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January 2020 (Vol. 11 Issue 4)

Lead linked to heart disease in older women
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Lead linked to heart disease in older women image

Post-menopausal women are at high risk of developing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, because of the level of lead in their body.

Lead—a toxic metal that can build up from cigarette smoke, drinking water and car exhausts—raises the risk of artery disease by 72 percent in the women.

The metal seems to affect the carotid arteries—which run along either side of the neck and feed oxygen to the brain—and so any blockage of these can increase the risk of stroke.

Although many studies have linked lead exposure to cardiovascular disease (CVD), researchers from Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden are among the first to focus on its effects on postmenopausal women.

They think the women are particularly vulnerable because the menopause can increase bone mineralization, which allows lead to store in the bone and pass into the blood stream. Artery stiffness can also increase during the menopause, and this could be another factor.

Overall, lead is estimated to be the cause of 2 percent of all cases of cardiovascular disease and is directly responsible for 240,000 deaths around the world every year.

For their study, the researchers assessed health data from 4,172 middle-aged men and women; of these, 36 percent had signs of atherosclerosis, and the disease was worse in those who had the highest levels of lead in their body.

People with kidney disease were also at a higher risk of atherosclerosis, probably because they were less able to process the lead.

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References

(Source: Environmental Health Perspectives, 2019; 127: 127002-1-10)

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