Vanadium (V) is an element often found in nature in the form of crystals. Pure vanadium is odorless and is usually combined with other elements such as oxygen, sodium, sulfur, or chlorine. Vanadium and vanadium compounds can be found in the earth's crust and in rocks, in some iron ores, and in crude oil deposits. Vanadium is used in the production of rust-resistant springs and tools. Vanadium pentoxide is used in ceramics, as a catalyst, and in the production of superconducting magnets. Vanadium compounds, vanadyl sulfate, and sodium metavanadate have been used as dietary supplements.
All people are exposed to the low levels of vanadium in the air, water, and food. Most are mainly exposed through food. Inhalation of high concentrations of vanadium pentoxide can damage the lungs. Swallowing vanadium can cause nausea and vomiting. In experimental animals, ingestion of vanadium can cause reduced red blood cell composition and increased blood pressure.
How does vanadium enter the environment?
- Vanadium enters the environment mainly from natural sources and from the combustion of fuel oil.
- Vanadium does not dissolve well in water.
- Vanadium is combined with other elements and particles.
- Vanadium is strongly linked to soil and sediments.
- Low levels of vanadium have been found in plants but accumulation in animal tissues is difficult.
How is one exposed to Vanadium?
- Consuming vanadium-containing foods, with the highest levels found in seafood. Vanadium is also found in some nutritional supplements.
- By inhaling air near oil or coal-burning industries. These industries release vanadium oxide into the air.
- Workers in industries processing vanadium or products containing vanadium.
- By inhaling contaminated air or drinking contaminated water near dumps or landfills containing vanadium.
- By inhaling cigarette smoke.
- Vanadium is not easily absorbed by the stomach, intestine, or skin.
How can Vanadium affect health?
Vanadium is considered to be a trace element that (like chromium) improves carbohydrate utilization by affecting the insulin receptor. The average recommended dose is 50-100 µg daily.
Exposure to high levels of vanadium pentoxide in the air can lead to lung damage. Nausea, mild diarrhea, and stomach cramps have been reported in people exposed to certain vanadium compounds. A number of side effects have been observed in animals consuming certain vanadium compounds, such as a decrease in red blood cells, increased blood pressure, and mild neurological effects. The amounts of vanadium the animals received in these studies were much higher than those likely to occur in the environment.
How can the risk of exposure to Vanadium be reduced?
- Vanadium is found in some dietary supplements. Consult your doctor before taking vanadium-containing supplements to determine if they are appropriate.
- Vanadium is a component of cigarette smoke. Avoid smoking indoors or in the car, to limit exposure.
How can one determine if one has been exposed to Vanadium?
Vanadium levels can be measured in blood and most biological materials.
Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!
Vanadium and Manic Depression
The role of vanadium in mania has been mainly explored by Naylor and colleagues. Elevated levels of vanadium were found in hair samples of manic patients while values fell to normal levels during the course of the disease. In contrast, patients with depression usually had normal vanadium concentrations in the hair and elevated levels in whole blood and serum. At the time of recession, vanadium levels returned to normal. Vanadium, as a vanadium ion, is a potent inhibitor of the Na/K-ATPase pump. Lithium, a drug used in the treatment of manic depression, has also been shown to affect the function of this particular pump.
Treatments designed to reduce the vanadium ion to the less active form of vanadyl, use ascorbic acid, methylene blue, and EDTA separately and in combinations.
It has also been suggested to use the low-vanadium diet in these cases. Low-vanadium foods (1 to 5 ng/g) include fats, oils, fresh fruits, and vegetables. Whole grains, seafood, meat, and dairy products have from 5 to 30 ng/g, while prepared foods, white bread, and simple breakfast cereals contain from 11 to 93 ng/g.
If the Naylor hypothesis is correct, then perhaps other factors that influence the function of the Na/K-ATPase pump may be involved in some cases of bipolar disorder. These factors associated with reduced activity of the Na/K-ATPase pump include uremia, hypothyroidism, and insensitivity to catecholamines. Therapeutically, correcting underlying disorders can be of great help in some cases of bipolar disorder. Vitamins E and B6 have been shown to increase the activity of Na/K-ATPase in vitro, while vitamin E further stabilizes the membranes.
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Laboratory test results should not be interpreted from the numerical result of a single analysis. Test results should be interpreted in relation to each individual case and family history, clinical findings, and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your personal physician should explain the importance of your test results.
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