Current human exposure to the metal tungsten is thought to be low. But increasingly, the metal, which is used in cell phones and computers, is entering the environment and being linked to higher health risks.
Tungsten is a strong, flexible metal commonly used in the production of electrical devices, lightbulb filaments, shotgun shells and electrical wires. When the material is processed and disposed of in the environment, it may get into the soil, water and atmosphere.
With more products using tungsten, human exposure to the metal has possibly increased.
A new study found that high concentrations of tungsten in a person may double the likelihood of having a stroke.
Jessica Tyrrell, MBiochem, of the University of Exeter Medical School's European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Truro, United Kingdom, and fellow scientists analyzed data on 8,614 individuals between ages 18 and 74. Patient information came from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
Over the course of 12 years, stroke was diagnosed in 193 of these people, and 428 reported having cardiovascular disease.
The urine of eligible NHANES participants was tested for heavy metals, including tungsten.
The researchers discovered that higher tungsten levels were strongly linked with an increase in the rate of stroke.
These researchers calculated that very elevated levels of tungsten could double the likelihood of having a stroke.
They also noted that tungsten could be a major risk factor for stroke in individuals under the age of 50.
"While currently very low, human exposure to tungsten is set to increase,” said Tyrell in a press release. “We're not yet sure why some members of the population have higher levels of the metal in their make-up, and an important step in understanding and preventing the risks it may pose to health will be to get to the bottom of how it's ending up in our bodies.”
Nicholas Osborne, a senior research fellow at the University of Exeter and a coauthor of the study, added that the link between tungsten and stroke may be an example of health problems yet to come as humans are exposed to more commercial chemicals.
"As numerous new substances make their way into the environment, we're accumulating a complex 'chemical cocktail' in our bodies,” said Osborne in a press release. “Currently, we have incredibly limited information on the health effects of individual chemicals and no research has explored how these compounds might interact together to impact human health.”
This study was published November 11 in the open access journal PLoS ONE. The research was supported by funding from the University of Exeter Medical School.