Lead exposure may result in cardiovascular mortality

October 20, 2015

The researchers, led by Weisskopf and senior author Howard Hu, professor of environmental health, epidemiology and internal medicine at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, analyzed data from 868 participants in the Department of Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study, a study of aging in men that began in 1963. Blood lead and bone lead-analyzed using X-ray fluorescence-were measured for each of the participants. The results showed that the risk of death from cardiovascular disease was almost six times higher in men with the highest levels of bone lead compared to men with the lowest levels. The risk of death from all causes was 2.5 times higher in men with the highest levels of lead compared to those with the lowest levels. The results appeared independent of age, smoking, education, race, alcohol, physical activity, BMI, high density lipoprotein or total cholesterol levels, hypertension or diabetes.

There are a number of mechanisms, such as increased oxidative stress, by which lead exposure may result in cardiovascular mortality, say the authors. They also note that, in addition to high blood pressure, exposure to lead has been associated with widened pulse-pressure (an indicator of arterial stiffening) and heart disease.

Given that bone lead may be a better biomarker of cumulative lead exposure than blood lead, it may be the best predictor of chronic disease from exposure to lead in the environment. "In addition to spurring further public health measures to reduce exposure to lead and to begin monitoring for cumulative exposure, mechanistic and clinical research is needed to determine if opportunities exist to conduct targeted screening and treatment that can further reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease for the millions of adults who have had years of elevated lead exposure in the past," said Hu.

 Source: Harvard School of Public Health