Heavy Metal Bioaccumulation in Peruvian Food and Medicinal Products

Teresa R. Tejada-Purizaca, Pablo A. Garcia-Chevesich, Juana Ticona-Quea, Gisella Martínez, Kattia Martínez, Lino Morales-Paredes, Giuliana Romero-Mariscal, Armando Arenazas-Rodríguez, Gary Vanzin, Jonathan O. Sharp, John E. McCray

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


To better query regional sources of metal(loid) exposure in an under-communicated region, available scientific literature from 50 national universities (undergraduate and graduate theses and dissertations), peer-reviewed journals, and reports published in Spanish and English were synthesized with a focus on metal(loid) bioaccumulation in Peruvian food and medicinal products utilized locally. The study considered 16 metal(loid)s that are known to exert toxic impacts on humans (Hg, Al, Sb, As, Ba, Be, Cd, Cr, Sn, Ni, Ag, Pb, Se, Tl, Ti, and U). A total of 1907 individual analyses contained within 231 scientific publications largely conducted by Peruvian universities were analyzed. These analyses encompassed 239 reported species classified into five main food/medicinal groups—plants, fish, macroinvertebrates and mollusks, mammals, and “others” category. Our benchmark for comparison was the World Health Organization (Codex Alimentarius) standards. The organisms most frequently investigated included plants such as asparagus, corn, cacao, and rice; fish varieties like trout, tuna, and catfish; macroinvertebrates and mollusks including crab and shrimp; mammals such as alpaca, cow, chicken eggs, and milk; and other categories represented by propolis, honey, lichen, and edible frog. Bioaccumulation-related research increased from 2 to more than 25 publications per year between 2006 and 2022. The results indicate that Peruvian food and natural medicinal products can have dangerous levels of metal(loid)s, which can cause health problems for consumers. Many common and uncommon food/medicinal products and harmful metals identified in this analysis are not regulated on the WHO’s advisory lists, suggesting the urgent need for stronger regulations to ensure public safety. In general, Cd and Pb are the metals that violated WHO standards the most, although commonly non-WHO regulated metals such as Hg, Al, As, Cr, and Ni are also a concern. Metal concentrations found in Peru are on many occasions much higher than what has been reported elsewhere. We conclude that determining the safety of food/medicinal products is challenging due to varying metal concentrations that are influenced not only by metal type but also geographical location. Given the scarcity of research findings in many regions of Peru, urgent attention is required to address this critical knowledge gap and implement effective regulatory measures to protect public health.

Original languageEnglish
Article number762
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • codex
  • fish
  • macroinvertebrates
  • mammals
  • mollusks
  • plants
  • regulations


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