Gut microbiota: A target for heavy metal toxicity and a probiotic protective strategy

Sci Total Environ. 2020 Nov 10;742:140429. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.140429. Epub 2020 Jun 25.


There is growing epidemiological evidence that heavy metals (HMs) may contribute to the progression of various metabolic diseases and that the etiology and progression of these diseases is partly due to HM-induced perturbations of the gut microbiota. Importantly, the gut microbiota are the first line of defense against the toxic effects of HMs, and there is a bidirectional relationship between the two. Thus, HM exposure alters the composition and metabolic profile of the gut microbiota at the functional level, and in turn, the gut microbiota alter the uptake and metabolism of HMs by acting as a physical barrier to HM absorption and by altering the pH, oxidative balance, and concentrations of detoxification enzymes or proteins involved in HM metabolism. Moreover, the gut microbiota can affect the integrity of the intestinal barrier, which may also in turn affect the absorption of HMs. Specifically, probiotic have been shown to reduce the absorption of HMs in the intestinal tract via the enhancement of intestinal HM sequestration, detoxification of HMs in the gut, changing the expression of metal transporter proteins, and maintaining the gut barrier function. This review is a summary of the bidirectional relationship between HMs and gut microbiota and of the probiotic-based protective strategies against HM-induced gut dysbiosis, with reference to strategies used in the food industry or for medically alleviating HM toxicity.

Keywords: Gut dysbiosis; Gut microbiota; Heavy metal; Probiotic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dysbiosis
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Heavy Metal Poisoning
  • Humans
  • Metals, Heavy*
  • Probiotics*


  • Metals, Heavy