Rice Consumption and Subclinical Lung Disease in US Adults

While previous studies have demonstrated an association between lung diseases and arsenic in water, there has been little work investigating any relationship when it comes to arsenic taken in from the diet. Specifically, Sanchez et al investigate how arsenic in rice might affect lung structure and function in daily rice eaters.

In part, because rice is grown by flooding fields with water, arsenic in the water or soil can accumulate in the rice grain. While studies have shown that high levels of arsenic in groundwater are linked to chronic lung diseases, questions have remained regarding the safety of eating food that has small amounts of arsenic. Sanchez et al were particularly interested in investigating U.S. cities where groundwater arsenic concentrations are low and arsenic consumed via food is the greater threat. Using different ways of measuring lung disease as well as measuring arsenic in urine, the authors determined that daily rice consumption correlated with reduced lung function and more lung abnormalities as well as higher arsenic levels in urine.

Sanchez et al’s participants included White, Black, Hispanic, and Chinese adults in six cities across the United States, with data gathered from 2000-2011. They specifically compared those who ate one serving or more of rice per day with those who ate less than a serving per week in the past year. Chinese and Hispanic participants were more likely to consume rice on a daily basis than were the Black and White participants and 12 percent of all participants ate at least a serving of rice per day. The team carried out their study by analyzing participants in two areas: lung function and lung imaging. They determined lung function by measuring how well and how much participants exhaled and took imaging scans of participants’ lungs. They also measured levels of arsenic in participants’ urine. Their findings demonstrated that daily rice consumption was significantly related to higher arsenic in urine and to lower lung function compared to infrequent rice consumption.

For those who ate rice on a daily basis, arsenic exposure may explain reduced lung function and altered lung structure among these participants. However, Sanchez et al make clear that although the team did address differences among racial/ethnic groups in rice consumption, more work needs to be done in this area to delve deeper into what lung function and structure looks like at a baseline level for different racial/ethnic groups. Furthermore, there may be other reasons why rice is causing reduced lung function and structure, beyond arsenic. 

Sanchez TR, Oelsner EO, Lederer DJ, Lo Cascio CM, Jones MR, Grau-Perez M, Francesconi KA,  Goessler W, Perzanowski MS, Barr RG, and Navas-Acien A. Rice Consumption and Subclinical Lung Disease in US Adults: Observational Evidence from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. Am J Epidemiol. 2019 May 30. pii: kwz137. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwz137.

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