Cadmium, total mercury, and lead in blood and associations with diet, sociodemographic factors, and smoking in Swedish adolescents

Pernilla Almerud, Galia Zamaratskaia, Anna Karin Lindroos, Helena Bjermo, Eva M. Andersson, Thomas Lundh, Emma Halldin Ankarberg, Sanna Lignell

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3 Citations (SciVal)


Background: Despite their vulnerability to the toxic effects of certain metals, biomonitoring data on adolescents are limited. In the present study, we assessed blood concentrations of toxic metals (cadmium [Cd], total mercury [Hg], and lead [Pb] in a national representative sample of Swedish adolescents. We also examined the associations of Cd, total Hg and Pb with habitual intakes of major energy-providing food groups and other possible determinants such as age, sex, household education, Nordic or non-Nordic origin, and smoking. Methods: We analysed blood concentrations of Cd, total Hg, and Pb in a sample of 1099 adolescents from the Riksmaten Adolescents 2016–17 study in three age groups (mean age of 12, 15, and 18 years) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The participants completed web-based questionnaires on food consumption frequency, sociodemographic factors and health status. Dietary data from two web-based 24-h dietary recalls were used to estimate the habitual intake of 10 major food groups. Results: Almost all participants had detectable concentrations of Cd, total Hg, and Pb in whole blood. The median blood concentrations were 0.12 μg/L for Cd, 0.72 μg/L for total Hg, and 7.1 μg/L for Pb. Higher blood concentrations of Cd were observed in girls than in boys, whereas concentrations of total Hg and Pb were higher in boys. We observed an inverse association between Cd and meat intake. Total Hg concentrations were positively associated with intakes of fish, eggs, meat, and vegetables, and Pb concentrations were inversely associated with intakes of dairy products. Furthermore, smokers had higher concentrations of Cd and Pb. Conclusions: We found that fish was a potentially important source of exposure to total Hg in Swedish adolescents. No other food group was identified to have a strong impact on the blood levels of Cd, total Hg and Pb. Thirteen per cent of the adolescents had blood Pb concentrations above 12 μg/L, the reference point used in the risk assessment of Pb by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Original languageEnglish
Article number110991
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Environmental Health and Occupational Health


  • Adolescents
  • Biomonitoring
  • Blood
  • Food intake
  • Toxic metals


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