Low levels of exposure to toxic metals affect heart health

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December 17, 2021 – People exposed to even low levels of certain toxic metals may increase their risk of atherosclerosis, plaque buildup in the arteries that can cause strokes and heart attacks.

A large study in Spain evaluated middle-aged people (97% of whom were men) working in a bodywork factory to look for the effects of toxic metals on heart health. The results showed that exposure to the toxic metals arsenic, cadmium and titanium increases the risk of heart problems. Arsenic and cadmium can be found in tobacco, food and water, while titanium mainly comes from dental and orthopedic implants, pacemaker wrappers, cosmetics and some foods.

While previous studies have studied how toxic metal affects the major arteries in the neck, researchers have focused on hardening of the arteries that occurs before obvious symptoms. Looking at more areas, the researchers thought they could “achieve an earlier and better assessment of the risk of environmental cardiovascular disease,” said study co-author Maria Tellez-Plaza, MD, a senior scientist at the National Center for Epidemiology, Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Madrid, Spain.

The results supported previous evidence linking arsenic and cadmium to adverse events in heart and blood vessels and added titanium as another potential risk factor.

“Titan was an interesting factor that was not [measured] before, ”says Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D., director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute / American Heart Association Center for Tobacco Regulation at the University of Louisville. “The real importance of this work is that they were able to measure all of those metals and then find out which ones are more likely to be related.”

Researchers say further research is needed in women and the general population to determine sources of potential exposure to toxic metals. They also note that the current environmental, professional and food safety standards for cadmium, arsenic and other metals may not be enough to protect people from the health risks associated with the metal.

Tellez-Plaza says that doctors can help monitor the concentration of metals in patients through blood and urine tests and empowers them to take measures to protect themselves.

“One strategy is to close windows in the house and cars if there is high pollution outside,” [and] walking in green areas is also useful, ”she says. “Finally, giving up smoking and protecting passive smokers from passive smoking is fundamental. ”

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