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Constant exposure to heavy metals raises heart disease by 80 per cent, study finds

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The role of poisonous chemicals such as arsenic, lead, copper and cadmium in the development of cardiovascular disease has been ‘under-recognised’, say scientists.

International report has warned that exposure to heavy metals raises heart risks by up to 80 percent, even at ‘low doses’.

These heavy metals, according to findings, find their way from waste sites, plastics, industrial plants and lead pipes into the environment; and, ultimately, the human bodies.

The study also found that metals like cadmium, arsenic and lead are known to raise cancer risks. In recent years, exposure has become a major global health concern – with arsenic and cadmium known to cause cancer.

But a new study from Cambridge University revealed that the metals threaten heart and blood vessel functions too.

The new research stated that evidence shows how growing heavy metals that find their way from materials like plastics, old pipes and fumes from industrial sites into the environment may also damage the heart and arteries, leading to serious illness that can even prove deadly.

According to a collaborative report published by Cambridge University scientists in the BMJ, this exposure could be a significant factor as smoking, eating junk food and not getting enough exercise.

The first study author, Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, of Cambridge University, said: ‘It’s clear from our analysis there’s a possible link between exposure to heavy metals or metalloids and risk of conditions such as heart disease, even at low doses – and the greater the exposure, the greater the risk.’

The finding is based on pooling data from 37 separate studies involving almost 350,000 participants – 32,512 of whom developed cardiovascular disease.

Results showed those exposed to arsenic, lead, cadmium and copper, but not mercury – were around 30 to 80 percent more at risk.

Although, concern has often focused on the toxicity or carcinogenic properties of the metals, particularly at high doses, but heavy metals may have other adverse effects on health, including heart disease and stroke, the researchers said.

Arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are naturally occurring compounds present at various levels in the soil, water and atmosphere and despite marked reductions in these materials and their contaminants, heavy metal particles are still seething into our soil and air from plastics, batteries, tobacco smoke, and air water and dust near industrial plants and waste sites.

Chowdhury says they ‘reinforce the often under-recognised importance of environmental toxic metals in enhancing global cardiovascular risk beyond the roles of conventional behavioural risk factors such as smoking, poor diet and inactivity.’

The study also highlights the potential need for additional worldwide efforts and strategies ‘to reduce human exposures even in settings where there is a relatively lower average level of exposure – such as many Western countries.’

Chowdhury and his international team called for further detailed work ‘to better characterise these associations and to assess causality’, while they challenged the omission of toxic metal contaminants in water and foods from the recent World Health Organisation report on non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

They said the report is important because it highlights the need to tackle this environmental and public health problem.

Also, Dr Maria Tellez-Plaza, a specialist in preventive medicine at the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid and colleagues, reviewed the study for the journal and agreed metals are an important but neglected source of cardiovascular risk.

They described the review as ‘an important call for attention to an emerging group of risk factors with a high prevalence in populations around the world.’


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