Exposure to Tobacco Smoke Increases Levels of Trace Metals in Children’s Saliva, Study Finds

In Education

Tobacco smoke is a well-known cause of indoor air pollution and health risks. Research from Penn State University reveals that children exposed to tobacco smoke have higher levels of heavy metals in their saliva, which can pose additional health dangers. The study examined the connection between smoke exposure and heavy metal levels in children’s saliva.

Increased cotinine levels in saliva linked to exposure to metals from smoking

Lead researcher Lisa Gatzke-Kopp, a professor of human development and family studies, emphasizes the harmful nature of tobacco smoke due to its numerous chemical compounds. Although smoke-free policies and increased awareness of environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) dangers have led to decreased exposure to ETS, some children still face exceptionally high levels of exposure.

The study discovered strong connections between cotinine levels in children’s saliva (a nicotine byproduct) and the levels of vital trace metals (like copper and zinc) and non-essential heavy metals such as lead. Children with higher cotinine levels also had elevated levels of heavy metals in their saliva. These results emphasize the potential health hazards linked to tobacco smoke exposure and heavy metals presence in children.

Researchers examined close to 1,300 families in the study from North Carolina and Pennsylvania as part of the Family Life Project, seeking to get insight into child development in rural areas. Their analysis focused on a group of 238 children under 7.5 years old. The researchers measured metals and cotinine levels in the children’s saliva to investigate the relationship between exposure to smoke and the presence of heavy metals.

Vaping also releases toxic metals in aerosols

Although vaping is fronted as a safer option to tobacco smoking, researchers also raise concerns regarding the possibility of the release of toxic metals from e-cigarette aerosols.

Gatzke explained that in their studies, they detected metals in aerosolized vapours, which is a sign that they can also be transmitted as secondhand and thirdhand smoke, just like nicotine. 

Interestingly, researchers recommend that saliva tests may be a non-invasive way of assessing occupational and environmental trace metals exposure. The only caveat to this method is the lack of proper guidelines for ideal levels of metal in human saliva.

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