essential nutrient. It is also found in “energy drinks”, which might imply that folks who get an extra boost from it might benefit from more fish and grains and a grapefruit with breakfast, and drop the Mr. SuperZoom drink… I leave open the question of “Did cats lose the taurine synthesis path as they didn’t have enough arsenic to drive it?” for someone to do a cat arsenic deprivation study.

Me? (Really “us” as I cook for the familiy) We’re already doing a Fish Friday (that whole ‘spouse decided to be a Catholic for a while’ thing…) and I’ll likely increase that to 2 x a week. Typically served with potatoes (fish ‘n chips or fishsticks and tater-tots or…) I’m thinking ‘fish and grain’ dish would be a good addition. Then adding a grapefruit for breakfast some times. I always felt a bit of a ‘lift’ from a grapefruit, but figured that was the ounce of sugar I dumped on top ;-) I can easily be happy with a breakfast of oatmeal and grapefruit (ignore that 3 pats of butter and ounce of cream on the oatmeal and that drizzle of maple syrup and…)

But Wait, there’s More!

Vanadium and Nickel? Oh Dear, I think I need to go gnaw on a wrench… Bold bits mine…

FASEB J. 1991 Sep;5(12):2661-7.
Nutritional requirements for boron, silicon, vanadium, nickel, and arsenic: current knowledge and speculation.

Author information

1United States Department of Agriculture, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, North Dakota 58202.


Definition of specific biochemical functions in higher animals (including humans) for the ultratrace elements boron, silicon, vanadium, nickel, and arsenic still has not been achieved although all of these elements have been described as being essential nutrients. Recently, many new findings from studies using molecular biology techniques, sophisticated equipment, unusual organisms, and newly defined enzymes have revealed possible sites of essential action for these five elements. Based on these findings and the response of animals and/or humans to low intakes of these elements, the following speculations have been presented:

1) Boron has a role that affects cell membrane characteristics and transmembrane signaling.

2) Silicon is necessary for the association between cells and one or more macromolecules such as osteonectin, which affects cartilage composition and ultimately cartilage calcification.

3) Vanadium reacts with hydrogen peroxide to form a pervanadate that is required to catalyze the oxidation of halide ions and/or stimulate the phosphorylation of receptor proteins.

4) Nickel is needed for the CO2-fixation to propionyl-CoA to form D-methylmalonyl-CoA.

5) Arsenic has an important role in the conversion of methionine to its metabolites taurine, labile methyl, and the polyamines.

If any of these speculations are found to be true, the element involved will be firmly established as having a nutritional requirement because the body obviously cannot synthesize it. Based on animal findings, the dietary requirement is likely to be small; that is, expressed in micrograms per day.


Well… I guess having sand kicked in your face can now be seen as “free lunch” and helpful to your “osteonectin”… but where in heck to I get my vanadium from?

In Conclusion

OK, so eating things like fish is likely to ‘have it all’ as everything ends up in the ocean. Add in some grass fed things (as grasses use silicon more than most) and you are likely ‘good to go’. Probably just leaving the grain whole is enough.

The upshot of all this, to me, is that we really do need to be eating a broad diet of fruits and vegetables, along with grains and fish. Birds and mammals that eat those things ought to be helpful, but may not be as strong a source as the original product (animals tend to dump the excess of nutrients that don’t store well, like metals).

It also says to me that being overly paranoid about “toxins” and “heavy metal toxins” is just as likely to shorten your life and make you operate poorly as being over exposed to such things. We developed in a soup of such metals, and have poor understanding for just how many of them really are a working part of our machinery. Literally: ALL things, in moderation. At least when it comes to metal ions found in the ocean and mud near volcanoes.

With that, I need to go dig in the garage… I’m sure I bought some vanadium wrenches some decades back… ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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29 Responses to Please Pass The Arsenic…

  1. Steven Fraser says:

    I was thinking mud pies, myself.

