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Tian-Tian Zuo and Yao-Lei Li contributed equally to this work
Cordyceps sinensis, one of the most valued traditional herbal medicines in China, contains high amount of arsenic. Considering the adverse health effects of arsenic, this is of particular concern. The aim of this study was to determine and analyze arsenic speciation in C. sinensis, and to measure the associated human health risks.
We used microwave extraction and high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry to determine and analyze the arsenic content in C. sinensis, and measured the associated human health risks according to the hazard index (HI), lifetime cancer risk (CR), and target hazard quotient (THQ).
The main arsenic speciation in C. sinensis were not the four organic arsenic compounds, including dimethyl arsenic, monomethyl arsenic, arsenobetaine, and arsenocholine, but comprised inorganic arsenic and other unknown risk arsenic compounds. HI scores indicated that the risk of C. sinensis was acceptable. CR results suggested that the cancer risk was greater than the acceptable lifetime risk of 10−5, even at low exposure levels. THQ results indicated that at the exposure level < 2.0 months/year, the arsenic was not likely to harm human health during a lifetime; however, if the exposure rate was > 3.0 months/year, the systemic effects of the arsenic in C. sinensis was of great concern.
The arsenic in C. sinensis might not be free of risks. The suggested C. sinensis consumption rate of 2.0 months/year provided important insights into the ways by which to minimize potential health risks. Our study not only played the role of “cast a brick to attract jade” by which to analyze arsenic speciation in C. sinensis but also offered a promising strategy of risk assessment for harmful residues in traditional herbal medicines.