Heavy metals, which have widespread environmental distribution and originate from natural and anthropogenic sources, are common environmental pollutants. In recent decades, their contamination has increased dramatically because of continuous discharge in sewage and untreated industrial effluents. Because they are non-degradable, they persist in the environment; accordingly, they have received a great deal of attention owing to their potential health and environmental risks. Although the toxic effects of metals depend on the forms and routes of exposure, interruptions of intracellular homeostasis include damage to lipids, proteins, enzymes and DNA via the production of free radicals. Following exposure to heavy metals, their metabolism and subsequent excretion from the body depends on the presence of antioxidants (glutathione, α-tocopherol, ascorbate, etc.) associated with the quenching of free radicals by suspending the activity of enzymes (catalase, peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase). Therefore, this review was written to provide a deep understanding of the mechanisms involved in eliciting their toxicity in order to highlight the necessity for development of strategies to decrease exposure to these metals, as well as to identify substances that contribute significantly to overcome their hazardous effects within the body of living organisms.
Keywords: biomolecules; dietary antioxidants; free radicals; heavy metals.