Exposure to toxic metals may increase risk of clogged arteries, study finds

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Experts say these metals are found in everything from cosmetics to food and water

A new study conducted by the American Heart Association explored how exposure to toxic metals may impact consumers’ heart health. 

According to their findings, consumers may be more likely to develop clogged arteries when they’re exposed to metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and titanium. 

“This study supports that exposure to toxic metals in the environment, even at low-levels of exposure, is toxic for cardiovascular health,” said researcher Dr. Maria Tellez-Plaza. “The levels of metals in our study population were generally lower compared to other published studies. Metals, and in particular arsenic, cadmium, and titanium, likely are relevant risk factors for atherosclerosis, even at the lowest exposure levels and among middle-aged working individuals.” 

How do toxic metals affect heart health?

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from nearly 2,000 people enrolled in the Aragon Workers Health Study who worked at an auto assembly factory in Spain. They evaluated the participants’ exposure to nine metals – including arsenic, barium, uranium, cadmium, chromium, antimony, titanium, vanadium, and tungsten – and compared their exposure levels to long-term heart health. 

The researchers learned that even low levels of exposure to toxic metals negatively affected the participants’ heart health. Arsenic, cadmium, and titanium posed the biggest threat and were linked to a higher risk of clogged arteries in the neck, heart, and legs. 

Arsenic, in particular, may contribute to the worst long-term effects on consumers’ heart health when exposure is combined with both titanium and cadmium. The researchers found that women, older people, and smokers all had higher traces of metals in their urine samples. 

“Metals are ubiquitous in the environment, and people are chronically exposed to low levels of metals,” researcher Maria Grau-Perez said. “According to the World Health Organization, 31% of the cardiovascular disease burden in the world could be avoided if we could eliminate environmental pollutants.” 

Risk of toxic metal exposure is high

Moving forward, the researchers hope more work is done to monitor consumers’ exposure to toxic metals. They say it’s especially important because these metals are widely used across several industries, many of which make cosmetic products, dental implants, and automotive parts, among several others. 

“Current global environmental, occupational, and food safety standards for cadmium, arsenic, and other metals may be insufficient to protect the population from metal-related adverse health effects,” said Dr. Tellez-Plaza. “Metal exposure prevention and mitigation has the potential to substantially improve the way we prevent and treat cardiovascular disease.” 

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