The aim of this study was to investigate if blood levels of trace and/or heavy metals are related to atherosclerosis in a cross-sectional study in elderly.
In the population-based Prospective Investigation of the Vasculature in Uppsala Seniors (PIVUS) study (1016 subjects, all aged 70), the prevalence of carotid artery plaques was recorded by ultrasound. The numbers of carotid arteries with plaques (0, 1 or 2) were recorded. Also the thickness (IMT) and gray scale (IM-GSM) of the intima-media complex were measured together with plaque echogenicity. Eleven heavy metals and trace elements were analyzed in whole blood, using inductively coupled plasma-sector field mass spectrometry.
Nickel levels were related to the number of carotid arteries with plaques in an inverted U-shaped manner after multiple adjustment for gender, waist circumference, body mass index, fasting blood glucose, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, HDL and LDL cholesterol, serum triglycerides, smoking, antihypertensive treatment and statin use (p = 0.026). IM-GSM and plaque echogenicity were both inversely related to chromium in a linear fashion, and to aluminum in an inverted U-shaped manner (both p < 0.0001 for IM-GSM). The relationships between metals and IMT were modest.
Circulating levels of some metals, like nickel, aluminum and chromium, were related to atherosclerotic plaques or the echogenicity of the IM-GSM and overt plaques independently of cardiovascular risk factors, including lipids.