Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2022 Aug 2. doi: 10.1007/s11356-022-22353-w. Online ahead of print.
Amounting epidemiological evidence has shown detrimental effects of heavy metals on a wide range of diseases. However, the effect of heavy metal exposure on mortality in the general population remains unclear. The primary objective of this study was to clarify the associations between heavy metals and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and cancer based on prospective studies. We comprehensively searched Pubmed, Embase, and Web of Science electronic databases to identify studies published from their inception until 1 March 2022. Investigators identified inclusion criteria, extracted study characteristics, and assessed the methodological quality of included studies according to standardized guidelines. Meta-analysis was conducted if the effect estimates of the same outcome were reported in at least three studies. Finally, 42 original studies were identified. The results of meta-analysis showed that cadmium and lead exposure was significantly associated with mortality from all causes, CVD, and cancer in the general population. Moderate evidence suggested there was a link between arsenic exposure and mortality. The adverse effects of mercury and other heavy metals on mortality were inconclusive. Epidemiological evidence for the joint effect of heavy metal exposure on mortality was still indeterminate. In summary, our study provided compelling evidence that exposure to cadmium, lead, and arsenic were associated with mortality from all causes, CVD, and cancer, while the evidence on other heavy metals, for example mercury, was insignificant or indeterminate. Nevertheless, further prospective studies are warranted to explore the joint effects of multiple metal exposure on mortality.