Skip to main content

How Does Arsenic Kill?

Freak bacteria might thrive on an arsenic diet, but the stuff can be deadly to humans.

Arsenic disrupts the cellular process that produces ATP, the molecule in charge of transporting energy throughout your body's cells so they can perform the tasks that keep you alive. Arsenic both blocks and competes with the chemicals that form ATP, leaving your body well short of what it takes to keep up even the most basic cellular processes.

Messing with the ATP pathway can disturb neurological and cardiovascular systems, and can make it difficult for muscles to fire. If the dosage in the body is high enough, arsenic poisoning can eventually cause multi-system organ failure, most likely driven by cell death and hemorrhaging.

The good news is that, caught early, arsenic poisoning is treatable. Most medicines are synthetic compounds that work by absorbing the arsenic and arsenic-containing chemicals from your blood stream. Some studies have shown that garlic can treat arsenic poisoning, but we suggest heading to the hospital before the pantry.

Got a question? Send us an email and we'll look for an expert who can crack it.

Follow Life's Little Mysteries on Twitter @llmysteries

For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.