Can Vitamin C + Prawns Poison Us With Arsenic?!

Will eating vitamin C and prawns on the same day create toxic arsenic which has already killed one woman?!

Take a look at the viral claim, and find out what the FACTS really are!


Claim : Eating Vitamin C + Prawns Will Poison Us With Arsenic!

People are sharing this message on WhatsApp and social media platforms, claiming that eating vitamin C and prawns on the same day can create toxic arsenic which has already killed one woman!

This is a long message, so feel free to skip to the next section for the facts!

Very Educative:

A woman suddenly died unexpectedly with signs of bleeding from her ears, nose, mouth & eyes. After a preliminary autopsy it was diagnosed that death was due to arsenic poisoning. Where did the arsenic come from?

The police launched an in-depth and extensive investigation. A medical school professor was invited to come to solve the case. The professor carefully looked at the contents. In less than half an hour, the mystery was solved.

Here is an older version that has been going around since 2014:

This is a story that happened to the relative of a friend of mine. If you love your family and your friends, just tell them about this story.

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Truth : Eating Vitamin C + Prawns Will Not Poison Us With Arsenic!

This is yet another example of FAKE NEWS circulating on WhatsApp and social media platforms, and here are the reasons why!

Fact #1 : This Is An Old Hoax

The claim that eating prawns together with vitamin C can poison you with arsenic isn’t new. It’s been circulating on email since at least 2001, before being shared on WhatsApp and social media in more recent years.

Fact #2 : Hoax Is Based On Actual Research

While many fact checkers immediately dismissed this as fake news, I need to point out that this hoax is based on actual research by the University of Illinois.

In 1985, three researchers in the University of Illinois’ animal sciences department reported that they unexpectedly found that vitamin C and cysteine can convert harmless arsenic pentoxide into strongly poisonous arsenic trioxide.

The unexpected finding by Gail Czarnecki, David Baker and John Garst concerns the way molecules of arsenic compounds are constructed. If atoms within the compounds share five electrons with neighboring atoms, they are said to be ”pentavalent” and are fairly harmless.

Several foods, especially shrimp and prawns, may contain high concentrations of such arsenic compounds. What the Illinois researchers found is that high doses of vitamin C convert the pentavalent compounds into trivalent arsenic, a highly toxic poison.

Cysteine, a chemical sometimes given as a treatment for heavy metal poisoning, also converts arsenic to the trivalent, highly toxic form.

That said, I have to point out that this research does not appear to have been published. None of the three scientists listed any paper on vitamin C’s effect on arsenic compounds:

While that does not mean that they were wrong about their findings, I should also point out that this finding does not appear to have been confirmed or even reviewed by other scientists / researchers.

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Fact #3 : Risk Is Not Limited To Prawns / Shrimps

The researchers did not say that eating prawns / shrimps while consuming vitamin C can kill you through arsenic poisoning. They merely pointed out that shellfish, particularly prawns and shrimps, “may” contain high levels of normally harmless arsenic pentoxide.

In other words – any food that contains high levels of arsenic pentoxide can present with these risks. Not just prawns or shrimps. Common foods that contain higher amounts of arsenic include rice, Brussel sprouts, chicken, mushrooms, beer and wine.

Fact #4 : Risk Involves High Doses Of Vitamin C

The researchers also pointed out that the risk of harmless arsenic in food being converted to poisonous arsenic trioxide involves high doses of vitamin C – megadosing with vitamin C, as they called it.

Normal consumption of vitamin C would not convert sufficient amounts of arsenic to make a difference.

Fact #5 : Danger Was Long-Term Cancer Risk

Finally, the researchers never said that eating prawns / shrimps while taking megadoses of vitamin C can kill you with arsenic poisoning. They were worried about “chronic exposure” to arsenic which is carcinogenic, and can cause cancer if exposed for a long time.

Chronic exposure to arsenic is known to cause cancer in humans. We now must wonder whether megadosing with vitamin C increases the risk of cancer by changing the form of arsenic in food.

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Fact #6 : Acute Arsenic Poisoning Does Not Present That Way

You can die if you consume too much arsenic, but you won’t die bleeding from your ears, nose, mouth and ears.

Acute arsenic poisoning presents with diarrhoea and stomach pain, cramps and vomiting (with or without blood), blood in the urine, and convulsions.

I should point out that there is no known case of anyone dying from arsenic poisoning after consuming both vitamin C and prawns / shrimps.

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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

He continues to devote countless hours every day writing about tech, medicine and science, in his pursuit of facts in a post-truth world.


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