Exposure to Lead could Cause Heart Attacks

Exposure to Lead could Cause Heart Attacks

But in a huge proportion of cases, the underlying cause is lead, according to the study: As many as 256,000 adult deaths from heart disease per year in the U.S. can be blamed on low-level lead exposure.

"Today, lead exposure is much lower because of regulations banning the use of lead in petrol, paints and other consumer products so the number of deaths from lead exposure will be lower in younger generations", 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", Lanphear said in a press release.

The effects of lead on heart health had previously been thought to be much lower, especially at low levels of lead exposure, study lead author Bruce Lanphear tells CNN.

"Our study estimates the impact of historical lead exposure on adults now aged 44 years old or over in the US, whose exposure to lead occurred in the years before the study began", said study lead author Dr. Bruce Lanphear.

In children, lead exposure may cause developmental, behavioral, and learning problems, as well as anemia and problems with hearing. Lanphear and colleagues suggests that even lower levels of lead exposure can pose significant harm to health. The average blood lead level was 2.7 μg/dL, and a total of 3,632 study participants had a level of 5 μg/dL or higher. Once we found that there was a risk across the entire range of exposures, we could estimate the number of attributable deaths. Of these, 1,801 were from CVD and 988 were from heart disease.

The largest lead concentrations found in the study were 10 times higher.

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People with high blood levels had a 70 percent greater risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those with lower levels.

"Our study findings suggest that low-level environmental lead exposure is an important risk factor for death in the U.S., particularly from cardiovascular disease", the paper states.

The authors adjusted their findings based on a number of comorbidities, including age, sex, household income, body mass index, diabetes, smoking status, dietary habits and amount of cadmium in urine. "Public health measures, such as [upgrading] older housing, phasing out lead-containing jet fuels, replacing lead-plumbing lines, and reducing emissions from smelters and lead battery facilities, will be vital to prevent lead exposure".

The figures quoted apply to the United States, and it is unclear how levels of lead exposure in Britain compare, but "if results were similar in this country it would mean 100,000 deaths a year could be linked to past lead pollution", says The Times.

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.

They were not, however, able to factor out the possible impact of exposure to arsenic or air pollution. "The information that emerges from this reassessment will increase understanding of lead's contribution to mortality from non-communicable diseases, could foster collaboration between the environmental and chronic disease research communities, guide realignment of cardiovascular disease prevention strategies, and ultimately save lives".