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Food safety agency warns sucking prawn heads can cause health issues

Prawn heads contain high levels of cadmium.
Prawn heads contain high levels of cadmium. / SUR
  • This popular Christmas treat can cause a toxic build-up of cadmium in the liver and kidneys, health professionals have warned

It's something that so many people look forward during Christmas dinners in Spain: sucking the juices out of the heads of prawns, crayfish and other shellfish. But the Spanish Agency for Consumption, Food Safety and Nutrition (AECOSAN), under the umbrella of the Ministry of Health, has spoiled the party. It recommends "limiting intake" to minimise exposure to cadmium, a metal present in seawater that contaminates the dark flesh of crustaceans, located primarily in the head.

Cadmium is a heavy metal found in nature but as it has many industrial applications, human activity, including the use of fertilisers, has increased its presence significantly.

This metal has no biological function in humans but, although its absorption in the digestive system is low, it tends to accumulate in the body, mainly in the liver and kidneys, for an estimated time of 10 to 30 years.

Cadmium is toxic to the kidney and can cause renal dysfunction, AECOSAN warns. It can also cause bone demineralisation, either directly or indirectly as a result of kidney dysfunction.

Something to bear in mind this Christmas...