Osteoporosis fracture risk is higher with cadmium exposure – it also affects the kidneys. Cadmium is a metal element found all around our environment, but is most commonly found in industrial workplaces. The new study revealed that we are exposed to low levels of cadmium daily through food, smoking and even second-hand smoke. It gets absorbed through the body into the kidneys. It is already known that high levels of the metal can be toxic and cause severe damage to the skeleton and the kidneys, but the effects of low levels over time has not yet been studied.
Author, Maria Wallin, M.D., studied 900 older men for her thesis and said, “Those with higher levels of cadmium in their urine had lower bone mineral density and an increased risk for future fractures. The increased fracture risk applied to osteoporosis related fractures of the hip, pelvis, forearm and shoulder.”
Alternative research examined levels of cadmium in kidney donors. Dr. Wallin added, “In this study, we had access to biopsy material from the kidneys, which is unique as normally you are unable to measure cadmium levels in kidneys. The results showed that persons with higher cadmium exposure had an increased excretion of calcium in their urine, which could be due to effects on the skeleton or on the kidneys. These persons also had increased excretion of small proteins in their urine.”
Dr. Wallin concluded that levels of cadmium need to be further reduced in order to better protect our bones and kidneys.
Previous study shows higher exposure to metal cadmium may accelerate cellular aging
A previous study, by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, found that high exposure to cadmium can contribute to shorter telomeres – pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that are associated with a higher cardiovascular disease risk, diabetes and other aging diseases.
Associate professor, Dr. Ami Zota, said, “We looked at heavy metals in this study and found a strong association between exposure to low levels of cadmium and telomere shortening. Our findings suggest that cadmium exposure can cause premature aging of cells. And they add to other evidence indicating this heavy metal can get into the bloodstream and trigger kidney disease and other health problems.”
The World Health Organization recognizes cadmium as a dangerous metal because it can contribute to many diseases.
Dr. Zota and her team examined urine samples from over 6,700 adults and also obtained purified DNA samples and used a genetic technique to measure telomeres. The researchers also measured levels of cadmium and found that those with the highest levels had shorter telomeres – six percent shorter compared to those in the lowest group.
Dr. Zota added, “People with the highest cadmium exposure had cells that looked on average 11 years older than their chronological age. This study adds to evidence suggesting that no level of exposure to this metal is safe.”
Telomeres naturally become shorter through the aging process, but higher levels of cadmium accelerate this process, contributing to diseases at a younger age. Smoking cessation is one way to reduce your intake of cadmium, along with not consuming fruits and vegetables grown in contaminated soil.
Sources of exposure to cadmium
Cadmium is a natural metal found in the earth’s crust. It can be used for manufacturing purposes and is extracted as a byproduct during the production of other metals, such as zinc, lead and copper. Cadmium can be used for the manufacturing of batteries, pigments, coatings and platings, stabilizers for plastics, and nonferrous alloys.
Cadmium can enter the environment through soil, water and even our air. When it travels through the air it can then be deposited into soil and water, thus contaminating it.
We can become exposed to cadmium in five ways: food, smoking, air, water and occupational exposure. Food and smoking are the primary ways that we become exposed to the metal. Cadmium can end up on produce that is grown in contaminated soil or water, and cigarette smoke contains it too – whether you smoke or are exposed to second-hand, the risk is still there.
Cadmium found in the air doesn’t pose as high of a health threat, but levels in water can contaminate fish, which we may catch and consume.
Cadmium can enter the body through inhalation and ingestion and exit through urine and feces, but levels can still remain in the liver and kidneys, which can lead to damage.
Health risks of exposure to cadmium
Ingesting high levels of cadmium can lead to nausea and even vomiting. Breathing in large doses of cadmium can contribute to respiratory problems and breathing difficulties. The highest risk is being exposed to low levels over long-periods of time, which can contribute to kidney damage. Furthermore, it can increase the risk of kidney stones, which are known to be incredibly painful, along with having skeletal effects like weak bones.
In animal studies, animals given cadmium showed high blood pressure, low iron (anemia), nerve damage and brain damage.
In some studies of workers exposed to cadmium, lung cancer was found in those who inhaled it regularly.
Test and reduce the risk of exposure to cadmium
If you are concerned about your levels of cadmium, there are some tests you can have performed in order to measure those levels. First of all, cadmium can be measured through urine, blood, hair and even nails. Urine tests are the most accurate measure of cadmium levels. There are other, more specific tests that can also determine levels within the liver and the kidneys.
Here are some tips to help reduce your intake of cadmium.
- Do not smoke or use tobacco products.
- Maintain good occupational hygiene and reduce emissions in occupational environments.
- Avoid contaminated cadmium areas – check local fishing advisories and avoid hazardous waste sites.
- Dispose of cadmium products properly, i.e. batteries.
- Don’t allow children to play with cadmium products, such as batteries.
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