  2. Larry Ledwick says:

    Interesting –

    Per this item, I would submit that this level of arsenic is probably well within the biologically useful range and a good starting point for assessing arsenic loads in tissue fluids.!divAbstract

    Finally, the developed procedure was applied to a number of sea-water samples from the Ross Sea (Southern Ocean, Antarctica). Arsenic concentration ranged from 0.88 to 1.03 μg L−1 (n = 12), which are typical values for the uncontaminated offshore waters.

    Chrome vanadium is commonly used in high quality tools and springs.
    Per wiki looks like some ocean algae would be a likely source.

    Vanadium occurs naturally in about 65 different minerals and in fossil fuel deposits. It is produced in China and Russia from steel smelter slag; other countries produce it either from the flue dust of heavy oil, or as a byproduct of uranium mining. It is mainly used to produce specialty steel alloys such as high-speed tool steels. The most important industrial vanadium compound, vanadium pentoxide, is used as a catalyst for the production of sulfuric acid.

    Large amounts of vanadium ions are found in a few organisms, possibly as a toxin. The oxide and some other salts of vanadium have moderate toxicity. Particularly in the ocean, vanadium is used by some life forms as an active center of enzymes, such as the vanadium bromoperoxidase of some ocean algae.

    (sea weed??)

  3. Another Ian says:


    From my days in animal nutrition research.

    Underwood, E.J. (1977). “Trace elements in human and animal nutrition”

    had arsenic as likely essential. So we, coming from a deficient area, worked out that when we went coastal we needed to eat up on prawns.

    And maybe the response of bluestone and arsenic sheep drench might have been nutritional rather than parasite control.

  4. Gail Combs says:

    I think I am glad I have well water from next to a volcanic dike….

    Oh and E.M. add Cinnamon to the grapefruit.

    Differential effects of honey, sucrose, and fructose on blood sugar levels.

    E.M. you will have to fish my next comment, Random info on food, out of the spam/trash file since it is a list of interesting nutrition links.

  5. omanuel says:

    Thanks for this post. The public needs to know that life started to evolve on Earth when the levels of radioactivity were higher than they are today. A little knowledge is dangerous in hands of fanatics.

    1. Our elements were formed in a supernova 5 Ga ago
    2. Life started to evolve on Earth about 3.8 Ga ago
    3. Self-sustaining nuclear reactors burned on Earth 2 Ga ago
    4. U-235 decayed faster than U-238. It is too low to power natural reactors now.

  6. Tony Hansen says:

    ‘Literally: ALL things, in moderation’
    Oscar Wilde supposedly said ‘I believe in moderation in all things.. including moderation’

  7. Glenn999 says:

    Thanks for the laugh.

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    Cute cartoon, but we already have a few political threads running where it would fit better. I’d like to keep this one as tech biology oriented as possible (for when folks want ‘political relief’ or escape.) Lord knows I’m looking for escape ;-)


    Yeah, one of my favorites … especially on saturday night…

  9. philjourdan says:

    Fish on Friday only during Lent. But as you note, it does not hurt having it regularly (I do – but I love seafood).

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    Fish on friday REQUIRED during lent, but approved every Friday for the hard core retro types (as we had it as the special EVERY Friday in the family restaurant)….

    And nobody better EVER say I used retro or hard core in any context remotly near my spouse or I’m going to be doing the vacuuming as well as my present cooking and dishes duties….. SWIMBO doesn’t even come close to capturing that whole Celtic thing :-)

  11. cdquarles says:

    I love fish, but I don’t particularly like to clean them. As far as heavy metals go, glutathione and other sulfides (insulin and the somatomedins, by the way, require methionine, if I am remembering correctly) have great coordination chemistry with them and tend to sequester them.

    I suspect that organisms that tend to get sufficient to more than sufficient amounts of the hundreds of nutrients don’t keep making proteins to synthesize them, but do keep the genes around, just in case.

