Metals found in everyday foods could raise stroke and heart attack risk

Metal pollution is a well-known risk factor for a myriad of health problems, but a new research paper warns that even small amounts of arsenic, lead and cadmium could increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Exposure to these metals found in many everyday groceries could hike your risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and strokes.

Furthermore, the paper, published in the journal Circulation, also warned that cadmium and arsenic are associated with a higher risk of premature death.

This is in large part due to the increased risk of circulation problems posed by the metals.

Professor Gervasio Lamas, of Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Florida, said: “Large population studies indicate even low-level exposure to contaminant metals is near-universal.

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“It contributes to the burden of cardiovascular disease, especially heart attacks, stroke, disease of the arteries to the legs and premature death from cardiac causes.”

Worryingly, you probably come into contact with these metals every day, with foods and drinks like chocolate, juices, plant-based milks, teas and sodas also representing a source.

An analysis of popular chocolate brands last year found lead and cadmium in all 28 bars tested.

Cadmium ends up in cocoa beans after being absorbed by the roots of the plant, while lead is blown by the wind in surrounding areas as the beans dry in the open.

However, food isn’t the only source of these metals, as they are naturally occurring in the soil, water and atmosphere.

From here, they make their way to various everyday objects, ranging from cosmetics to kitchenware.

For example, lead is often present in pottery, ceramics, kitchenware, water pipes, spices, cosmetics, electronics and industrial emissions.

Cadmium can be found in nickel batteries, pigments, plastic, ceramics, glassware and construction products.

It is also abundant in industrially produced fertilisers that use phosphate rock which then contaminates root vegetables and leafy plants. 

Furthermore, arsenic can be found in drinking water, soil and food, namely rice, grown in contaminated soil.

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Professor Ana Navas-Acien, of Columbia University in New York, said: “These metals interfere with essential biological functions and affect most populations on a global scale.

“After exposure, lead and cadmium accumulate in the body and remain in bones and organs for decades.

“In the US alone, one large study suggested more than 450,000 deaths annually could be attributed to lead exposure.”

The new paper suggested that those most at risk are those who live on busy roads, near industrial plants or hazardous waste sites.

Others include residents of older houses or where environmental regulations are poorly enforced.

Professor Navas-Acien said: “This is a global issue in which lower-income communities are disproportionately exposed to toxic metals through contaminated air, water and soil.

“Addressing metal exposure in these populations may provide a strategy to reduce cardiovascular disease disparities and advance environmental justice.”

Monitoring environmental metal levels and testing for metal in individuals are key steps to implement appropriate public health initiatives, according to the scientists.

Professor Lamas added: “Cardiovascular health may be improved with a multi-pronged approach that recognises environmental cardiology and includes environmental monitoring and biomonitoring of contaminant metals, controlling for sources of exposure and developing clinical interventions that remove metals or weaken their effects on the body.”

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