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Environ Res. 2002 Mar;88(3):145-55.

Metals and women's health.

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  • 1Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.


There is a lack of information concerning whether environmental-related health effects are more or less prevalent or manifested differently in women compared to men. Previously, most research in the area of toxicology and environmental and occupational health involved male subjects. The present work aims at reviewing exposure and health effects of cadmium, nickel, lead, mercury, and arsenic manifested differently in women than in men. The gender difference in exposure to nickel results in a much higher prevalence of nickel allergy and hand eczema in women than in men. The internal cadmium dose is generally higher in women than in men, due to a higher gastro-intestinal absorption at low iron stores. This was probably one major reason why Itai-itai disease was mainly a woman's disease. Yet, data are sparse regarding the risk for women relative to men to develop cadmium-induced kidney damage in populations exposed to low levels of cadmium. Lead is accumulated mainly in bone and increased endogenous lead exposure has been demonstrated in women during periods of increased bone turnover, e.g., menopause. Both lead and mercury exposure in pregnant women has to be kept low in order to prevent neurodevelopment effects in the developing fetus and child. Limited data indicate that women are more affected than men following exposure to methylmercury at adult age, while males seem to be more sensitive to exposure during early development. Regarding arsenic, some data indicate gender differences in the biotransformation by methylation, possibly also in susceptibility to certain arsenic-related cancers. Obviously, gender-related differences in exposure and health effects caused by metals are highly neglected research areas, which need considerable focus in the future.

(c) 2002 Elsevier Science (USA).

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