Cadmium and You
Cadmium is just one of the hundreds of harmful elements found in cigarette smoke. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that occurs naturally in soil and water, it is created as a by-product of the smelting process.
Low levels of cadmium can be found in food, but the amount of cadmium in cigarette smoke is much higher. Cadmium is harmful to the human body as it damages lung tissue and long term exposure can harm the kidney, liver, bones and blood. Other health issues associated with cadmium poisoning include decreased fertility, nervous system damage, reduced immune system and possibly even death.
Cadmium is used in making batteries and produced during smelting, the process of extracting metal from ore using heat. But outside of this industrial environment the most common sources of cadmium exposure are food and cigarette smoke.
Cadmium enters the food chain through water and soil, many vegetables and meats contain some cadmium. Certain foods, like shellfish and leafy vegetables have higher levels than others while some, like fruits, have lower levels. The levels in most food are less than 40ppb, or 40 parts per billion which is the same as 0.000004%.
Cigarettes contain much more cadmium than food. Each cigarette contains around one microgram of cadmium and in cigarette smoke the level is between one thousand and three thousand parts per million. This means that smokers are exposed to far higher levels of this toxic metal than non-smokers.
The cadmium found in cigarette smoke enters the body through the lungs and research has shown that around 50% of this cadmium enters the bloodstream. Some cadmium is quickly removed from the body, but on average smokers have twice as much of this toxic metal inside them.
Cadmium, What is it?
Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that most of us are exposed to very low levels of in our food. Because of cadmium’s industrial uses there will be additional exposure in some workplaces, such as metalwork’s or factories where batteries are produced. We’re also exposed to cadmium through smoking as cigarette smoke contains much higher levels of cadmium than our food.
Cadmium is associated with a number of health risks that can occur from high levels of exposure or from low levels of long term exposure. Exposure to low levels of cadmium can cause flu like symptoms such as headache, dizziness, fever, chest pains and irritation of the nose and throat. Higher levels of exposure are linked to trachea-bronchitis, pneumonitis and pulmonary edema. Long term exposure can cause decreased fertility, nervous system damage, weakened immune system and possibly even death.
Smoking is one of the biggest sources of cadmium exposure in our daily lives. Smoking is also one of the most harmful sources as cadmium is absorbed into the body more efficiently through the lungs than the stomach. The average smoker has twice as much cadmium in their body compared to a non-smoker, greatly increasing their risk of developing health problems.
Cadmium from tobacco cigarettes enters the lungs as particles in the cigarette smoke before being absorbed into the blood. The bloodstream then carries the cadmium throughout the body where it can linger, causing long term damage and increasing other health risks.
Low levels of cadmium exposure can cause flu like symptoms, including fever, muscle pains, headaches and weakness. These symptoms can resolve over time, but the bigger threat comes from damage caused to the organs and nervous system.
Exposure to cadmium causes kidney damage that is irreversible and can make the kidneys shrink by up to thirty percent. Loss of function in the kidneys leads to muscle weakness and possibly loss of consciousness.
Cadmium is transported through the blood to the liver where it bonds with proteins before being carried to the kidneys. This toxic metal then accumulates in the kidneys, damaging the vital filtering mechanisms. Kidney damage causes a loss of essential proteins and sugars from the body leading to further health problems.
Failure of the kidneys results in proximal renal tubular dysfunction, creating low phosphate levels in the blood. This condition causes muscle weakness and can result in a coma. Kidney failure also leads to increased acidity and higher levels of chloride in the blood.
When higher levels of cadmium are present in the body it can cause calcium loss in bones. Cadmium accumulates in bones, but this calcium loss is related to the damage caused to the kidneys.
Calcium loss results in bones becoming soft and weaker, increasing the risk of broken bones as well as joint pain and back pain all because of increased levels of cadmium in the body.
When cadmium is inhaled as part of cigarette smoke it directly damages the lungs. Even small amounts of cadmium in the lungs can lead to pneumonitis (inflammation of lung tissue that can lead to permanent scarring) and pulmonary edema (the build up of fluid in the lungs). Long term exposure increases the risk of these health problems as well as tracheo-bronchitis (inflammation of the trachea and bronchial airways).
The International Agency for Research on Cancer have determined that cadmium and cadmium compounds are a Group 1 carcinogenic. This means that exposure to cadmium has been shown to increase the risk of developing cancer.
Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal associated with a variety of health problems including lung, bone and kidney damage as well as cancer. Cadmium can be found in low levels in our food, but is in much higher levels in cigarette smoke and the average smoker has twice as much cadmium in their body as a non-smoker.
Reducing the amount of cadmium we’re exposed to helps minimise the risk of developing these health problems. Higher levels of cadmium are present in cigarettes than in food and this toxic metal is absorbed into the body through the lungs faster than through the stomach. So, quitting smoking is the best way to reduce our exposure to cadmium and the associated health risks.