Arsenic Poisoning And Natural Zeolites

Complaints that patients with arsenic poisoning are not receiving the care and attention they deserve cause us to look at some different options. The human body excretes arsenic at a certain maximum rate that depends on the individual. If arsenic is ingested at a greater rate that can be excreted by the kidneys, it will build up in the liver, spleen and blood. Of course we also know that if one can exclude arsenic from the diet, all of the build-up will be excreted within days or weeks with the exception of that portion sequestered in the nails and hair. Therefore if the patient was to drink only arsenic-free water that would be likely to do the job eventually, provided the victim has not yet reached the point of no return.

Experts have suggested that introducing zeolite into the diet could potentially accelerate the excretion of arsenic by creating another excretion mechanism in addition to the kidneys. As the blood supply to the small intestine is extremely ramified, and blood is exposed to the fluid inside the intestine, the zeolite would be able to "withdraw" the arsenic from the blood and bind it and it would then be excreted with the faces even, while the kidneys keep excreting arsenic.

Arsenic is not sequestered in the bones like lead and some other heavy metals, so it should be more susceptible to leaching. If an effective therapy could be developed, some of the applications could be: Purging of the arsenic burden from patients with visible symptoms; Purging of patients suspected to have elevated arsenic in the body; Users of a contaminated source given zeolite routinely to maintain a rate of excretion of arsenic that is greater than the intake of arsenic in the diet.

But like everything else there is a trick to it for the right leaching agent would have to be found, something that the arsenic would bind with. But as to date, no investigation along these lines has been undertaken it remains a theory. However, in 1998 a Ph.D. dissertation at the University of South Florida reported on research that identified a natural zeolite, chabazite, that absorbed both arsenite and arsenate when modified by attaching iron (Fe ++) to the crystalline matrix. As zeolites have been used to leach certain heavy metals from humans, (for example, cesium was leached from children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by using clinoptilolite, a common natural zeolite), it could be worth a try.

However leaching of arsenic could be accompanied by leaching or blocking the absorption by the body of other minerals that are nutritionally beneficial. A proper trial must therefore be undertaken by a competent body. The ICDDR,B, could mount a clinical trial to investigate the potential benefits and risks associated with zeolite. We need to find a good source of zeolite with an affinity to arsenic and not expensive. China is a major supplier of clinoptilolite and can probably supply it at a reasonable price. But as the US Food and Drug Administration has not approved the clinical use of any zeolite for this purpose, researchers and health workers are hesitant to use this as a treatment, especially as there is not yet enough clinical or epidemiological experience with chronic arsenicosis to guide clinicians. However there is plenty of evidence to suggest that ingesting modest amounts of zeolite for a few days could do no harm.

We must also be mindful that however successful zeolite therapy may be, it will not "solve" the arsenic problem in Bangladesh. If an effective, safe zeolite therapy could be developed, the benefit could be to relieve morbidity for those patients who do not have access to arsenic free drinking water or safe surface water and who are unlikely to get relief any other way. This would be far from being a perfect outcome, but it might be at least provide an affordable intervention that would relieve the worst effects of chronic arsenicosis while alternatives to the current drinking water supplies are under development.

 Source: The Bangladesh Observer, March 11, 2001