  12. tom0mason says:

    I note that Chrome, Vanadium and Nickel can all be used as catalyst, Arsenic however is know to ‘poison’ this catalytic function especially with Nickel.
    I wonder if that is all that the body uses Arsenic as, a catalyst moderator?

  13. The LD50 dose (50% of recipients will die within four weeks) of gamma radiation is ~0.5 Gray or 500 REM if you like the old units. Radiation safety around the world is based on the LNT (Linear No Threshold) model that says life expectancy is reduced no matter how small the dose may be. Thus we design nuclear radiation shielding according to ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) even though there is overwhelming evidence that radiation that does not kill you may improve your life expectancy. Here are a couple of examples that falsify the LNT hypothesis:

    This is a study of a major nuclear radiation accident in Taiwan that caused amazement in the nuclear safety community because is shows that gamma radiation can improve life expectancy:

    Dr. Sakamoto lives in Sendai province where Fukushima is located. He exposes his patients to levels of ionizing radiation hundreds of times higher than anyone could receive by living in Fukushima yet his patients survive longer than those that do not receive significant doses of ionizing radiation:

    Click to access Sakamoto-2012_ANSconf-June23.pdf

  14. My last two comments disappeared. This may mean that I am “Persona Non Grata”.


    [Reply: No, it just means some WordPress hot button got triggered. I’ll fish them out. -E.M.Smith ]

  15. Jeff says:

    I don’t know if anyone remembers Herb Caen (of the SF Chronicle) and his “Namephreaks”, but I think this one certainly qualifies: “Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center”… Have to wonder if they do weight-loss studies :)

  16. philjourdan says:

    Re: Hard Core Retro – That I said, EM never said it Ms. EM! Honest!

    Since Pope JP II, you can also find some Latin Tridentine liturgies as well (there is one about 50 miles from me). But I prefer the type I can understand,

  17. H.R. says:

    Here’s another toxin that I use; manganese.

    I have sciatic nerve flareups from time to time. I get them because the pressure of my wallet on my hip sets off the nerve as it passes through the hip. I always remove my wallet on long car trips, and before retirement, would alternate hip pockets for my wallet. I’d still screw it up by forgetting to switch.pockets.

    One 20mg (maybe micro-gram, don’t have the bottle at hand) usually clears out a flareup in one day. If not, one more tablet the next day definitely clears out the pain. I never have had to take it a third day. It would take 3-5 days when I was using ibuprofen to get through a flareup.

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    Oddly, having grown up with the Latin one (Dad was Catholic sort of, and my Mexican friend liked company sometimes) I’m rather fond of the impression of mystery and magestry the Latin projects. When I first heard it in English, it was dissapointingly trite in parts…

    On the other hand, knowing what was being said was a lot clearer and I finally knew what was going on… :-)

    Generally, I found the First Southern Baptist fire & brimstone preaching more entertaining, as a pre-teen at the time. Episcopalian (earlt teen years) did a nice job of capturing the pagentry of Catholicism with the intelligibility of English and with some interesting sermon content (I was tired of fire & brimstone by then :-) My personal favorite was the Buddhist services. Very polite and peaceful, as you would expect. Were I prone to regular membership anywhere, that would likely be my choice.

    Now, with the spouse, the occasional Catholic service is pleasant, understandable, and through the repetition aspect I’m even catching onto some of the call and response. While the hopping up and down keeps you awake, the kneeling part is hard on old knees… so we just sit and lean forward. It is a more active service than most protestant ones (though the Evangelicals can be a rock concert / dance with preaching – very fun)

    BTW, I do something I call ‘collecting churches’. Visit different denominations to see how they do things… very pleasant education in religion and human nature. In some ways I found Jewish Temple (at least the weddings and funerals I’ve been to) the most balanced quality experience. Good singers and more conversational events. I don’t know about regular services.. but the burnt offering smells like BBQ to me and I get hungry :-)

    I’ve not done a Muslim Mosque (yet?) as I doubt unbelievers are supposed to attend, they have many unfamiliar rules, and get very cranky if you violate any of them, even from error. I’m also not very good at the Butts Up Face Down posture and transitions to & from it… so I’d stick out like a tall redhead in China and be more disruptive by my presence than I like (I like to blend in quietly).

