Exposure to Lead could Cause Heart Attacks

Alicia Farmer
March 14, 2018

A study on "ubiquitous but insidious" lead exposure is being deemed a "big deal" after researchers found a link between lead exposure and the deaths of around a quarter-million Americans annually from heart disease. An increase of lead concentration in the participants' blood from 1 µg/dL to 6.7 µg/dL, was linked to ischemic heart disease mortality (HR = 2.08; 95% CI, 1.52-2.85, or 185,000 deaths a year); CVD mortality (HR = 1.7; 95% CI, 1.3-2.22, or 256,000 deaths a year); and all-cause mortality (HR = 1.37; 95% CI, 1.17-1.6).

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

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

Lead was added to petrol until the 1990s to boost engine compression, and was also widely used to improve the performance of household paint before being banned in the USA in 1978 and the European Union in 1992 "after concerns over the effects it was having on the environment and children's brains", adds the paper.

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

"Nobody had even tried to estimate the number of deaths caused by lead exposure using a nationally representative sample of adults", Dr Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University and a leading author of the study told CNN. All participants had a medical examination, including a blood test for lead - a measure of past and ongoing exposures to lead - and a urine test for cadmium at the start of the study.

Up to 412,000 deaths a year in the US can be attributed to lead exposure, according to a new study published Monday in The Lancet Pubilc Health.

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

Based on these risk levels, the authors estimated that up to 18 percent of all deaths every year in the U.S. (or 412,000 out of 2.3 million annual mortalities) would be among people who had levels of lead above 1 micrograms per deciliter.

"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".

He said: "The estimated number of deaths from all causes and cardiovascular disease that were attributable to concentrations of lead in blood were surprisingly large; indeed, they were comparable with the number of deaths from current tobacco smoke exposure". The authors were also unable to control for all potential confounding factors, such as exposure to arsenic or air pollution, which are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Dr. Philip Landrigan, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, wrote an editorial published with the study.

Note: The authors note that these estimates are comparable to the annual number of deaths in the United States in people who now smoke (483000 deaths a year).

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