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Environ Res. 2011 Nov;111(8):1271-9. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2011.09.002. Epub 2011 Sep 29.

Gender and age differences in mixed metal exposure and urinary excretion.

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Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.



Little is known about the variation in exposure to toxic metals by age and gender and other potential modifying factors. We evaluated age and gender differences by measurements of metal/element concentrations in urine in a rural population in Matlab, Bangladesh, in three age groups: 8-12 (N=238), 14-15 (N=107) and 30-88 (N=710) years of age, living in an area with no point sources of metal exposure but where elevated water arsenic concentrations are prevalent.


We found marked differences in urine concentrations of metals and trace elements by gender, age, tobacco use, socioeconomic and nutritional status. Besides a clearly elevated urinary arsenic concentration in all age groups (medians 63-85 μg As/L), and despite the low degree of contamination from industries and traffic, the urine concentrations of toxic metals such as cadmium and lead were clearly elevated, especially in children (median 0.31 μg Cd/L and 2.9 μg Pb/L, respectively). In general, women had higher urinary concentrations of toxic metals, especially Cd (median 0.81 μg/L) compared to men (0.66 μg/L) and U (median 10 ng/L in women, compared to 6.4 ng/L in men), while men had higher urinary concentrations of the basic and essential elements Ca (69 mg/L in men, 30-50 years, compared to 52 mg/L in women), Mg (58 mg/L in men compared to 50 mg/L in women), Zn (182 μg/L in men compared to 117 μg/L in women) and Se (9.9 μg/L in men compared to 8.7 μg/L in women). Manganese was consistently higher in females than in males in all age groups, suggesting a biological difference between females and males in Mn metabolism. Increasing socioeconomic status decreased the toxic metal exposure significantly in children and especially in men. Poor iron status was detected in 17% of children, adolescents and women, but only in 6% of men. Also zinc deficiency was more prevalent in females than in males.


Women and children seemed to be more at risk for toxic metal exposure than men and at the same time more vulnerable to micronutrient deficiency. Higher concentrations of the toxic metals in urine in women are likely to reflect an increased gastrointestinal absorption of these metals at micronutrient deficiency, such as low body iron stores and Zn deficiency. Higher urinary concentrations of the essential elements in men likely reflect a better nutritional status. There is a need for information on exposure, lifestyle and socioeconomic factors, stratified by gender and age, for the purpose of conducting balanced risk assessment and management that considers such differences.

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