Should the threat of arsenic poisoning ruin your wine Wednesday?

wine_blogIt has been “tested” many times and is now common knowledge for many that three or four glasses of red wine in one sitting will put you at risk for a headache the next morning. But does drinking wine also put you at risk for arsenic poisoning?

This concern came to the forefront after a class action lawsuit was filed in California last March and alleged 28 wineries of knowingly producing wine contaminated with arsenic without warning consumers. Then, a more recent study of 65 American red wines found that 64 of them had arsenic levels at or above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) exposure limit for drinking water.

However, while it may sound dire, researchers are saying you don’t have to dump your wine down the drain just yet. According to a second study, analysts have concluded that the health risk from arsenic in wine is very low and wine drinkers should only be concerned if they also eat a large amount of other arsenic-contaminated foods.

“Arsenic is a whole-diet issue,” Denise Wilson of the University of Washington, author of both papers in this month’s issue of the Journal of Environmental Health, said in the article. “We’ll never be able to point at one food, beverage, or supplier to fix the problem.”

Currently, the U.S. government does have limits set for arsenic levels in wine or food, but it does limit exposure in drinking water to 10 parts per billion (ppb). In the wine samples tested, researchers discovered an average of 24 ppb, and a range of 10 to 76 ppb. Wines produced in the state of Washington had the highest levels of arsenic (averaged 28 ppb) and Oregon had the lowest (averaged 13 ppb).

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, soil, water, even air, and plants, including grape vines, absorb arsenic from soil and water. Long-term exposure to arsenic can increase one’s risk of several types of cancer, the article states, and the Department of Health and Human Services lists inorganic arsenic as a known human carcinogen.

However, while the wine samples tested were above the EPA’s threshold for arsenic in water, those levels aren’t a major health concern by themselves, especially for adults, the article states.

“Consumers need to look at their diets as a whole. If you are eating a lot of contaminated rice, organic brown rice syrup, seafood, wine, apple juice — all those heavy contributors to arsenic poisoning — you should be concerned, especially pregnant women, kids and the elderly. But otherwise, there is little health threat,” Wilson said.

Wilson also analyzed how much arsenic could be safely consumed by individuals based on other sources in their diet. For the core of frequent adult wine drinkers, the findings indicate that the single source only makes up 10 to 12% of the recommended daily arsenic intake.

“If you are drinking red wine, don’t stop.” There was enough variation in the amount of arsenic among wineries that just switching up your red of choice should keep you out of harm’s way, she added.

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