TUESDAY, Nov. 12, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- People with high levels of the metal tungsten in their bodies are at increased risk for stroke, according to a new study.
Tungsten is widely used in consumer items such as cell phones and computers, as well as many industrial and military products.
Researchers analyzed data collected from more than 8,600 Americans, aged 18 to 74, over 12 years. People with higher tungsten levels in the body (measured by urine samples) had double the normal risk of stroke, according to the study, which was published Nov. 11 in the journal PLoS One.
The researchers at the University of Exeter, in England, also found that tungsten could be a significant risk factor for stroke in people younger than 50.
"While currently very low, human exposure to tungsten is set to increase," study lead author Dr. Jessica Tyrrell said in a university news release. "We're not yet sure why some members of the population have higher levels of the metal in their make-up, and an important step in understanding and preventing the risks it may pose to health will be to get to the bottom of how it's ending up in our bodies."
Although the study found an association between higher levels of tungsten in the body and increased stroke risk, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
"The relationship we're seeing between tungsten and stroke may only be the tip of the iceberg," study co-author Dr. Nicholas Osborne said in the news release.
"As numerous new substances make their way into the environment, we're accumulating a complex 'chemical cocktail' in our bodies," Osborne said. "Currently, we have incredibly limited information on the health effects of individual chemicals and no research has explored how these compounds might interact together to impact human health."
With largely unknown health effects, tungsten has been identified as a toxic substance of emerging concern. This study is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the potential health effects of the metal, the researchers said.
Stroke is the second leading cause of death in the Western world, according to the World Health Organization, and it's the leading cause of disability in adults.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about stroke.