In the present context, metal ions can be categorized into several classes including those that are essential for life and those that have no known biological function and thus can be considered only as potentially hazardous. Many complexities arise with regard to metal toxicity and there is a paucity of studies relating to many metals which are frequent components of the diet. For many people ingestion of mineral supplements is considered a risk-free health choice despite growing evidence to the contrary.
Numerous approaches have been developed to assess risk associated with ingestion of metal ions. These include straightforward estimation of safe limits such as oral reference dose which are often based on data derived from animal experiments. More convoluted approaches such as the Target Hazard Quotient involve assessment of hazard with frequent exposure over long durations such as a lifetime. The latter calculation also affords facile consideration of the effects of many metals together. In many cases, rigorous data are unavailable, hence, large factors of uncertainty are employed to relate risk to humans.
Owing to the nature of metal toxicity, data pertaining to the gastrointestinal tract and liver are often acquired from diseases of metal homeostasis or episodes of considerable metal overload. Whilst these studies provide evidence for mechanisms of metal-induced toxicity such as enhancing oxidative stress, extrapolation of these results to healthy individuals or patients with chronic inflammatory diseases is not straightforward. In summary, the diverse nature of metals and their effects on human tissues along with a paucity of studies on the full range of their effects, warrant further in-depth studies on the association of metals to ageing, chronic inflammatory diseases, and cancer.