Written by Lacey Raburn, MS, CLC
On September 14, 2011, “The Dr. Oz Show” claimed that, through independent testing of selected samples of apple juice, they found unsafe levels of arsenic. This report would, of course, alarm many parents who provide apple juice to their children. Unfortunately, Dr. Oz failed to convey the entire story to the general public. For this the ABC News Health and Medical Editor, Dr. Richard Besser, publicly accused Dr. Oz of “fearmongering” on the popular show “Good Morning America.” 1
A little background on arsenic
Arsenic is a metal found in everything from our water to air. There are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic is naturally occurring and not absorbed by our bodies. Because of this, it is not thought to have any harmful effects. Inorganic arsenic is not naturally occurring and can be harmful if consumed in large amounts and for a long period of time. The level of arsenic determined to be safe in drinking water is less that 10 parts per billion; most of the arsenic found in drinking water is inorganic. 2 3. Apples and apple juice contain organic arsenic. 4 Additionally, there are some levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice; however, this is usually a fraction of the total arsenic and well below acceptable levels of inorganic arsenic in drinking water. 4
Measuring arsenic in apple juice
When arsenic is tested in apple juice, first the total arsenic levels are reported.4 This is a measurement of both organic and inorganic arsenic. If the total arsenic levels are high, the levels of inorganic arsenic are measured. Usually, the inorganic arsenic levels are well below what is considered safe. If they are too high, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will alert consumers. The FDA has regularly tested arsenic levels in foods and juices for many years to guarantee the safety of those foods. 4
Dr. Oz only reported levels of total arsenic in the apple juice, not inorganic levels. Also, he obtained all of these reports from one lab. When the FDA learned of Dr. Oz’s intent to report these findings on television, a letter was written that alerted the producers that this data did not accurately reflect inorganic arsenic levels. 5 Additionally, two more labs obtained samples from the same lot that Dr. Oz tested to determine total arsenic levels.6 Their results indicated much lower results of total arsenic compared to those that the lab Dr. Oz used. From this, the FDA concluded that the first lab’s results were unusually high and most likely a result from an error in the testing process. Another letter was written to the producers of the show encouraging them not to air the episode as it would cause unnecessary fear among consumers. 6 The following is an excerpt from this letter:
“In short, the results of the tests cited above do not indicate that apple juice contains unsafe amounts of arsenic. The FDA reaffirms its belief, as stated in our September 9, 2011 letter, that it would be irresponsible and misleading for the Dr. Oz Show to suggest that apple juice is unsafe based on tests for total arsenic.”
The FDA also released an update reassuring consumers of the safety of apple juice. 4
The bottom line
According to the FDA, apple juice is safe to drink and the levels of arsenic found in apple juice are well below what is considered safe and acceptable.
If you would like to read more information on this topic, please visit the FDA website.
1. Gann, C. Apple juice and arsenic: Dr. Besser vs. Dr. Oz. 2011. Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/dr-richard-besser-dr-mehmet-oz-debate-arsenic/story?id=14526426. Accessed September 15, 2011.
2. Arsenic in Drinking Water. 2010. http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/arsenic/index.cfm. Accessed September 15, 2011.
3. Questions and Answers: Apple Juice and Arsenic. 2011 http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm271595.htm. Accessed September 15, 2011.
4. FDA: Apple Juice is Safe to Drink. 2011 http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm271394.htm. Accessed September 15, 2011.
5. Zink, D. Letter from FDA to “The Dr. Oz Show” Regarding Apple Juice and Arsenic (09/09/2011). 2011. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm271630.htm. Accessed September 15, 2011.
6. Zink, D. Second Letter from the FDA to “The Dr. Oz Show” Regarding Apple Juice and Arsenic (9/13/2011). 2011. http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm271632.htm. Accessed September 15, 2011.
Lacey Raburn, MS, CLC is a dietician at Plateau Pediatrics in Crossville, Tennessee.