Exposure to tungsten – common in mobile phones, jewellery and light bulbs – could severely increase the risk of suffering serious health problems, scientists have found.
High levels of the precious metal in the body could double the risk of suffering a stroke, researchers at the University of Exeter have said.
Current exposure to tungsten is low, despite its prevalence in a slew of everyday items and appliances.
But experts say they are concerned a gradual increase could pose a health risk to future generations, as advances in technology continue to drive demand for tungsten.
Lead author of the research, Dr Jessica Tyrrell, said: "While currently very low, human exposure to tungsten is set to increase.
"We're not yet sure why some members of the population have higher levels of the metal in their make up, and an important step in understanding and preventing the risks it may pose to health will be to get to the bottom of how it's ending up in our bodies."
The research used data from the US-based National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, analysing information from more than 8,500 participants aged between 18 and 74 over a 12-year period.
Higher tungsten levels were found to be strongly associated with an increase in the prevalence of stroke, independent of typical risk factors. Importantly, the findings show that tungsten could be a significant risk factor for stroke in people under the age of 50.
According to figures from the World Health Organisation, a stroke is currently the second leading cause of death in the Western world, behind heart disease. It is also the leading cause of disability in adults, often resulting in loss of motor control, urinary incontinence, depression and memory loss.
During its production, small amounts of the metal can be deposited in the environment, eventually making their way into water systems and onto agricultural land.
Fellow report author Dr Nicholas Osborne said: "The relationship we're seeing between tungsten and stroke may only be the tip of the iceberg. As numerous new substances make their way into the environment, we're accumulating a complex 'chemical cocktail' in our bodies.
"Currently we have incredibly limited information on the health effects of individual chemicals and no research has explored how these compounds might interact to impact human health."