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UC Davis study finds high arsenic levels in herbal kelp supplements

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) A study of herbal kelp supplements led by UC Davis public health expert Marc Schenker concludes that its medicinal use may cause inadvertent arsenic poisoning and health dangers for consumers, especially when overused. Schenker and two researchers evaluated nine over-the-counter herbal kelp products and found higher than acceptable arsenic levels in eight of them.

The new study, published in the April issue of Environmental Health Perspectives (http://www.ehponline.org/) was prompted by the case of a 54-year-old woman who was seen at the UC Davis Occupational Medicine Clinic following a two-year history of worsening alopecia (hair loss), fatigue and memory loss.

The woman's symptoms had begun with minor memory loss and fatigue. Her primary care physician initially found nothing wrong with the woman and thought the symptoms were related to menopause. With no specific diagnosis or treatment recommendations, the patient started taking a variety of herbal therapies, including a kelp supplement, fish oil, ginkgo biloba and grape seed extract. The kelp supplement was the only herbal therapy she took regularly throughout the course of her illness.

Over a period of several months the woman's short- and long-term memory became so impaired that she could no longer remember her home address. She also reported having a rash, nausea and vomiting, which made it very difficult to work and forced her to leave a full-time job. The woman actually increased her dosage of kelp from two to four pills a day after her doctors still could not find a clear diagnosis.

Subsequent laboratory tests finally revealed arsenic in the patient's blood and urine. At her physician's suggestion, the patient discontinued the kelp supplement. Within weeks, her symptoms disappeared, and within several months arsenic was no longer detected in her urine and i
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Contact: Carole Gan
carole.gan@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu
916-734-9047
University of California, Davis - Health System
5-Apr-2007


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