SEGH Articles

Reducing human exposure to arsenic and simultaneously increasing selenium and zinc intake, by substituting non-aromatic rice with aromatic rice in the diet

01 May 2013
A team of scientists led by Dr Parvez Haris is carrying out research to identify ways of reducing human exposure to arsenic through diet

Rice is the staple food of over three billion people.  The rice plant is highly efficient at absorbing arsenic from soil and water, it is reported to be the highest arsenic-containing cereal.  For Bangladeshi’s, rice is their staple food and they consume on average half a kilogramme of rice per day.

A team of scientists led by Dr Parvez Haris from DeMontfort University, Leicester, UK is carrying out research to identify ways of reducing human exposure to arsenic through diet.

Haris and his team have already demonstrated that exposure to the more toxic inorganic arsenic species is greater in people who eat more rice.  In this latest work, published in Biomedical Spectroscopy and Imaging, the DeMontfort University team – along with Dr Michael Watts from the British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham, UK – has identified varieties that are low in arsenic but high in essential trace elements such as selenium and zinc.

Earlier studies showed high concentrations of arsenic in Bangladeshi rice, but the rice samples were mainly regions where the irrigation water contains higher levels of arsenic. The team carried out a detailed study on rice from the greater Sylhet region in the north-east of Bangladesh, which generally has a lower groundwater arsenic concentration. The team analysed 98 rice samples using a technique called Inductively Couple Plasma – Mass Spectromtetry (ICP-MS) to determine total arsenic and also arsenic species in a selected group of samples.

The results showed Sylheti rice to have a far lower arsenic concentration than similar types of rice form other regions of Bangladesh. Results also showed that the arsenic concentration in aromatic rice was 40% less than non-aromatic varieties and that it also contained higher concentrations of the essential elements selenium and zinc. This is very good news for millions of Bangladeshis who are exposed to high concentrations of arsenic through drinking water and rice and are also deficient in zinc and selenium. Several varieties of Sylheti aromatic rice even had lower arsenic than the well known Basmati aromatic rice from India and Pakistan.

For someone consuming 500 grams of non-aromatic or aromatic rice from Sylhet, the daily intake of arsenic from rice would be approximately 48% and 69% lower, respectively, compared with consuming no-aromatic rie from other parts of Bangladesh. Bangladeshis are proud of their diet and often refer to themselves as ‘mache bhathe Bangali’ which can be roughly translated as ‘fish and rice makes a Bengali’. The identification of rice with very low arsenic concentrations and higher concentrations of essential elements is good news for the Bangladeshis and other communities where rice is a staple food but it is important ot encourage a more diversified diet that is less dependent on rice.

Aromatic rice is generally cultivated during the wet (aman) season and therefore is less dependent on the use of groundwater for irrigation. It also requires less fertilizer and pesticides. Although the yield of aromatic rice is lower, the farmers will not need to spend much money on applying chemicals that could pollute the environment and harm their own health. Furthermore, energy costs (electricity or diesel) will be lower as there will be less need for them to pump groundwater for irrigation.

The impact of this finding may also have health implications for other groups of people who eat large quantities of rice daily. This type of rice could also be used in infant foods in stead of rice with higher arsenic concentrations. It could also benefit people suffering from celiac disease who consume rice-based foods on a regular basis. Therefore, it is essential that further research on aromatic rice from different parts of Bangladesh and other regions of the world are conducted.

Dr Parvez Haris, DeMontfort University


Shaban W. Al-Rmalli, Richard O. Jenkins, Michael J Watts, Parvez I. Haris, 2012. Reducing human exposure to arsenic and simultaneously increasing selenium and zinc intake, by substituting non-aromatic rice with aromatic rice in the diet. Watts and Parvez I. Haris. Biomedical Spectroscopy and Imaging Volume 1 / Issue 5. DOI: 1010.3233/BSI-120028.

