Toxicology of Cadmium and Its Damage to Mammalian Organs

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Abstract

The detrimental health effects of cadmium (Cd) were first described in the mid 19th century. As part of industrial developments, increasing usage of Cd has led to widespread contamination of the environment that threatens human health, particularly today. Rather than acute, lethal exposures, the real challenge in the 21st century in a global setting seems to be chronic low Cd exposure (CLCE), mainly from dietary sources. Ubiquity of Cd makes it a serious environmental health problem that needs to be thoroughly assessed because it already affects or will affect large proportions of the world’s population. CLCE is a health problem that affects increasingly organ toxicity, especially nephrotoxicity, without a known threshold, implying that there is currently no safe limit for CLCE. In this chapter, we summarize current knowledge on the sources of Cd in the environment, describe the entry pathways for Cd into mammalian organisms, sum up the major organs targeted by acute or chronic Cd exposure and review the impact of Cd on organ function and human health. We also aim to put early pioneering studies on Cd poisoning into perspective in the context of recent ground-breaking prospective long-term population studies, which link CLCE to leading causes of diseases in modern societies – cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, and of state-of-the-art studies detailing cellular and molecular mechanisms of acute and chronic Cd toxicity.