It seems unthinkable that manufacturers would include cadmium, a heavy metal that causes neurological damage and is a known carcinogen, in children’s jewelry.
Yet this was the case for many years until 2010. That’s when an investigation found Chinese manufacturers, among others, were using deadly cadmium in children’s necklaces and other costume jewelry.
The human body has no use for cadmium, and therefore no way to eliminate it on its own.
That means avoiding it is the safest thing you can do. But that becomes problematic, especially for women, when it is hiding in plain sight around their neck and on their fingers.
Wait… wasn’t cadmium banned from jewelry?
You’d think that ban on children’s jewelry would have taken care of things. But apparently, some manufacturers continued using the toxic metal. And its effects on women are particularly devastating…
Some women’s jewelry is still full of cadmium
Last month, the Center for Environmental Health found that some jewelry being sold along with women’s dresses and shirts was made of nearly pure cadmium.
The Oakland-based non-profit tested jewelry found in national store chains including Ross, Nordstrom Rack, and Papaya. Their tests all took place in the San Francisco Bay area.
While the sampling is small, Caroline Cox, senior scientist at the Center, had this to say: “If you’re a person that buys and is wearing that jewelry, you don’t really care whether it’s a common problem or a rare problem. You have a problem.”
Indeed, this is disturbing news for women all over the country. After all, these national retailers distribute their toxic jewelry throughout the country, not just in San Francisco.
The dangers of cadmium exposure
Aside from being a carcinogen and neurotoxin, cadmium is also an endocrine disruptor. More accurately, it mimics the female hormone estrogen, and so has been tied to hormone-related cancers including breast and endometrial cancer.
One study found that high cadmium levels were associated with a 23 percent higher endometrial cancer risk. But the risks don’t end with cancer…
Other dangers associated with cadmium include:
Neurological. Studies show that cadmium changes the structure and function of our cells, particularly our nervous system. It has been cited as a possible precursor to the neurological changes leading to diseases including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.
Respiratory. Inhaling cadmium fumes, either at work or in cigarette smoke, increases your risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema.
Cardiovascular. Even low levels of cadmium exposure and blood cadmium have been associated with hypertension.
Kidneys. Of all our organs, the kidneys are in the gravest danger from cadmium exposure. A rare disorder called Fanconi syndrome (not to be confused with Fanconi anemia) affects the filtering tubes of the kidneys. It is often inherited, but can also develop as a result of exposure to toxins.
Symptoms of acquired Fanconi’s syndrome (as opposed to hereditary) include bone disease, muscle weakness, and low blood potassium. Unfortunately, this condition is hard to detect and may take as long as ten years after exposure to show up. By the time a diagnosis is made, there is usually bone and kidney damage.
Bones. In later stages of cadmium poisoning, bone lesions appear that often accompany lesions on the kidneys. Researchers believe these bone lesions are associated with poor absorption of Vitamin D, so it’s not surprising that osteoporosis often accompanies cadmium poisoning.
“Itai-itai” disease. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first pollution-related disease being recognized in Japan. “It hurts, it hurts” is the English translation.
Symptoms include kidney damage and osteomalacia, a bone-softening disorder, as well as small body size, darkened skin, and severe anemia. In all, 200 people in Japan have been recognized as having itai-itai disease caused by cadmium pollution in the Jinzu River. Of the 200, five are still alive.
Where else does cadmium hide?
Cadmium in jewelry is just the tip of the iceberg.
Many drinking glasses, especially older ones, contain cadmium and lead.
Cigarette smoke is full of cadmium.
Nickel and cadmium batteries can leave residue on the skin, which then can be ingested.
Many paints also contain cadmium.
How to protect yourself
Cadmium exposure is toxic to all humans. It causes damage to virtually every system in our bodies.
Remember that avoiding cadmium as much as possible is the best way to protect yourself, but there are some things you can do to help…
Limit your exposure to certain foods. Scallops, mussels, oysters, liver and kidney meat often have higher cadmium content. Buy organic meat and fish whenever possible.
Eat cadmium-fighting foods. Certain foods have been shown to act as natural antagonists to cadmium. These include tomatoes and garlic.
Wear protective equipment. If you work at a job where cadmium exposure is possible, wear protection for your body, hands, and face.
Take probiotics. One of the simplest silver bullets against cadmium exposure may be the humble probiotic. A study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology found that mice who drank cadmium-laced water and were fed the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum for eight weeks had less cadmium in their intestinal tissues than mice who didn’t get the probiotic.