Full text of the article has been made freely available at


Keep up to date

SEGH Events

Submit Content

Members can keep in touch with their colleagues through short news and events articles of interest to the SEGH community.

Science in the News

Latest on-line papers from the SEGH journal: Environmental Geochemistry and Health

  • Genotoxic effects of PM 10 and PM 2.5 bound metals: metal bioaccessibility, free radical generation, and role of iron 2018-10-09


    The present study was undertaken to examine the possible genotoxicity of ambient particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) in Pune city. In both size fractions of PM, Fe was found to be the dominant metal by concentration, contributing 22% and 30% to the total mass of metals in PM10 and PM2.5, respectively. The speciation of soluble Fe in PM10 and PM2.5 was investigated. The average fraction of Fe3+ and Fe2+ concentrations in PM2.5 was 80.6% and 19.3%, respectively, while in PM2.5 this fraction was 71.1% and 29.9%, respectively. The dominance of Fe(III) state in both PM fractions facilitates the generation of hydroxyl radicals (·OH), which can damage deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA), as was evident from the gel electrophoresis study. The DNA damage by ·OH was supported through the in silico density functional theory (DFT) method. DFT results showed that C8 site of guanine (G)/adenine (A) and C6 site of thymine (T)/cytosine (C) would be energetically more favorable for the attack of hydroxyl radicals, when compared with the C4 and C5 sites. The non-standard Watson–Crick base pairing models of oxidative products of G, A, T and C yield lower-energy conformations than canonical dA:dT and dG:dC base pairing. This study may pave the way to understand the structural consequences of base-mediated oxidative lesions in DNA and its role in human diseases.

  • A systematic review on global pollution status of particulate matter-associated potential toxic elements and health perspectives in urban environment 2018-10-08


    Airborne particulate matter (PM) that is a heterogeneous mixture of particles with a variety of chemical components and physical features acts as a potential risk to human health. The ability to pose health risk depends upon the size, concentration and chemical composition of the suspended particles. Potential toxic elements (PTEs) associated with PM have multiple sources of origin, and each source has the ability to generate multiple particulate PTEs. In urban areas, automobile, industrial emissions, construction and demolition activities are the major anthropogenic sources of pollution. Fine particles associated with PTEs have the ability to penetrate deep into respiratory system resulting in an increasing range of adverse health effects, at ever-lower concentrations. In-depth investigation of PTEs content and mode of occurrence in PM is important from both environmental and pathological point of view. Considering this air pollution risk, several studies had addressed the issues related to these pollutants in road and street dust, indicating high pollution level than the air quality guidelines. Observed from the literature, particulate PTEs pollution can lead to respiratory symptoms, cardiovascular problems, lungs cancer, reduced lungs function, asthma and severe case mortality. Due to the important role of PM and associated PTEs, detailed knowledge of their impacts on human health is of key importance.

  • Interactions between polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and epoxide hydrolase 1 play roles in asthma 2018-10-06


    Asthma, as one of the most common chronic diseases in children and adults, is a consequence of complex gene–environment interactions. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), as a group of widespread environmental organic pollutants, are involved in the development, triggering and pathologic changes of asthma. Various previous studies reported the critical roles of PAHs in immune changes, oxidative stress and environment–gene interactions of asthma. EPHX1 (the gene of epoxide hydrolase 1, an enzyme mediating human PAH metabolism) had a possible association with asthma by influencing PAH metabolism. This review summarized that (1) the roles of PAHs in asthma—work as risk factors; (2) the possible mechanisms involved in PAH-related asthma—through immunologic and oxidative stress changes; (3) the interactions between PAHs and EPHX1 involved in asthma—enzymatic activity of epoxide hydrolase 1, which affected by EPHX1 genotypes/SNPs/diplotypes, could influence human PAH metabolism and people’s vulnerability to PAH exposure. This review provided a better understanding of the above interactions and underlying mechanisms for asthma which help to raise public’s concern on PAH control and develop strategies for individual asthma primary prevention.