Exposure to Lead could Cause Heart Attacks

A new study concludes that nearly 30 percent of all US deaths due to cardiovascular disease

Lead exposure causes deaths in the United States as the researchers depended on a representative sample of 14,289 adults ages 20 years and older who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994. "And instead of it being 40,000 deaths, which is what had previously been estimated, we found that it was about 10 times that".

People can be exposed to lead via fuel, paint and plumbing, as well as around smelting sites or by handling lead batteries.

Researchers followed almost 14,300 participants for two decades and discovered that despite previous studies suggesting that low-level lead exposure did not increase the risk of premature death, this might not be the case.

"Low levels of lead exposure are an important, but largely ignored, risk factor for death from cardiovascular disease", mainly heart attacks and strokes, said lead author Bruce Lanphear, a professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Lead exposure causes deaths in the United States and the number is increasing continually.

People are more likely to suffer health complications from smoking, but lead exposure is far more common.

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Overall, 18 percent of USA participants who died from all causes during the period reviewed were found to have more than one mg/dl of lead in their blood.

The new research challenges "the assumption that specific toxicants - like lead - have "safe levels", he said in a statement.

"Estimating the contribution of low-level lead exposure is essential to understanding trends in cardiovascular disease mortality and developing comprehensive strategies to prevent cardiovascular disease".

The study monitored over 14,000 adults over a period of around 20 years, and found that individuals with an initial blood lead concentration at the 90 percentile saw a 37% increase in deaths and a 70% jump in cardiovascular disease mortality, compared to people with a blood lead concentration at the 10 percentile.

In particular, they warned they were unable to adjust their findings to account for exposure to air pollutants or arsenic, both of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease mortality. The figures quoted apply to the U.S., 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.


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