Occupational exposure to cadmium has for long been associated with renal tubular cell dysfunction, osteomalacia with osteoporosis, hypercalciuria and renal stone formation. High environmental exposure in Japan resulting from a stable diet of cadmium contaminated rice caused itai-itai disease, fractures occurring mainly in elderly multiparous women, with a form of osteomalacia, osteoporosis and renal dysfunction.
More recently a population based study in Europe, in the vicinity of zinc smelters has shown that low to moderate exposure to cadmium, with a mean urinary excretion of cadmium of the order of 1 μg/g creatinine has been associated with a decrease in bone density, an increased risk of bone fractures in women and of height loss in men. In a population-based study of residents near a cadmium smelter in China, forearm bone density was shown to decrease linearly with age and urinary cadmium in both sexes, suggesting a dose effect relationship between cadmium dose and bone mineral density. A marked increase in the prevalence of fractures was shown in the cadmium-polluted area in both sexes. Concentrations of cadmium in blood and urine were taken as exposure biomarkers, and β2-microglobulin, retinol binding protein and albumin as biomarkers of effect. A marked dose response relationship between these indicators of exposure and effect was shown.
Hypercalciuria, which may progress to osteoporosis, has been taken as a sensitive renal-tubular biomarker of a low level of cadmium exposure. Cadmium may also act directly on bone. Animal studies have shown cadmium to stimulate the formation and activity of osteoclasts, breaking down the collagen matrix in bone.
Osteoporosis is the main cause of fracures in post-menopausal women, a common occurrence worldwide, giving rise to disability and a high cost to health services. The identification of cadmium, an environmental pollutant, as one causal factor is highly significant in helping to control the incidence of this complex condition.
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