Low cadmium exposure in males and lactating females-estimation of biomarkers

Environ Res. 2017 Jan;152:109-119. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2016.09.025. Epub 2016 Oct 20.


Background: Urine cadmium (Cd) and renal function biomarkers, mostly analysed in urine spot samples, are well established biomarkers of occupational exposure. Their use and associations at low environmental level are common, but have recently been questioned, particularly in terms of physiological variability and normalisation bias in the case of urine spot samples.

Aim: To determine the appropriateness of spot urine and/or blood Cd exposure biomarkers and their relationships with renal function biomarkers at low levels of exposure. To this end, we used data from Slovenian human biomonitoring program involving 1081 Slovenians (548 males, mean age 31 years; 533 lactating females, mean age 29 years; 2007-2015) who have not been exposed to Cd occupationally.

Results: Geometric means (GMs) of Cd in blood and spot urine samples were 0.27ng/mL (0.28 for males and 0.33 for females) and 0.19ng/mL (0.21 for males and 0.17 for females), respectively. Differing results were obtained when contrasting normalisation by urine creatinine with specific gravity. GMs of urine albumin (Alb), alpha-1-microglobulin (A1M), N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminidase (NAG), and immunoglobulin G (IgG) were far below their upper reference limits. Statistical analysis of unnormalised or normalised urine data often yielded inconsistent and conflicting results (or trends), so association analyses with unnormalised data were taken as more valid. Relatively weak positive associations were observed between urine Cd (ng/mL) and blood Cd (β=0.11, p=0.002 for males and β=0.33, p<0.001 for females) and for females between urine NAG and blood Cd (β=0.14, p=0.04). No associations were found between other renal function biomarkers and blood Cd. Associations between Cd and renal function biomarkers in urine were stronger (p<0.05, β=0.11-0.63). Mostly, all of the associations stayed significant but weakened after normalisation for diuresis. In the case of A1M, its associations with Cd were influenced by current smoking and blood Pb in males and by pre-pregnancy smoking and blood Se in females (β up to 0.34, p<0.001). Statistical analysis of unnormalised or normalised urine data often yielded inconsistent and conflicting results (or trends), so association analyses data with unnormalised were taken as more valid.

Conclusions: The observed uncertainties introduced by urine normalisation, particularly by creatinine, confirm blood Cd as a superior low-Cd exposure biomarker versus urine Cd in cases when 24h urine is unattainable. Evidence that A1M can be positively related to Cd, smoking (current or pre-pregnancy), Pb, and Se status, points to the versatile biological functions of A1M.

Keywords: Alpha-1-microglobulin; Biomarkers; Blood; Cadmium; Urine normalisation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Cadmium / blood*
  • Cadmium / urine*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Environmental Pollutants / urine*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Function Tests
  • Lactation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Slovenia
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Cadmium