Gender differences in the disposition and toxicity of metals

Environ Res. 2007 May;104(1):85-95. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2006.08.003. Epub 2006 Sep 22.


There is increasing evidence that health effects of toxic metals differ in prevalence or are manifested differently in men and women. However, the database is small. The present work aims at evaluating gender differences in the health effects of cadmium, nickel, lead, mercury and arsenic. There is a markedly higher prevalence of nickel-induced allergy and hand eczema in women compared to men, mainly due to differences in exposure. Cadmium retention is generally higher in women than in men, and the severe cadmium-induced Itai-itai disease was mainly a woman's disease. Gender differences in susceptibility at lower exposure are uncertain, but recent data indicate that cadmium has estrogenic effects and affect female offspring. Men generally have higher blood lead levels than women. Lead accumulates in bone and increased endogenous lead exposure has been demonstrated during periods of increased bone turnover, particularly in women in pregnancy and menopause. Lead and mercury, in the form of mercury vapor and methylmercury, are easily transferred from the pregnant women to the fetus. Recent data indicate that boys are more susceptible to neurotoxic effects of lead and methylmercury following exposure early in life, while experimental data suggest that females are more susceptible to immunotoxic effects of lead. Certain gender differences in the biotransformation of arsenic by methylation have been reported, and men seem to be more affected by arsenic-related skin effect than women. Experimental studies indicate major gender differences in arsenic-induced cancer. Obviously, research on gender-related differences in health effects caused by metals needs considerable more focus in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Susceptibility / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Hazardous Substances / analysis
  • Hazardous Substances / blood
  • Hazardous Substances / pharmacokinetics*
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Characteristics*


  • Hazardous Substances
  • Metals, Heavy