Urinary tungsten (W) provides an indication of recent or ongoing exposure to the metal, and endogenous detoxification to a lesser extent. W doesn’t have physiological functions in the body, and has low toxic potential with oral exposure.
About 50% of W appears to be rapidly absorbed from gastrointestinal tract, and excretion from the body is primarily via the urinary route. W is highly absorbed via inhalation of dust and fumes. In the body W is antagonistic to the essential element molybdenum which is important for the conversion of sulfite to essential sulfate, and for the production of uric acid. Thereby, excess W may impair physiological reactions and be associated with sulfite sensitivity (wine, eggs, etc.) and/or low levels of uric acid in blood.
Low uric acid is not necessarily consequential, but rather may be an indicator of functional molybdenum insufficiency.
Most exposures to W are from foods, and tungstate salts that may contaminate drinking water. Unconfirmed information is suggestive that rice protein concentrates/rice-based gluten-free products may be contaminated with W during processing. If true, that might explain the higher levels of urine W after DMSA for autistic children who are commonly on gluten-free diets (unpublished observations, Doctor’s
Other sources of W include catalysts and reagents in biochemical analysis, fire and waterproof materials, industrial lubricants, and ash from incineration of sewage sludge; “biosolids” may also be used to fertilize crops and pastures. W is used for producing hard metals, which are used in rock drills and metal-cutting tools, and for production of ferrotungsten in the steel industry. W-containing compounds are used as filaments for incandescent lamps, bronzes in pigments, and as catalysts in the petroleum industry.
Illness from low-level environmental or occupational W exposure has not been well documented. Little information is available regarding the toxicity of W. However, individuals occupationally exposed to W microparticles and/or fumes may develop serious lung disease known as “hard metal disease.”
Chelation may acutely increase urinary excretion of W.
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