We know smoking makes you age faster, but what about your chocolate bar? Cadmium, a chemical found in tobacco smoke, contaminated food, and air pollution, has been linked to inflammation, oxidative stress, and inhibition of DNA repair. All those things are associated with aging. Now a new study has revealed another link.
Telomeres are found in many animal cells. They are strings of proteins that act as caps on chromosomes. When they shorten through cell division or damage, genes can be damaged and cell function can weaken, leading to aging (Click here for more on this theory). A study carried out on 6,700 individuals recently revealed that those who tested the highest for cadmium levels had telomeres that were 5.5 to 4.5% shorter than those with the lowest concentration.
The scary thing? Most people in the study had not been exposed to unusual levels of cadmium, say at work or from living next to an industrial pollution source. Also, those who showed effects had cadmium levels about ten times less than some of the current levels that have been identified as dangerous, and we don’t have standards or required tests for cadmium in food. And cadmium is certainly in food, at least in trace amounts, since it is found in soil, naturally or from pollution.
Yet it’s hard to find information on cadmium since until recently, studies couldn’t dive down and measure the lengths of chromosomes while exploring cadmium levels. Chocolate is one food that has received attention for containing high levels of cadmium, and even lead. A recent attempted lawsuit and safety concerns have tightened regulations around one of the world’s favorite treats. I eat it from time to time. It’s concealed deep in my pockets when I go into movie theaters, so I’m curious how chocolate stacks up to other foods on cadmium levels.
Will this study bring new attention to cadmium testing? Or since it’s just associated with aging, something that everyone expects and accepts, will it be ignored?
It’s also possible shortened telomeres lead to greater cadmium concentration, not the other way around. But just in case, here is a website feature that lists chocolates and cocoa powders with the least cadmium. You wouldn’t want to be stuck with nothing but gummy bears in the movie theater.
Heavy Metal May Age Cells Prematurely