Lead exposure causes one in three cardiovascular deaths

Lead exposure causes one in three cardiovascular deaths

The study said "the estimated number of deaths from all causes and cardiovascular disease that were attributable to concentrations of lead in blood were surprisingly large; indeed, they were comparable with the number of deaths from current tobacco smoke exposure". But only 20% of Americans now smoke, while lead exposure is more common, affecting 90% of people in the study.

In children, lead exposure may cause developmental, behavioral, and learning problems, as well as anemia and problems with hearing.

Prof Lanphear said: "Our study calls into question the assumption that specific toxicants, like lead, have "safe levels", and suggests that low-level environmental lead exposure is a leading risk factor for premature death in the US, particularly from cardiovascular disease".

This led researchers to conclude that 28.7 per cent of premature cardiovascular disease deaths were linked to lead exposure.

To reach their findings, the team analyzed the data of 14,289 adults in the US who were a part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

According to Dr. Philip Landrigan, Dean for Global Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who was not involved in the study, the contaminant could increase the risk of plaque formation and arteriosclerosis by causing endothelial damage.

Subjects were enrolled in the study between 1988 and 1994.

Baseline blood lead levels ranged from less than 1 μg/dL to 56 μg/dL.

"Despite the striking reductions in concentrations of lead in blood over the past 50 years, amounts found nowadays in adults are still ten times to 100 times higher than people living in the pre-industrial era".

Over an average 19.3 years of follow-up, a total of 4,422 deaths occurred. Of those, 1,801 died from cardiovascular disease and 988 passed away from heart disease.

"Lead tends to stay around in the body once it has entered it, so the blood lead levels of the people in this study will have been affected by exposure to lead throughout their lives: including exposure to lead in petrol before it was banned, and exposure from lead-based paint or lead drinking water pipes when those were more common than they are now".

Using these data, the team calculated that blood lead levels higher than 1 μg/dL are responsible for around 412,000 deaths in the US each year.

AFP/GETTYTHIS causes one in five deaths - are you at risk? Of these, around 256,000 are from CVD.

He said the new research challenges "the assumption that specific toxicants - like lead - have "safe levels".

Prof. Lanphear and team admit that there are some limitations to their research.

Nearly one in 10 participants had lead levels that were undetectable to the blood test, so were given a reference level of 0.7 µg/dL (8%, 1150/14289 participants).

They were not, however, able to factor out the possible impact of exposure to arsenic or air pollution.

"Our study calls into question the assumption that specific toxicants, like lead, have "safe levels", and suggests that low-level environmental lead exposure is a leading risk factor for premature death in the United States of America, particularly from cardiovascular disease", Professor Lanphear added.

The authors note some limitations, including that their results rely on one blood lead test taken at the start of the study and therefore can not determine any effect of further lead exposure after the study outset.

"Currently, low levels of lead exposure are an important but largely ignored risk factor for deaths from cardiovascular disease".

The researchers called for more aggressive measures to retire contaminated housing, phase out lead-laden jet fuels, replace lead pipes in plumbing, and reduce emissions from smelters and lead battery factories.

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