Our expert says:
Dear Dr Tomlinson
I presume that your question relates to an e-mail that is currently doing the rounds, which states that a woman who died under dramatic circumstances succumbed to arsenic poisoning caused by eating shrimp (shellfish) and taking large doses of supplemental vitamin C? I have seen this e-mail and also searched the Web looking for scientific proof that naturally occuring arsenic compounds in any food (not just shellfish) could be oxidised by ascorbic acid to release toxic levels of arsenic. So far, I have not found any proof that this type of reaction can actually occur in the human body. If you Google 'Arsenic & Shrimp & Vitamin C' you will find a number of Websites that have taken the time to refute this e-mail which is evidently a hoax and has been doing the rounds for 8 years. Please keep in mind that shrimp and other shellfish contain known allergens, and that anyone who is allergic or sensitive to shrimp or shellfish is at risk if they eat even a small amount of this food. So while I would caution anyone with a shellfish allergy to avoid all shrimp and other shellfish, I have not ever read scientific proof that individuals who take vitamin C supplements and eat shrimp at some time during the same day, die of arsenic poisoning. Shrimp is after all usually served with lemon juice which is a rich source of vitamin C and I have not observed patrons reacting to this combination in seafood restaurants.
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