    Next on my shopping list is Eastern Orthodox and Coptic. There are a few in driving distance. The Coptic Christian is all in Coptic as a liturgical language and it lets you hear old Egyptian, which would be a cool experience, even if baffling :-) The Easter Orthodox & Catholic now have cross communion agreements, so the spouse could even participate…)

    but I digress…


    Wouldn’t that W.W. be “Petite Forks”? :-)

    And yes, I remember Herb Caen… back when the paper was worth reading…


    Imteresting idea…

    Metal catalysts typically work by surface activation, enzymes by shape and active regions from protien folding, so I’d speculate ‘not’… but if a study of those metal complexed enzymes showed occasional coordinated arsenic…

    One needs to isolate a clearly arsenic center enzmy to prove ‘not only as moderator’ and an arsenic coordinated metal-enzyme to suggest ‘yes’…


    The genes tend to stay arround but shut off until a mutation breaks them. Some much longer than others.

    I’ve been told that a transplant of beak forming tissue in chick embryos to a different location undoes the genetic supression and it makes teeth… so birds have the teeth genes, just shut off.

    As our fingernails are basically precise scales, humans might be able to form a scale covered skin with the right control genes set. Hair is essentially a modified scale, so it is likely we already have them turned on, but the gene itself modified… in which case it would be harder to get scales back… as a counter point.

    So for some genes, they get lost (cats and taurine manufacture, humans and Vit C), for others turned off but present, and often just modified to a different function.

    The really fascinating one is polyploidy in plants. They double their gene set, then over thousands of years, the two copies drift apart. Study both sets and you can see the history of gene evolution for that plant. How one gene turns into another. Often the original monoploid still exists so you have a clean baseline. Plant breeders now use this to do the same thing in decades. Colchesin treatment as one example.

  19. E.M.Smith says:


    I put the wallet in a hip bag along with other pocket litter… kind of like a fat money belt… along with check book, comb, pen.

    Nothing in the back pockets, keys and folding money (money clip) in front pockets. Coins in a coin purse about 2 x 2 inches.

    Works great.

    BTW, while at Disney, I got a badge holder that has two slots (the bus drivers use them) at the company store near badging. It holds badge and drivers license when in costume… it also neatly holds license and a credit card…. so it stays with the keys in a front pocket in case I rush to the store and forget the pouch… Anyone can buy one of these (about $3 IIRC) by walking in and saying you need a badge holder, 2 sided. Since folks get them when new hires they didn’t ask to see the badge.

    And yes, I got butt pains from the wallet too and tried the wandering wallet for a while. This system works the best of all, so far.

    Looks like Amazon has a thicker tougher id case

    the Disney one is a bit smaller, horizontal, and stiff enough to not bend. Cards slide in from the end, has a tab to slide them back out.

  20. philjourdan says:

    @E.M. – That is another thing that has gone the way of the Latin masses in more recent Catholic Churches – kneelers. I have not been in a Church with kneelers in a very long time.

    Like you, I have sampled many other denominations. Half put me to sleep. The Episcopalian is virtually identical to the Catholic service, with one major exception. Consubstantiation versus Transubstantiation. I was even surprised that their Apostle’s Creed was almost identical to the Catholic one.

  21. E.M.Smith says:


    We go to the Mission sometimes. Built in the 1800s… so with kneelers :-)

    Oh, and the one in Celebration Fl. had em too… but it is made a bit retro in the Disney tradition…

    I think I’ve not been to a recently built one… In Chicago it was one built by Polish folks also about late 1800s early 19ish. I think we are attracted to old churches….

