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Your Environment. Your Health.

Tungsten Linked With Chronic Kidney Disease

Katherine James, Ph.D.
University of Colorado, Denver

Exposure to tungsten may decrease the time it takes to develop to chronic kidney disease (CKD), and may be associated with CKD of unknown origin (CKDu), according to a new NIEHS-funded study. CKD is a public health problem around the world, particularly in agricultural communities. The San Luis Valley is a rural agricultural community in southern Colorado with several risk factors for CKD, including a water supply contaminated by heavy metals.

Researchers compiled existing data on metals in urine of 1,659 people in the San Luis Valley, along with social, demographic, and clinical information. Using advanced statistical approaches, the scientists looked for associations between tungsten concentration in urine and the time to develop CKD. In a subset of individuals, they also evaluated the relationship between tungsten and biological markers of kidney injury and CKDu.

Urine tungsten was strongly associated with decreased time-to-CKD, even after controlling for high blood pressure and diabetes, known risk factors for CKD. For example, every doubling of tungsten in urine was associated with up to 31% higher odds of developing the disease within 5 years. Urinary tungsten in the 95th percentile of exposure was also associated with CKDu after adjusting for known CKD risk factors. One biological marker of kidney injury was significantly elevated with higher tungsten in urine in individuals without diabetes.

According to the researchers, tungsten warrants further study as a potential risk factor for CKD and a contributor to CKDu, which may act by directly harming the kidneys.

Citation: Fox J, Macaluso F, Moore C, Mesenbring E, Johnson RJ, Hamman RF, James KA. 2021. Urine tungsten and chronic kidney disease in rural Colorado. Environ Res 195:110710.

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