Lead exposure causes one in three cardiovascular deaths

Lead exposure causes one in three cardiovascular deaths

As many as 412,000 Americans die prematurely every year - mostly from cardiovascular disease - due to historic exposure to low levels of the toxic metal, a USA study suggests. Rather, he said, it "suggests that low-level environmental lead exposure is a leading risk factor for premature death in the U.S., particularly from cardiovascular disease".

"What this study suggests is there's no apparent safe level" for adults, said the principal author of the study, Bruce Lanphear of Simon Fraser University, in Canada.

Despite this, there are measures that can be taken to reduce lead exposure, such as checking for lead paint and being wary of lead water pipes in your home, having your children tested for the toxin and being aware of recalls and news about lead, Consumer Reports reported.

"It is not surprising that lead exposure is overlooked; it is ubiquitous, but insidious and largely beyond the control of patients and clinician".

So, what is the link between lead exposure and heart disease?

Middle-aged people are especially vulnerable to past exposure, with lead in traffic fumes, paint and plumbing responsible.

"No studies have estimated the number of deaths in the United States of America attributable to lead exposure using a nationally representative cohort, and it is unclear whether concentrations of lead in blood lower than 5 μg/dL, which is the current action level for adults in the United States of America, are associated with cardiovascular mortality", the researchers explain. Of these, 1,801 were from CVD and 988 were from heart disease. In a majority of cases, the condition is heart disease.

Lead was undetectable in the blood of almost one in 10 of the volunteers tested. One in five participants (3,632 people) had levels of 5 µg/dL or more, and those with the highest levels of lead in their blood were older, less educated, more likely to be male, smoke, consume larger amounts of alcohol, have less healthy diets, have higher cholesterol, and more likely to have hypertension or diabetes.

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Of the 4,422 people who died by the end of that period, those who had high lead levels (6.7 micrograms per deciliter) were at 37 percent greater risk of premature death from any cause and 70 percent times greater risk of cardiovascular death compared with people with lower lead levels (1.0 micrograms per deciliter).

"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 U.S., particularly from cardiovascular disease", says Lanphear.

The new Lancet study estimates that deaths from lead exposure approach the levels attributable to smoking, which kills 483,000 Americans each year.

The figures quoted apply to the USA, 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.

"A key conclusion to be drawn from this analysis is that lead has a much greater impact on cardiovascular mortality than previously recognised".

"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".

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

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