Tungsten: The New Threat to Your Heart

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Tungsten and Heart ProblemsThere’s a good chance that you haven’t heard much about tungsten. This naturally-occurring element is found in minute amounts in the air, our food, and in our drinking water. Tungsten is used by the manufacturing industry to make light bulbs, cell phones, computers, tools, electrodes, bullets, and x-ray tubes, to name just a few.

Chemical compounds extracted from tungsten are used as pigments in the making of ceramics, as fire retardant coatings for fabrics and to make dyes color-resistant when they are added to fabrics.

Tungsten gets into the air through natural processes such as the weathering of rocks. Industries that use tungsten to make metal products also emit tungsten particles into the air. These particles then settle in the soil, water or plant surfaces. Tungsten particles can also be carried to the earth when it rains or snows. If industrial waste contains high levels of tungsten, it can accumulate to more toxic levels in the soil.

Symptoms of Tungsten Chemical poisoning

Symptoms of chemical poisoning from Tungsten include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Eye irritation
  • Cough
  • Nose irritation
  • Lung fibrosis
  • Memory problems
  • Kidney dysfunction
  • Headache
  • Kidney damage
  • Nausea
  • Skin irritation
  • Seizures
  • Hyperkalemia
  • Metabolic acidosis

How Tungsten Affects Your Health

Once industrial tungsten has infiltrated the air, food, or our drinking water, you can be exposed to higher levels of the metal than you would experience from natural sources. For those living in urban areas, tungsten contamination can pose more of a threat.

Research has shown that tungsten compounds can cause breathing problems and affect behavior. There hasn’t been a lot of research conducted to determine if higher levels of tungsten in the body can cause cancer. However, a recent study has linked the metal to an increased risk of stroke.

Researchers from the University of Exeter in England examined 8,600 people for levels of tungsten contamination. They found that those with the highest levels of the metal were twice as likely to suffer a stroke as those with the lowest levels.

The researchers decided to conduct their study when it was learned that tungsten is capable of leaching into water. They also noted that the amount of tungsten used in manufacturing and industrial production has almost doubled over the last ten years, rising from 40,000 tons in 2002 to about 72,000 tons in 2012. It was time, the researchers concluded, to investigate whether the metal was causing any harm to human populations.

They quickly determined that tungsten was capable of disrupting important biological pathways, causing potentially adverse effects in the body. After analyzing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers found that higher levels of tungsten adversely affected the heart, suggesting it’s a risk factor for stroke. Interestingly, this stroke risk was highest in those 50 years old or younger. While stroke occurrence is more common in adults over the age of 65, the number of younger people suffering this dangerous heart event has risen sharply.

More attention needs to be paid to the effects of tungsten exposure, the researchers say. They would like to know why some people carry around higher traces of the metal than others. Stricter laws may need to be passed that prevent tungsten from being released into the air in large quantities. Certainly there needs to be monitoring of the amount of tungsten that enters garbage dumps and landfills as waste to prevent leaching into ground water.

Preidt, R., “Exposure to the Metal Tungsten May Raise Stroke Risk,” MedlinePlus web site, Nov. 12, 2013; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_142436.html
Tyrrell, J., et al., “High urinary tungsten concentration is associated with stroke in the national health and nutrition examination survey 1999-2010,” PLoS One. Nov 11, 2013; 8(11): e77546.