How does the prevalence of heavy metal toxicity vary by age?

Updated: Dec 31, 2020
  • Author: Adefris Adal, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Sage W Wiener, MD  more...
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Several points are of concern in heavy metal toxicity with respect to age. Generally, children are more susceptible to the toxic effects of the heavy metals and are more prone to unintentional exposures.

Inorganic lead salts enter the body by way of ingestion or inhalation. For adults, only about 10% of the ingested dose is absorbed. In contrast, children may absorb as much as 50% of an ingested dose.

The percentage of absorbed lead is increased with deficiencies of iron, calcium, and zinc. It is also increased with a predominantly milk diet, possible due to the high lipid content.

Children and infants are prone to developmental delays secondary to lead toxicity. One study found that blood lead concentrations obtained in children aged 6 years is more strongly associated with cognitive and behavior development than blood lead concentrations measured in 2-year-olds. [24]

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