Many Scleroderma Patients Were Exposed to Heavy Metals, Study Finds

Many Scleroderma Patients Were Exposed to Heavy Metals, Study Finds

Researchers have found links between several heavy metals and scleroderma, a discovery that prompted them to encourage doctors to check whether their patients had occupational exposure to heavy metals.

Interestingly, some metals were associated more with male scleroderma patients and some with females.

The study, “Systemic sclerosis and exposure to heavy metals: A case control study of 100 patients and 300 controls,” was published in the journal Autoimmunity Reviews.

With increasing evidence that environmental factors may contribute to scleroderma, researchers at the Rouen University Hospital and the Institute for Biochemical Research, Rouen in France noted that previous studies had failed to explore whether heavy metals contributed to scleroderma.

The research team measured heavy metals in the hair of 100 scleroderma patients and 300 healthy controls.

To make comparisons more informative, they matched each patient with three controls of the same age, gender, and smoking habits. None of the patients had other autoimmune diseases.

The team gathered information on occupations and recreational activities that might have exposed the participants to heavy metals.

Since patients and controls came from the same geographical area, researchers assumed that any exposure to heavy metals from diet would be the same from person to person.

Hair is better suited for analyses of heavy metals than blood samples. Metal levels in blood can be high, then decrease. Hair stores higher amounts of metal so it’s a better barometer of historical exposure to the substances. To avoid differences caused by hair length, the samples consisted of the 3 centimeters of hair closest to the skin.

The patient group was 78 women and 22 men.

Analyses showed that the scleroderma patients had higher median levels of antimony, cadmium, lead, mercury, molybdenum, palladium, and zinc than controls. Patients had lower levels of germanium and silver.

Women with scleroderma had higher median levels of antimony, cadmium, lead, mercury, palladium, and zinc than female controls. In contrast, male patients had higher levels of only antimony and platinum, compared with male controls.

The differences could likely be traced to the participants’ occupations, the researchers said.

“In the present case-control study, we have . . . shown a marked association between SSc [systemic sclerosis] and antimony exposure. Interestingly, we have found a significant association between SSc and antimony exposure in both male and female patients.” the team wrote. “Antimony is released in: 1) producing of semi-conductors, infrared detectors and diodes, lead storage batteries, solder, sheet and pipe metal bearings, castings, pewter, metal alloys, fire-retardant formulations for plastics, rubbers, textiles, paper and paints, explosives; and 2) manufacturing of electronics.”

The human biological mechanisms through which antimony may contribute to the development of scleroderma remain unclear, however, the research team said.

“Another main finding in our case-control study is that we have shown a marked association between SSc and cadmium exposure. The current study interestingly shows that the association between SSc and cadmium exposure was stronger in females than in males. In our experience, exposure to cadmium was observed in patients producing batteries, pigments, coatings and platings, stabilizers for plastics and nonferrous alloys, photovoltaic devices,” the team wrote. “The pathogenic mechanisms of cadmium remain unknown in the development of SSc.”

Researchers also found an association between female scleroderma patients and exposure to lead, mercury, palladium and zinc. They believe the differences in exposures between male and female patients reflect differences in their occupations.

“The present study shows a marked correlation between SSc  and exposure to antimony, cadmium, lead, mercury, molybdenum, palladium and zinc. Thus, occupational exposure should be systematically checked in all SSc patients at diagnosis. Finally, the association between SSc and occupational exposure may be variable according to patients’ gender,” the team concluded.

For the majority of these metals, little is known about how they can trigger autoimmune processes.

Magdalena is a writer with a passion for bridging the gap between the people performing research, and those who want or need to understand it. She writes about medical science and drug discovery. She holds an MS in Pharmaceutical Bioscience and a PhD — spanning the fields of psychiatry, immunology, and neuropharmacology — from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
Magdalena is a writer with a passion for bridging the gap between the people performing research, and those who want or need to understand it. She writes about medical science and drug discovery. She holds an MS in Pharmaceutical Bioscience and a PhD — spanning the fields of psychiatry, immunology, and neuropharmacology — from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.


