Background: Associations of heavy metal exposures with obesity and obesity-related traits have been suggested, while those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and diabetes mellitus (DM) are often inconsistent. Methods: This study included 3787 adults aged ≥19 years who participated in the Korean National Environmental Health Survey 2015–2017, and investigated the association of toxic heavy metals with metabolic diseases. Lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), and cadmium (Cd) were measured either in urine (uHg, uCd) or total blood (bPb, bHg). Body mass index (BMI) was calculated, and DM cases were identified through a self-answered medication history. Hepatic Steatosis Index (HSI) as a surrogating index of NAFLD, was calculated using hepatic enzyme measurements, including aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT). Results: Adults in the highest quartile of bPb, bHg, and uHg showed significantly elevated odds of obesity (BMI ≥25 kg/m2), compared to the lowest quartile (OR 1.58 for bPb, 1.92 for bHg, and 1.81 for uHg). HSI was positively correlated with bHg, uHg, and uCd concentrations. The odds of NAFLD (HSI ≥36) were also increased with increasing quartile of bHg, uHg, and uCd concentrations. For DM, bPb showed a significant negative association, while bHg and uCd exhibited non-monotonic and inconclusive associations. Conclusions: Among the general adult population of Korea, both Pb and Hg exposures were associated with an increased risk of obesity. In addition, both Hg and Cd exposures were associated with increased odds of NAFLD. These metals, however, were not associated with an increased risk of DM.
- Diabetes mellitus (DM)
- Heavy metals
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)