The Manganese in Your Teeth

A recent blog post included a comment about manganese in your teeth.  It turns out this has significant implications about your health, and is an area of scientific research.

Manganese (the metal Mn) is an essential nutrient required for human growth and development.  It is involved in several physiological processes, including normal brain function.  It turns out there is a very narrow window of tolerance between deficiency (not getting enough) and toxicity (getting too much).

Manganese deficiency can cause heart ailments, muscular contraction and bone malformation. (Organic FactsManganese toxicity can cause psychosis and tremors that resemble Parkinson’s Disease.  (NIH)

We are exposed to manganese from a variety of environmental sources, including drinking water, soil, air and dust.  Food sources include fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs.  Manganese also crosses the placenta, so a mother will pass her Mn exposure to her prenatal unborn child.

Your teeth are an ideal indicator of Mn exposure.  Teeth accumulate metals and keep a record similar to tree rings.

In a recent study, researchers collected teeth from 142 young teens residing near a ferro-manganese industrial region of Italy.  They used an Agilent ICP-MS to measure Mn concentrations in prenatal and postnatal tooth regions.

The researchers were looking for a correlation between manganese levels and visuospatial learning and memory.  They discovered that girls with levels of Mn at either extreme took longer to complete tasks, and committed more working and memory errors.  Moreover:

  • These outcomes were only observed among girls. This association was not observed among boys.
  • The association was “U-shaped.” Girls scored lower when they had either higher or lower Mn levels than the norm.
  • The association was with prenatal Mn only.  For postnatal Mn, no significant associations were found, and patterns were similar for boys and girls.

“The prenatal period may be a critical window for the impact of environmental Mn on visuospatial ability and executive function,” the researchers conclude, “especially for females.”

For Research Use Only.  Not for use in diagnostic procedures.

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