Environmental exposure to low levels of toxic metals like arsenic, cadmium and titanium appears to increase the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries of the neck, heart and legs, according to new research released today in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular of the American Heart Association. Biology (ATVB).
Traces of metal can enter the body through contaminated soil that infiltrates food, drinking water, air pollutants or tobacco smoke. There is strong evidence that toxic metals, such as arsenic and cadmium, are cardiovascular risk factors. Arsenic and cadmium are often found in tobacco and foods, while arsenic is also found in water. Exposure to titanium comes primarily from dental and orthopedic implants, screws, pacemaker housings, cosmetics, and certain foods.
“Metals are ubiquitous in the environment and people are chronically exposed to low levels of metals,” said study principal investigator Maria Grau-Perez, M.Sc., of the Institute for Biomedical Research Hospital. Clinic de Valencia INCLIVA in Valencia, Spain, and a doctorate. candidate for the Department of Preventive Medicine, Public Health and Microbiology at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain. “According to the World Health Organization, 31% of the burden of cardiovascular disease worldwide could be avoided if we could remove environmental pollutants.”
Atherosclerosis develops when fatty deposits, or plaque, build up in the arteries, causing them to narrow, weaken, and stiffen. Depending on the arteries affected, this can lead to a heart attack, stroke, angina, peripheral artery disease, or kidney disease.
Previous research on the impact of metal exposure on atherosclerosis has traditionally focused on the carotid arteries, the major arteries in the neck. This study focused on subclinical atherosclerosis – before symptoms appear – and examined the impact of metal exposure on the carotid, femoral and coronary arteries. Previous research suggests that imaging the femoral artery, which is the main artery supplying blood to the lower body, may lead to earlier detection of atherosclerosis.
Researchers evaluated 1,873 adults (97% male) in the Aragon Workers’ Health Study. The study participants worked in an automobile assembly plant in Spain and were between the ages of 40 and 55. The researchers measured the participants’ environmental exposure to nine toxic metals – arsenic, barium, uranium, cadmium, chromium, antimony, titanium, vanadium, and tungsten – and the association of exposure with the presence of subclinical atherosclerosis in the carotid, femoral and coronary regions. The study explored the potential role of individual metals and metal mixtures on the development of atherosclerosis.
During participants’ annual occupational health visits between 2011 and 2014, socio-economic and health information of each participant was recorded, including education level, smoking status, and drug consumption. Each person in the study had a physical to measure body mass index, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels, and more. Urine samples were taken to assess exposure to metals from air, water and food. The researchers performed carotid and femoral ultrasounds, as well as coronary calcium scoring tests.
The analysis found:
- Older study participants had higher levels of most metals measured in urine
- The few women in the study had higher levels of metals than men when the levels were measured in urine.
- Adults who had smoked at all times had higher levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium and titanium than people who had never smoked.
- Higher levels of arsenic, cadmium, titanium, and potentially antimony were associated with a higher likelihood of having subclinical atherosclerosis.
- Arsenic and cadmium appear to be most closely associated with increased levels of plaque in the carotid arteries; cadmium and titanium are of greater concern for the femoral arteries; and titanium, and possibly cadmium and antimony, are of greater concern to the coronary arteries.
- Arsenic can be more toxic to the arteries when found in combination with cadmium and titanium.
“This study supports that exposure to toxic metals in the environment, even at low levels of exposure, is toxic to cardiovascular health,” said study co-author Maria Tellez-Plaza, MD, Ph.D., Principal Scientist at the National Epidemiology Center and Instituto de Salud Carlos III in Madrid, Spain. âThe levels of metals in our study population were generally lower than in other published studies. Metals, and in particular arsenic, cadmium, and titanium, are likely relevant risk factors for atherosclerosis, even at the lowest exposure levels and in middle-aged workers. people.”
The study included a very specific population of mostly men in one region of Spain, so the results may not be fully extrapolated to women or other populations around the world. More research is needed to understand the mechanisms involved in the development of atherosclerosis based on associations with metals.
âCurrent global environmental, occupational and food safety standards for cadmium, arsenic and other metals may be insufficient to protect people from the adverse health effects associated with metals,â Tellez-Plaza said. âPreventing and mitigating exposure to metals has the potential to dramatically improve the way we prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. “