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Transfer of arsenolipids from a salmon eating nursing mother to their milk


Arsenic is present in the human environment and food chain in many different forms. More than 100 different species have been identified so far, with significantly different toxicity. Since it was long time believed, that inorganic arsenic species are the most toxic ones, these species have received the most attention, while organic species were considered to present a low health risk. This viewpoint has changed when it was discovered that arsenic-containing lipids are present in marine organisms and that one type of arsenolipid, the arseno hydrocarbons (AsHCs), have high cytotoxic potential to human cells. Since it was also shown, that AsHCs can cross the blood-brain-barrier and disturb the neuronal network of brain cells, these compounds are considered to be potentially neurotoxic. Such risk may be especially enhanced for the developing brain of newborns. Therefore, to evaluate the risk for newborns, two questions have to be answered:
a) Will arsenolipids absorbed from fish meals be transferred to a mother's milk ?
b) To which extend will arsenic species be transferred or modified ?

The new study:
To answer these questions, a European group of researchers investigated the arsenolipid composition in milk from a mother during 3 days after she consumed salmon fish of known arsenolipid content.  

Total arsenic in fish and milk was determined by ICP-MS after microwave-assisted digestion. Lipid-soluble arsenic species were determined by HPLC-ICP-MS using six standards, synthesized in the lab of the researchers. The method was validated by the analysis of two reference materials with adequate recovery. For species identification, the same chromatography was coupled to electrospray mass spectrometry.  

The salmon fish consumed by the mother contained 2.63 mg/kg of arsenic, of which 0.16 mg/kg (6%) was lipid-soluble. The major water-soluble species was arsenobetaine (65% of the total arsenic). The arsenic level in the mother's milk started to increase very soon and peaked 8 hours after the meal. 90% of the total arsenolipids found in the milk were arsenic hydrocarbons found also in the fish. The efficiency of the transfer of the AsHCs from the fish meal to the milk was in the order of 1.8 to 3.4 %, depending on the species. This efficiency was much higher than those for Arsenobetaine (only 0.03%), probably reflecting the lipophilic properties of human milk. Such low transfer efficiency was earlier observed for inorganic arsenic.

The researchers concluded, that their results show that potentially toxic arsenic hydrocarbons naturally present in fish are transferred to a nursing mother's milk, and thus are likely to reach the developing brain of her infant. They further indicate the pressing need to investigate the potential of ArHCs to affect neurodevelopment in infants.

The original study:

Chan Xiong, Michael Stiboller, Ronald A. Glabonjata, Jaqueline Rieger, Lhiam Paton, Kevin A. Francesconi, Transport of arsenolipids to the milk of a nursing mother after consuming salmon fish, J. Trace Elem. Med. Biol., 61 (2020) 126503. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtemb.2020.126502.

Used techniques and instrumentation:

Agilent 8800 ICP-QQQ-MS
Agilent 7900 ICP-MS

Related studies

F. Samiee, M. Leili, J. Faradmal, Z. Torkshavand, G. Asadi, Exposure to arsenic through breast milk from mothers exposed to high levels of arsenic in drinking water:
infant risk assessment, Food Control. 106 (2019), 106669.
DOI: 10.1016/j.foodcont.2019.05.034

M. Stiboller, G. Raber, V. Lenters, E.L.F. Gjengedal, M. Eggesbø, K.A. Francesconi, Arsenolipids detected in the milk of nursing mothers, Environ. Sci. Technol. Lett., 4 (2017) 273–279. DOI: 10.1021/acs.estlett.7b00181

M. Stiboller, G. Raber, E.L.F. Gjengedal, M. Eggesbø, K.A. Francesconi, Quantifying
inorganic arsenic and other Water-soluble arsenic species in human milk by HPLC/
ICPMS, Anal. Chem. 89 (2017) 6265–6271. DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.7b01276

F.M. Rebelo, E.D. Caldas, Arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium: toxicity, levels in breast milk and the risks for breastfed infants, Environ. Res. 151 (2016) 671–688. DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.08.027.

C.C. Carignan, K.L. Cottingham, B.P. Jackson, S.F. Farzan, A.J. Gandolfi, T. Punshon, C.L. Folt, M.R. Karagas, Estimated exposure to arsenic in breastfed and formula-fed infants in a United States cohort, Environ. Health. Persp. 123 (2015) 500–506. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.1408789

M.R. Islam, J. Attia, M. Alauddin, M. McEvoy, P. McElduff, C. Slater, M.M. Islam, A. Akhter, C. d’Este, R. Peel, et al., Availability of arsenic in human milk in women and its correlation with arsenic in urine of breastfed children living in arsenic contaminated areas in Bangladesh, Environ. Health. 13 (2014) 101. DOI: 10.1186/1476-069X-13-101

B. Fängström, S. Moore, B. Nermell, L. Kuenstl, W. Goessler, M. Grandér, I. Kabir, B. Palm, S.E. Arifeen, M. Vahter, Breast-feeding protects against arsenic exposure in Bangladeshi infants, Environ. Health. Persp. 116 (2008) 963–969. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.11094

G. Samanta, D. Das, B.K. Mandal, T.R. Chowdhury, D. Chakraborti, A. Pal, S. Ahamed, Arsenic in the breast milk of lactating women in arsenic-affected areas of West Bengal, India and its effect on infants, J. Environ. Sci. Health A, 42 (2007) 1815–1825. DOI: 10.1080/10934520701566785

G. Concha, G. Vogler, B. Nermell, M. Vahter, Low-level arsenic excretion in breast milk of native Andean women exposed to high levels of arsenic in the drinking water, Int. Arch. Occ. Env. Hea. 71 (1998) 42–46.  DOI: 10.1007/s004200050248

Related information

The LactMed® database contains information on drugs and other chemicals to which breastfeeding mothers may be exposed.

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