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Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Sep;113(9):1153-9.

Dietary intake and arsenic methylation in a U.S. population.

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Arsenic Health Effects Research Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, CA 094720, USA.


Millions of people worldwide are exposed to arsenic-contaminated drinking water, and ingestion of inorganic arsenic (InAs) has been associated with increased risks of cancer. The primary metabolic pathway of ingested InAs is methylation to monomethyl arsenic (MMA) and dimethyl arsenic (DMA). However, people vary greatly in the degree to which they methylate InAs, and recent evidence suggests that those who excrete high proportions of ingested arsenic as MMA are more susceptible than others to arsenic-caused cancer. To date, little is known about the factors that determine interindividual differences in arsenic methylation. In this study, we assessed the effect of diet on arsenic metabolism by measuring dietary intakes and urinary arsenic methylation patterns in 87 subjects from two arsenic-exposed regions in the western United States. Subjects in the lower quartile of protein intake excreted a higher proportion of ingested InAs as MMA (14.6 vs. 11.6%; p = 0.01) and a lower proportion as DMA (72.3 vs. 77.0%; p = 0.01) than did subjects in the upper quartile of protein intake. Subjects in the lower quartile of iron, zinc, and niacin intake also had higher urinary percent MMA and lower percent DMA levels than did subjects with higher intakes of these nutrients. These associations were also seen in multivariate regression analyses adjusted for age, sex, smoking, and total urinary arsenic. Given the previously reported links between high percent MMA and increased cancer risks, these findings are consistent with the theory that people with diets deficient in protein and other nutrients are more susceptible than others to arsenic-caused cancer.

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