  22. Gail Combs says:

    I started as Episcopalian since Dad was Lutheran and Mom Congregationalist. (Coin flip?) After confirmation we did the wandering church bit. Dad, as a salesman, moved a lot so we would try all the churches in a new town and then pick the one with the best speaker.

  23. E.M.Smith says:


    Sorry to be slow on the “moderation” duty of fishing things out. (Per your comment at: )

    FWIW, I only found one other comment in the moderation queue:

    so don’t know what the other one might have been. I’m going to reproduce the text of that one here, since it’s a ways back upstream…

    gallopingcamel says:
    13 September 2016 at 2:50 am (Edit)

    The LD50 dose (50% of recipients will die within four weeks) of gamma radiation is ~0.5 Gray or 500 REM if you like the old units. Radiation safety around the world is based on the LNT (Linear No Threshold) model that says life expectancy is reduced no matter how small the dose may be. Thus we design nuclear radiation shielding according to ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) even though there is overwhelming evidence that radiation that does not kill you may improve your life expectancy. Here are a couple of examples that falsify the LNT hypothesis:

    This is a study of a major nuclear radiation accident in Taiwan that caused amazement in the nuclear safety community because is shows that gamma radiation can improve life expectancy:

    Dr. Sakamoto lives in Sendai province where Fukushima is located. He exposes his patients to levels of ionizing radiation hundreds of times higher than anyone could receive by living in Fukushima yet his patients survive longer than those that do not receive significant doses of ionizing radiation:

    Click to access Sakamoto-2012_ANSconf-June23.pdf

    Why WordPress objected to this is beyond me. It might be the IP you are posting from, if on the road. When a new name / IP combo shows up, it goes to moderation until white listed by me…

    You can blame the slow moderation queue service on a new brand of Gin I was trying this weekend… it was, er, more tasty than I was prepared for ;-)

  24. cdquarles says:

    I beg to differ about gene loss. I don’t think it happens. Functional loss, yeah, that does happen. There is a lot of DNA directly passed around by viruses (and indirectly by RNA viruses) and these do cross species at times. Remember the junk DNA theory?

  25. H.R. says:

    E.M. So long as there are millions of men with no butt to speak of => hip pain from wallets, cargo pants and shorts will never go out of style. Mark my words ;o)

    I followed the link you provided and I think I’m going to get one of the waterproof card cases to use when fishing. They have one that will hold 6 cards, which covers my DL, CCW, permit, fishing license, Healthcare card, bank card, and car insurance card. It should not surprise anyone who surf fishes or fishes along rivers that eventually you’re going to get wet at least up to the waist and a waterproof case is “a good thing.”
    Church: I was raised in a “Church of Christ,” not to be confused with United Churches of Christ. There was a split in these two in the 1920s over instrumental music in services and independence of the individual churches. I wound up being raised in the autonomous, a Capella version. Bible reading twice a day, prayer at the drop of a hat, services 3 times a week plus a ‘sing-in’ about once a month. Services 7 evenings a week when a well-known or respected preacher was invited in for a Revival.

    I do miss the singing. There were quite a few from the Church of Christ who went on to be professional singers. Pat Boone was one of the best known. Dwight Yoakum attended our church and was a year younger than me. We lost touch after I moved to California after H.S. He was and is an excellent singer but hardly a standout where everyone was pretty much note perfect and equally good singers. Man-oh-man! His father was a basso profundo in a league with Tennessee Ernie Ford. A girl 2 years older than me went on to sing with the San Francisco Opera.

  26. Greg22 says:

    Can’t find tip section but Neutering dogs causes most of their diseases

  27. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ve got one of those plastic bigger ones and it works well. Disney sells them in the park so you don’t get stuff wet in places like Typhoon Lagoon. ..

    On of the interesting things to do is a genetic graph of sects… Even the Mormons have a few splits, and they are pretty new. Eventually we’ll end up with one church per person ;-)

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