• Feeling old? Cadmium exposure could be to blame

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    It has been well established that excess cadmium exposure produces adverse health effects on human beings. For virtually all chemicals, adverse health effects are noted at sufficiently high total exposures. For certain elements such as copper and zinc which are essential to human life, a deficiency as well as an excess can cause adverse health effects. Cadmium is not regarded as essential to human life. The relevant questions with regard to cadmium exposure are the total exposure levels and the principal factors which determine the levels of cadmium exposure and the adsorption rate of the ingested/inhaled cadmium by the individual, in other words, the pathways by which cadmium enters the food chain, the principal pathway of cadmium exposure for most human beings.

    High exposure to the toxic metal cadmium prematurely ages cells, triggering a number of diseases as people age, according to a new study.

    Researchers at George Washington University looked at the metal cadmium and found that higher human exposure can lead to significantly shorter telomeres, bits of DNA at the ends of chromosomes that are associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diseases of old age.

    “We looked at heavy metals in this study and found a strong association between exposure to low levels of cadmium and telomere shortening,” says Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH.

    “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.”

    A major public health concern

    The World Health Organization calls environmental exposure to cadmium …

    The federal government develops regulations and recommendations to protect public health. Regulations can be enforced by law. The EPA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are some federal agencies that develop regulations for toxic substances. Recommendations provide valuable guidelines to protect public health, but cannot be enforced by law. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) are two federal organizations that develop recommendations for toxic substances.

    Regulations and recommendations can be expressed as “not-to-exceed” levels. These are levels of a toxic substance in air, water, soil, or food that do not exceed a critical value. This critical value is usually based on levels that affect animals; they are then adjusted to levels that will help protect humans. Sometimes these not-to-exceed levels differ among federal organizations because they used different exposure times (an 8-hour workday or a 24-hour day), different animal studies, or other factors.

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