Is It Time to Freak-Out About Arsenic In Wine?

Is the arsenic in the irrigation water, pesticides, or introduced during processsing?

Is the arsenic in the irrigation water, pesticides, or introduced during processsing?

A class-action lawsuit in California claims that certain wines have dangerously high levels of arsenic that could cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. USA Today has one of the ubiquitous stories outlining the few details we know at this point.

Furthermore, chronic low-dose arsenic exposure can cause skin changes (e.g., scaly thick skin, darkening, lightening), peripheral neuropathy (numbness, pain, weakness, typically starting in the feet, then hands), peripheral vascular disease, and liver disease. The cancers linked to arsenic are mostly skin, bladder, lung, and liver. The increased cancer risk persists even after the end of exposure.

How Do You Know If You’ve Been Poisoned With Arsenic?

Comments here refer to chronic low-dose exposure; acute high dose poisoning is another can o’ worms.

First, see your doctor for a history and physical exam and let her know you’re worried about arsenic. If arsenic poisoning remains a possibility, lab testing is usually a 24-hour urine collection for arsenic, or spot urine for arsenic and creatinine. “Spot” in this context means a random single specimen, not a 24-hour collection. For the 48 to 72 hours before either of those tests, don’t eat fish, seaweed, or shellfish.

What about testing hair for arsenic? In general, it’s not accurate.

Bottom Line

At this point, if you or someone you love drinks wine, I suggest simply keeping an eye on this story as it develops. We need more facts. The whole thing could blow over, with nothing coming of it. One of the brands mentioned is Sutter Home, one of my favorites.

Remember a few years ago when we had the vapors over arsenic in rice?

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: Wine is a time-honored component of the traditional Mediterranean diet, but see my books for alternatives to wine. You don’t have to drink wine to live long and prosper.

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