The effects of heavy metals on human metabolism

Toxicol Mech Methods. 2020 Mar;30(3):167-176. doi: 10.1080/15376516.2019.1701594. Epub 2019 Dec 17.


As technology continues to advance, heavy metals in drinking water have exceeded recommended limits from regulators around the world. The main source of human exposure to heavy metals is from contaminated drinking water. The effects of drinking water contaminated with heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, nickel, cadmium and mercury, have gradually caught the attention of the relevant departments and personnel. It is well known that occupational exposure to heavy metals occurs as a result of using these metals in a variety of industrial processes in and/or a variety of materials, including color pigments and alloys. A series of adverse effects on human metabolism has resulted from exposure to heavy metal-contaminated drinking water, which has been recorded from around the world. The general mechanism of heavy metal toxicity is through the production of reactive oxygen species, the appearance of oxidative damage, and subsequent adverse effects on health. Therefore, water contaminated with heavy metals causes high morbidity and mortality worldwide. In order to address concern regarding the health effects of different heavy metals, this paper reviews its sources, distribution and effects of heavy metal on human metabolism.HIGHLIGHTSThe accumulation of heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and nickel will destroy the main metabolic process of human body.Redox reactions in biological systems are caused by carcinogenic metal ions such as nickel and arsenic. The free radicals produced by these reactions cause oxidative damage to proteins and DNA.The accumulation of heavy metals eventually produces reactive oxygen species that can cause oxidative stress, which may lead to the production of various diseases.

Keywords: Heavy metals; arsenic; cadmium; lead; mercury; metabolism; nickel.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arsenic / toxicity
  • Cadmium / toxicity
  • DNA Damage
  • Drinking Water / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Lead / toxicity
  • Mercury / toxicity
  • Metals, Heavy / analysis
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Nickel / toxicity
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Drinking Water
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Cadmium
  • Lead
  • Nickel
  • Mercury
  • Arsenic