Prevalence of exposure of heavy metals and their impact on health consequences

J Cell Biochem. 2018 Jan;119(1):157-184. doi: 10.1002/jcb.26234. Epub 2017 Aug 2.


Even in the current era of growing technology, the concentration of heavy metals present in drinking water is still not within the recommended limits as set by the regulatory authorities in different countries of the world. Drinking water contaminated with heavy metals namely; arsenic, cadmium, nickel, mercury, chromium, zinc, and lead is becoming a major health concern for public and health care professionals. Occupational exposure to heavy metals is known to occur by the utilization of these metals in various industrial processes and/or contents including color pigments and alloys. However, the predominant source resulting in measurable human exposure to heavy metals is the consumption of contaminated drinking water and the resulting health issues may include cardiovascular disorders, neuronal damage, renal injuries, and risk of cancer and diabetes. The general mechanism involved in heavy metal-induced toxicity is recognized to be the production of reactive oxygen species resulting oxidative damage and health related adverse effects. Thus utilization of heavy metal-contaminated water is resulting in high morbidity and mortality rates all over the world. Thereby, feeling the need to raise the concerns about contribution of different heavy metals in various health related issues, this article has discussed the global contamination of drinking water with heavy metals to assess the health hazards associated with consumption of heavy metal-contaminated water. A relationship between exposure limits and ultimate responses produced as well as the major organs affected have been reviewed. Acute and chronic poisoning symptoms and mechanisms responsible for such toxicities have also been discussed.

Keywords: cancer; diabetes mellitus; heavy metals; oxidative stress; reactive oxygen species.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Cadmium / toxicity
  • Drinking Water / chemistry
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Humans
  • Lead / toxicity
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Nickel / toxicity


  • Drinking Water
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Nickel
  • Arsenic