Cadmium in Food: How to Avoid Metal Contamination

Cadmium is a metallic element that can accumulate in the human body over time, leading to health consequences. Small amounts of this metal are found in many food items, and long-term exposure to high levels of cadmium can increase your risk of developing health problems, such as kidney damage and osteoporosis. Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce your cadmium exposure and minimize the risks associated with this metal.

In today’s article, we will enumerate the sources of cadmium and discuss the ways to limit cadmium absorption.


Where Does Cadmium Come From? 

Cadmium is a naturally occurring element found in trace amounts. Its main source is zinc ore, which contains between 0.1-0.3% cadmium by weight. Other sources include lead and copper ores, both of which contain small amounts of cadmium. Although these sources supply some amount of functional cadmium, most of what we use today comes from human activities rather than natural sources. The differences are as follows:

  • Natural sources of cadmium. Volcanic activity and other geological processes, such as erosion, are the primary causes of cadmium formation. This metal is also present in some minerals and rocks, including zinc ore deposits. In most cases, these natural sources are not enough to cause significant contamination levels.
  • Man-made sources of cadmium. Most environmental contamination from cadmium comes from man-made sources. For example, industrial activities such as burning fossil fuels and the production of metals like zinc and lead release cadmium. It is also released during mining operations and waste incineration.

Let’s discuss these sources in more detail below.


1. Mining and refining processes 

The mining process for extracting cadmium involves excavating large quantities of zinc ore and segregating the cadmium-containing material through beneficiation, which uses physical or chemical processes to separate materials based on their properties. After sorting the material, manufacturers process it further to remove impurities and create functional forms of cadmium for industrial use.


2. Production for human use 

Refined cadmium ore has several applications, evident in its uses for both everyday objects and specialized machinery. Not only can people use it to manufacture solar cells and batteries, but it also serves as an invaluable alloying agent when strengthening base metals like iron or nickel. By adding small amounts of the metal into these alloys during steel production processes, engineers are also able to create stronger materials with improved electrical conductivity.


How Does Cadmium Contaminate Food? 

Cadmium enters the food chain primarily through the application of cadmium-containing phosphate rocks in fertilizers or manures. Soil and crops then absorb the toxic metal, leading to contamination. Cadmium can also penetrate the food chain through contaminated water used in irrigation or drinking water supplies.


How to Reduce Cadmium Exposure

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high levels of cadmium absorption is a health hazard that can irritate the stomach, induce vomiting and diarrhea, and cause death. but there are several ways to reduce exposure. Chronic exposure to cadmium can also result in serious kidney damage, a bone disease called osteomalacia, and lung cancer, reports the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On the bright side, there are ways to protect your health and reduce your exposure.


1. Limit consumption of cadmium-rich foods

Some foods high in cadmium include shellfish, liver, kidney, root crops, and mushrooms, which you should consume in moderation. Certain foods grown in cadmium-contaminated soils, such as leafy greens, potatoes, and grains, also contain high levels of the metallic element. Minimize your exposure to cadmium by cutting down your consumption of these foods or by following our next tip.


2. Choose fresh, organic produce

If you’re looking to reduce your dietary cadmium intake, ensure to purchase fresh, organic produce whenever possible. Organic farming practices are less likely to result in cadmium-contaminated soil, and organic produce has lower levels of heavy metals like cadmium. You can even take it to the next level by growing your own fruits and vegetables.


3. Increase your intake of calcium and iron

A 2015 study revealed that a diet with adequate amounts of calcium and iron has the potential to treat cadmium and lead toxicity. To increase your intake of these minerals, incorporate more dairy products, leafy greens, and iron-rich foods such as red meat, poultry, and beans into your diet.


4. Stay hydrated

Cadmium in drinking water showed no effects at 5 mg/kg of body weight or when researchers exposed mice to 70 mg/l of cadmium for 70 days. The World Health Organization set a consent level for cadmium in water at 0.003 mg/L, and the EPA and FDA state a maximum consent level limit of 0.005 mg/L.

Sufficient hydration may help flush cadmium and other heavy metals out of the body. Therefore, make it your daily habit to drink plenty of water (distilled water has the least contaminants) and other healthy beverages to support healthy kidney function and eliminate metal contamination.


5. Avoid smoking

Smoking is a major source of cadmium exposure, as the metal is present in tobacco smoke. To reduce your risk of cadmium toxicity, it’s important to avoid smoking and limit your exposure to secondhand smoke.

Related: Overview of How the Body Recovers After Quitting Smoking


Cadmium in Food: Valuable Insights

Cadmium is an essential element used in numerous industries worldwide. Its presence has become increasingly common over time due to human activities that involve mining and refining processes for beneficial products, including electronic devices that convert light energy into electricity.

While it’s true that cadmium has several uses, you must be aware of its potential effects on health and environmental safety. By limiting your consumption of cadmium-rich foods, increasing your calcium and iron intake, staying hydrated, and avoiding smoking, you can protect yourself and reduce your risk of cadmium toxicity. Furthermore, if you consume plenty of veggies grown in soils containing higher levels of cadmium, remember that your risk for health problems increases with prolonged exposure over time. So, take steps such as buying fresh, organic produce and avoiding certain root veggies grown in contaminated soil whenever possible.


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