CAT | Studies
Environmental toxins surround us every day, contributing to a nationwide increase in illness and chronic disease. Just recently, a new study examined the presence of one toxin in particular—arsenic—in U.S. well water and found that it raises heart health risks significantly.
Although most Americans rely on municipal (or public) water, roughly 15 million households (mainly in rural areas) use well water. This is important because while public water is required by the EPA to adhere to a 10 parts-per-billion safety standard for arsenic to avoid the harmful effects of chronic arsenic exposure, well water is not—and in some cases levels are more than a hundred times higher than the so-called “safe” standard.
For the study, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health looked at a handful of Native American populations in areas of the Dakotas and southwestern United States whose primary source of water is well water. Their goal was to determine whether or not there was a link between arsenic in the water and a higher incidence of heart disease; as it turns out, there’s a big one.
After analyzing the urine samples of roughly 4,000 individuals, they discovered that the higher the level of arsenic in the urine, the higher the prevalence of atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries), stroke and heart attack. And in those with chronic arsenic exposure, heart disease rates were often doubled. Previous studies conducted outside the U.S. have had similar results.
Though not a heavy metal, researchers say, arsenic shares similar qualities and may cause damage to the cells and blood vessels around the heart. There is also evidence it may trigger an abnormal inflammation response in the body as well as affect healthy metabolism by disrupting the breakdown of fats, both of which can contribute to harmful plaque buildup.
As scientists continue to examine the link between arsenic exposure from well water and heart health risks, they are also looking into raising awareness in the medical community about the harmful effects of environmental toxins. One possible solution in this case is the use of water filters as well as chelation treatment (which helps remove stored metals from the body’s cells and tissues).
First heart health and now a better memory? No wonder we love chocolate. Researchers from Columbia University Medical Center recently completed a small but noteworthy study in which antioxidant compounds found in chocolate were shown to help older adults improve memory skills as they age.
Scientists recruited nearly 40 participants between the ages of 50 and 69, each of whom drank a daily mixture containing cocoa flavanols. After only three months, those who received the high-flavanol mixture performed about 25 percent better on a memory test than their low-flavanol counterparts—a difference study author Dr. Scott Small said was equal to performing like someone two or three decades younger.
The memory test involved everyday tasks such as facial recognition and remembering the location of an object, both of which are skills that seem to decline as we get older. Scientists speculate the improvements could be the result of increased blood flow to the brain or even stimulated growth of message-receiving neurons in the brain. However, no improvement was seen in areas of the brain often impaired in those with Alzheimer’s, suggesting the disease follows a different process than normal age-related memory loss.
Still, just eating more chocolate isn’t going to do the trick—unless you’re up for eating at least 300 grams of dark chocolate a day (that’s about seven candy bars, say researchers)—not to mention most of those healthy flavanols are often processed out. However, more research is planned to see if the healthy compounds may provide benefits in pill form.