Metal accumulation and detoxification in humans

  • Hing Man Chan


Metals are probably the oldest known toxins. About 80 of the 105 elements in the periodic table are regarded as metals, but fewer than 30 have been reported to produce toxicity in humans (Goyer, 1996). Many metals are important as micronutrients and play an essential role in tissue metabolism and growth. They include Co, Cu, Cr, Fe, Mn, Ni, Mo, Se, Sn, V and Zn. Insufficient intake of these metals results in diseases or growth retardation. Other metals, such as Pb, Cd and Hg, are non-essential, i.e. have no known biological functions and no perceived effect on deficiency. Arsenic has been proposed as an essential metal in vertebrates and some mammals (Nielsen and Uthus, 1984) but there is no known deficiency in humans. Overexposure to both essential and non-essential metals results in toxicity. Therefore, over the course of evolution, humans have developed highly regulated metabolic pathways to maintain the essential metals at optimal concentration ranges and detoxification mechanisms for many of the non-essential toxic metals.


Cord Blood Inclusion Body Body Burden Inorganic Arsenic Tolerable Daily Intake 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

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  • Hing Man Chan

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