  1. M P says:

    Wondering if another point of heavy metal exposure could be living in/next to a current/previous ice/meth lab. A growing problem of toxic housing in Australia.

  2. Zaduzbina says:

    Interesting. I have SS and My Dad worked with cadmium in the paint and plastics business – he mixed colors. He always came home with stuff on his clothes.

  3. I have scleroderma I worked in a jewelry department for 5 years and was handling and changing watch batteries and just found out that I’ve had clipper clippings left in me from a surgery 20 years ago . Just wondering if this triggered my illness.

    • Tim Bossie says:

      Hi Evelyn… when it comes to metals and clippings you can never tell. However, we do know that older metals and techniques could lead to problems later on in life.

    • Tim Bossie says:

      Hi Ruby… we would not think that the metal in cookware would be a contributor. Perhaps the older pieces maybe. But, that would simply be conjecture at this point.

  4. Barbara says:

    I was diagnosed with crest I think it’s called systemic sclerosis now. I do remember getting silver fillings for a cavity.( Mercury). Our dentist used to give me and my siblings the liquid slippery extract. We would shine our dimes with this and sometimes play with this with our hands. All the while smearing this substance on our fingers. I’ve always wondered if this caused my connective tissue disease.

    • Tim Bossie says:

      There are so many possibilities when it comes to metals and other causes for skin disease such as scleroderma. We can not say for sure if this would have been a cause, but you can’t rule it out either.

  5. Bob v says:

    I have ss. Diagnosed 4 years ago. Prior i worked for a sheet metal fabricator 21 years. We also did all the finishing including zinc, chromate plating. Wish you would have had a sample of my hair.

  6. Ondre says:

    I was diagnosed back in 2000. Around that time I used to work in a machine shop and also a tool and die shop. Both dealing with heavy metals. Could this be where I developed scleroderma? That’s the only thing I could ever pin it to.

  7. Thank you so much for responding back I’ve been researching scleroderma and where it came from and that they found I believe the first ever in scleroderma from the chow pow Indians . I’m a person who loves to research and try to find answers or anything that will help . I do have Indian in me to so I just don’t know but the metal thing makes since to me .

  8. John Huggins says:

    How about considering the mercury in teeth fillings as a possible contender.The mouth is the gateway to the body and what goes on there can have an effect elsewhere.

    This probably sounds too simple and nothing can be considered until detailed backgrounds and surveys are continued and released for research. Even better if each sufferer’s DNA was analysed and compared.

  9. Over the past five years I have had the mercury fillings taken out and last year the rest because dentist didn’t like for patients to have them but have heard that it has caused a lot of problems as well so I can believe that it could possibly be link to it.

  10. Ski Piaczynski says:

    worked at a Military Base that was shut down due to chemical and environmental dumping. Ft McClellan Al. I have suffered for years with nerve and muscle related oddities. All treated independent of each other. In 2012 my neck required 4 discs to me fused. I never recovered then in 2013 I was diagnosed with raynoles. Then scleroderma as my skin was changing rapidly. I am now dealing with years of wrong meds and years of non monitoring of steroid use. My body is sore from morn to night. nothing helps. My bones move everywhere. Hips back neck feet and hands are now affected. I have Costco so my chest and ribs along with shoulders have joined the party. Told that I have advanced degenerate bone loss in right shoulder and surgery is pending. I feel for anyone with the disease and hope the best for all. M/C/54

  11. janice curtin says:

    My practitioners find that mercury is the cause behind many illnesses, including much cancer, and diseases like MS, Lou GHerigs, Parkinsons, etc. It is a neurotoxin.
    Your body cannot function right with metals. You need to find a dentist who knows how to safely remove mercury from teeth.. and then take Liposomol Vit C and a brazil nut each day (selenium binds mercury.) Aluminum is prevalent now too. A big source of mercury and aluminum is vaccines. When injected directly into the blood stream, the liver does not get a chance to detox it. For aluminum toxicity, which most children have today from vaccines, drink fiji water, or another with high silica levels. Start slowly with 1/4 cup. per day.

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