Toxic Metals Increase Your Heart Disease Risk

By Stephanie Watson @YourCareE
January 24, 2024
Liquid toxic metals

Everyday exposures to products in your home, garden, and car could be risky for your heart. Here's what you should know about how toxic metals affect your health.

Doctors have long warned about the dangers of tobacco smoke, obesity, an unhealthy diet, and a lack of exercise to heart health. Metals lurking in the air, water, soil, and many of the products you use every day could also elevate your risk for heart disease.

Exposure to even small amounts of three metals — arsenic, lead, and cadmium — increases your risk for ischemic heart disease, strokes, and peripheral artery disease, according to a scientific statement from the American Heart Association published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.


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All three of those metals are on the World Health Organization’s top 10 environmental chemicals of concern. You’ll find them in household products like:

  • Batteries
  • Ceramics and glassware
  • Cosmetics
  • Electronics
  • Foods
  • Gasoline
  • Herbal remedies
  • Paint
  • Spices
  • Tobacco products
  • Toys

How does metal exposure affect heart health?

“These metals interfere with essential biological functions,” said Ana Navas-Acien, MD, PhD, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and vice chair of the statement writing group.

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

Metals interfere with various processes within cells. The result is oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, contributing to blood vessel damage, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and changes in heart function.

Exposure to lead, cadmium, and arsenic has been linked to harmful effects on the heart and blood vessels, including:

Who is at risk?

Anyone who uses products containing toxic metals could be at increased risk for heart problems. Your exposure will likely be higher if you live in an older home, or you live close to a major highway, factory, or hazardous waste site.

Race and ethnicity also factor into health risks from metal exposure. Studies have found higher concentrations of toxic metals in black, Hispanic, and Asian people compared to white people.

What can be done?

The authors of the American Heart Association statement say a multifaceted approach is needed to reduce exposure to heart-damaging metals, including:

  • Monitoring metal levels in the environment
  • Testing for levels of lead and other metals in people’s blood, urine, or bones
  • Protecting community water systems and wells

Public health efforts to reduce lead and cadmium exposure in the United States have already had some success. A study in the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that reduced exposures to those metals correlated with a drop in cardiovascular deaths between the periods of 1988 to 1994 and 1999 to 2004.

There isn’t any way to prevent or stop the heart and blood vessel damage metal exposure can cause, but chelation therapy could be one possible way to reduce your risk. The treatment involves getting the medication ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) through a vein once a week. EDTA sticks to the metal and removes it via your urine.

Chelation therapy is still unproven, but it’s being researched. Supplements like folate and N-acetyl cysteine also show potential for reducing metal concentrations, but they also need more evidence to back them up.

What you can do

One way to lower your risk of heart disease from toxic metals is to reduce your exposure. That’s not always easy, especially if you live near a factory or highway.

Here are a few things you can do:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Have a licensed lead inspector check your home if it was built before 1978.
  • Contact your water provider to find out if you have a lead service line connected to your home.
  • Get your drinking water tested for arsenic if it comes from a well.
  • Be careful buying imported ceramic and pottery dishes, which may be glazed with lead.
  • Avoid using cosmetics like kohl and sindoor that contain lead.
  • Make sure you get enough iron in your diet. Your body will absorb more cadmium if have an iron deficiency.


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January 24, 2024

Reviewed By:  

Janet O'Dell, RN