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Environ Health. 2013 Jan 23;12:9. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-12-9.

End-stage renal disease and low level exposure to lead, cadmium and mercury; a population-based, prospective nested case-referent study in Sweden.

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Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Umea University, Umea, Sweden.



Cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), and mercury (Hg) cause toxicological renal effects, but the clinical relevance at low-level exposures in general populations is unclear. The objective of this study is to assess the risk of developing end-stage renal disease in relation to Cd, Pb, and Hg exposure.


A total of 118 cases who later in life developed end-stage renal disease, and 378 matched (sex, age, area, and time of blood sampling) referents were identified among participants in two population-based prospective cohorts (130,000 individuals). Cd, Pb, and Hg concentrations were determined in prospectively collected samples.


Erythrocyte lead was associated with an increased risk of developing end-stage renal disease (mean in cases 76 μg/L; odds ratio (OR) 1.54 for an interquartile range increase, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.18-2.00), while erythrocyte mercury was negatively associated (2.4 μg/L; OR 0.75 for an interquartile range increase, CI 0.56-0.99). For erythrocyte cadmium, the OR of developing end-stage renal disease was 1.15 for an interquartile range increase (CI 0.99-1.34; mean Ery-Cd among cases: 1.3 μg/L). The associations for erythrocyte lead and erythrocyte mercury, but not for erythrocyte cadmium, remained after adjusting for the other two metals, smoking, BMI, diabetes, and hypertension. Gender-specific analyses showed that men carried almost all of the erythrocyte lead and erythrocyte cadmium associated risks.


Erythrocyte lead is associated with end-stage renal disease but further studies are needed to evaluate causality. Gender-specific analyses suggest potential differences in susceptibility or in exposure biomarker reliability.

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