Arsenolipids detected in the milk of nursing mothers

Michael Stiboller, Georg Raber, Virissa Lenters, Elin Lovise Folven Gjengedal, Merete Eggesbø, Kevin A. Francesconi

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Arsenic-containing lipids (arsenolipids), common constituents of fish, are currently being studied with regard to human health because of recent research that showed that some of the compounds are highly toxic to human cells and that they have the potential to cross the blood-brain barrier. As part of a study of the role of early exposure to environmental toxicants, we determined the arsenic content of milk from nursing mothers. Although the original intention of the study was to focus on inorganic arsenic, we discovered in an initial testing of 10 samples that a significant portion of the arsenic in the milk was lipid-soluble. We then investigated in detail this lipid-soluble arsenic in five of the samples by purifying the major compounds and using high-performance liquid chromatography coupled to both elemental and molecular mass spectrometry to identify them as arsenic hydrocarbons and arsenic fatty acids. This study is the first to report the presence of arsenolipids in human milk. The concentrations of arsenolipids in the milk were low (combined total of approximately 0.5 μg of As/kg) compared to the current recommended maximum for arsenic in water (10 μg/L), but of potential concern when one considers the possibility of the lipids crossing the blood-brain barrier and the critical stage of brain development in the newborn child.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)273-279
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology Letters
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


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