Lead's Heart Disease Death Toll 10 Times Higher Than Thought, Study Suggests

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More than 400,000 deaths annually from ischemic heart disease and CVD may be attributable to low levels of lead exposure, according to findings recently published in Lancet Public Health.

In what USA Today says is the first study using a nationally representative sample to look at how low-level lead exposure is tied to deaths in the U.S., scientists kept tabs on more than 14,000 adults who took a national health survey between 1988 and 1994, then again in 2011.

TUESDAY, March 13, 2018 (HealthDay News) - Environmental lead exposure is a risk factor for all-cause, cardiovascular disease, and ischemic heart disease mortality, according to a study published online March 12 in The Lancet Public Health.

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

"Our study calls into question the assumption that specific toxicants, like lead, have 'safe levels, '" Lanphear said.

"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.

"Our study estimates the impact of historical lead exposure on adults now aged 44 years old or over in the U.S., whose exposure to lead occurred in the years before the study began", he explained.

Additionally, the NHANES study only took one reading of participants blood lead, which can change throughout people's lives as they are exposed.

Of the respondents, 4,422 had died by 2011. Of these, 1,801 were from CVD and 988 were from heart disease.

The researchers found that 20 percent of participants had a concentration of lead of at least 5 µg/dL in blood.

Still, these results indicate that lead exposure could have a larger impact on our health than we thought.

The study found that lead is common in a variety of common items including fuel, paint and plumbing and can even be found in certain foods, emissions from industrial sources, and contamination from lead smelting sites and lead batteries.

Exposure to traces of lead in petrol and paint may be linked to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year.

Of that figure, exposure to the toxic metal may be an "important, but largely overlooked" risk factor behind the 256,000 annual cardiovascular disease deaths in the country, the authors found.

"But if we're underestimating the impact of lead exposure on cardiovascular disease mortality and other important outcomes beyond IQ, then it might have a big impact on the way we make investments in preventing lead poisoning exposure".

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