Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

PloS One


Geisel School of Medicine


Background: A growing body of evidence suggests that exposure to toxic metals occurs through diet but few studies have comprehensively examined dietary sources of exposure in US populations.

Purpose: Our goal was to perform a novel dietary-wide association study (DWAS) to identify specific dietary sources of lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic exposure in US children and adults.

Methods: We combined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey with data from the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Intakes Converted to Retail Commodities Database to examine associations between 49 different foods and environmental metal exposure. Using blood and urinary biomarkers for lead, cadmium, mercury, and arsenic, we compared sources of dietary exposure among children to that of adults.

Results: Diet accounted for more of the variation in mercury and arsenic than lead and cadmium. For instance we estimate 4.5% of the variation of mercury among children and 10.5% among adults is explained by diet. We identified a previously unrecognized association between rice consumption and mercury in a US study population – adjusted for other dietary sources such as seafood, an increase of 10 g/day of rice consumption was associated with a 4.8% (95% CI: 3.6, 5.2) increase in blood mercury concentration. Associations between diet and metal exposure were similar among children and adults, and we recapitulated other known dietary sources of exposure.

Conclusion: Utilizing this combination of data sources, this approach has the potential to identify and monitor dietary sources of metal exposure in the US population.