Consumers warned of arsenic and lead in 'health' drinks

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Digestion

UK consumers have been warned not to drink a range of clay-based beverages marketed for digestive benefits and detoxifying qualities as they contain harmful levels of arsenic and lead.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) sent the warning out this week, after tests on some brands of the products revealed unsafe levels of the toxins.

“Exposure to arsenic can be associated with an increased risk of lung, skin and bladder cancer. Additionally, exposure to lead by pregnant women, infants and children poses a risk to the development of the brain which can affect intellectual performance,”​ said FSA.

The products tested by the agency and found to be unsafe were:

  • Naturally Green, 100% bentonite clay, 250g, Batch No.17810, Best Before 2012
  • Chloe’s Beauty Room, 100% bentonite clay, 250g (manufactured by Naturally Green), Batch No. 17810, Best Before 2012
  • The Superfood Co., 100% bentonite clay powder, 250g, Batch No. 17810, Best Before 2012
  • Health Leads, Bentonite Clay, 1Kg, Batch No.34784, Best Before 05/11
  • Scent by Nature, Argiletz superfine green clay, 300g, LOT 090 -09 DL 09 11
  • Seventh wave supplements, green clay (French), 250g, LOT 031090307, BB 07.03.11
  • Fangocur, Mineral drink, 100ml, date of production 15 June 2009

Routine testing

The agency told this morning that the problem was found via a routine testing process.

“These products are all marketed online. They are the only clay-based drinks we’re aware of that are sold on the market and we tested them all,”​ said FSA.

“The FSA has only carried out testing on the specified batches of the products named above. There may be other batches of those products and other clay-based drinks on the market.”

The agency has told consumers not to drink these and to consult their doctors if they have consumed the products and feel ill.

Claimed benefits

The clay drinks are marketed for a variety of alleged health benefits.

For example, Fangocour Mineral Drink claims to be a natural remedy for heartburn, gas, constipation and diarrhoea. The company claims its “concentrated mineral/water solution”​ (including sulphur, silica, calcium, manganese, iron) “is very helpful to the digestive system”.​ In addition, it is said to help absorb and bind toxins and impurities in the gut.

Another product on FSA’s list – Betonite Clay – also claims detoxification benefits. “Bentonite Clay may adsorb toxins from the digestive tract. It is also used as an enema to absorb toxins from the bowel,”​ states the product’s online marketing.

Arsenic and lead

Metals and other elements can be present in food either naturally, as a result of human activities (such as farming, industry or car exhausts), from contamination during manufacture/processing and storage, or by direct addition.

It has long been known that excessive amounts of any metal could be potentially dangerous, but experts say there is now also strong evidence that some trace elements can also contribute to aggressive or anti-social behaviour.

Arsenic is a nonthreshold class one carcinogen, which means that there are no ‘safe’ levels of exposure.

Currently, China is the only country to have modern levels of how much arsenic is permitted in food, and has set the limit at 0.15mg of inorganic arsenic per kg of food.

The US and EU have no standards for arsenic levels in food, but the US has a 0.01mg/liter limit in drinking water. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also placed a provisional level of 0.01mg/l in drinking water. The UK has standards that date back to 1959, and that set the limit of 1mg/kg total arsenic in foodstuffs.

Beyond the toxicity linked to these heavy metals, they can also impact negatively on the absorption of beneficial nutrients. For example, lead acts as an ‘anti-nutrient’, hindering the utilisation of magnesium, zinc and vitamin B1.

Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, muscle cramps, heart abnormalities, liver damage, anaemia and reduced motor nerve function.

Lead poisoning can cause weight loss, insomnia, dizziness, swelling of the brain and paralysis.

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