London: Exposure to high levels of tungsten - a metal commonly used in mobile phones and computers - could double the risk of suffering a stroke, scientists have warned.
Using data from a large US health survey, researchers found that high concentrations of tungsten in the body - as measured in urine samples - is strongly linked with an increase in the occurrence of stroke, roughly equal to a doubling of the odds of experiencing the condition.
Conducted by a team from the University of Exeter, the study represents the most comprehensive analysis to date of the potential health effects of the metal.
The research used data from the US based National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), analysing information for 8,614 participants aged between 18 and 74 over a 12 year period
Higher tungsten levels were found to be strongly associated with an increase in the prevalence of stroke, independent of typical risk factors.
Importantly, the findings showed that tungsten could be a significant risk factor for stroke in people under the age of 50.
While our current exposure to tungsten is thought to be very low, recent years have seen a significant increase in the demand and supply of the material - which is commonly used in consumer products as well as a number of industrial and military products.
During its production, small amounts of the metal can be deposited in the environment, eventually making their way into water systems and onto agricultural land. With largely unknown health consequences, tungsten has been identified as a toxicant of emerging concern.
"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," said lead author of the research, Dr Jessica Tyrrell, of the University of Exeter Medical School's European Centre for Environment and Human Health.
"The relationship we're seeing between tungsten and stroke may only be the tip of the iceberg. As numerous new substances make their way into the environment, we're accumulating a complex 'chemical cocktail' in our bodies," said another of the paper's authors, Dr Nicholas Osborne.
"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," he said.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.