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Annu Rev Nutr. 2009;29:381-99. doi: 10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141102.

Effects of arsenic on maternal and fetal health.

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  • 1Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.


Arsenic, which is commonly found in drinking water, is a potent toxicant, but little is known about its effects on maternal health. Arsenic's modes of action include enzyme inhibition and oxidative stress as well as immune, endocrine, and epigenetic effects. A couple of studies reported increased blood pressure and anemia during pregnancy. Susceptibility to arsenic is dependent on the biomethylation, which occurs via one-carbon metabolism. Methylarsonic acid and dimethylarsinic acid are main metabolites in urine, and elevated methylarsonic acid is considered a general risk factor. Arsenic easily passes the placenta, and a few human studies indicate a moderately increased risk of impaired fetal growth and increased fetal and infant mortality. The fetus and infant are probably partly protected by the increased methylation of arsenic during pregnancy and lactation; the infant is also protected by low arsenic excretion in breast milk. Early-life exposure may induce changes that will become apparent much later in life.

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