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Antioxidants to protect against toxic heavy metals, research declares

Researchers tested out the effect of natural antioxidants against the toxic effects of common yet dangerous water contaminants. The antioxidants included vitamin C and epigallocatechin gallate and they were tested against hexavalent chromium. The research reports that the two antioxidants appear to inhibit the harmful effects of this increasingly widespread water contaminant.

Hexavalent chromium is a popular heavy metal. It has many industrial applications and is a crucial part of chemicals employed in,

  • Carbon and stainless steel welding
  • Iron and steel foundries
  • Cement
  • Electroplating
  • Textile dyeing

Compounds with hexavalent chromium are considered occupational carcinogens whose short-term exposure can damage the eyes, skin, and respiratory system. On the other hand, its extensive and prolonged exposure may cause the onset of cancer. However, the cancer-causing effects of the toxins and the mechanism behind it are still unknown.

Hexavalent chromium is extensively used in the industry. Thus, a large quantity of this heavy metal gets discharged into the environment despite the efforts of water treatment facilities. Consequently, it ends up contaminating vital sources of drinking water for more than 200 million people in the U.S. alone.

Adding to your information, vitamin C is a very well-known natural antioxidant, while epigallocatechin gallate is the most abundant antioxidant present in green tea. Researchers from Olivet Nazarene University (ONU) investigated the ability of these antioxidants to protect corporal cells from the cytotoxic effects of hexavalent chromium. Antioxidants are popular for their protective effects against free radicals and inflammatory responses. Thus, the research team also expected to achieve the same beneficial effect against the heavy metal.

What did the researchers do?

For the experiment, the researchers cultured two different types of human cells. These cells were then exposed to varying concentrations of hexavalent chromium. The findings of the research reported that both types of cells displayed cytotoxic effects after exposure to at least 200 parts per billion (ppb) of the toxic metal. During the second phase of the experiments, the research team applied either 10 parts per million (ppm) of vitamin C or 15 ppm of epigallocatechin gallate to similar human cell cultures. Later on, these cells were exposed to enhanced levels of hexavalent chromium.

The researchers reported that vitamin C or epigallocatechin gallate protected the cells from the cytotoxic effect of hexavalent chromium. Note that the exposure to more than 200 ppb of the heavy metal did not cause any harm. Furthermore, both antioxidants did not exhibit any harmful characteristics. Thus, they are rendered safe for human use.

Antioxidants can counter the cytotoxic effects of hexavalent chromium

The research team carried out a separate experiment employing bacterial cultures who underwent exposure to at least 20 ppb of hexavalent chromium. Note this concentration was proved harmful enough to cause mutations in the DNA of the bacteria. The cells were then treated with vitamin C that protected the microbes from the DNA-damaging effect of hexavalent chromium.

The results of the experiments indicate that the toxic effects of hexavalent chromium can be countered via antioxidants. This might be because hexavalent chromium shows toxicity due to an oxidative reaction and oxidation can be stopped by antioxidants. Therefore, the experts suggest that an antioxidant-based approach could treat water contaminated by hexavalent chromium and its chemical compounds.

The study not only offers a potential way to protect public health but it also suggests the use of antioxidants in the monitoring and regulation of water quality.

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