Lead Exposure + High BP = Mental Problems

Published Online: Thursday, December 1, 2005

According to the findings of a new study, presented at the 2005 American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research meeting, exposure to lead in childhood and adolescence may contribute to a hypertension-related decline that can impair a person's cognitive abilities. Preliminary findings indicate that the combination of childhood lead exposure and high blood pressure in adulthood may result in diminishing mental capabilities in later life.

Lead investigator Domenic Sica, MD, professor of medicine and pharmacology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, stated that "both lead exposure and hypertension have been associated with cognitive impairment in older adults. Lead exposure early in life may have ...a carry-through effect in adult life."

The study involved 4835 people aged 20 to 59 years. Researchers looked at the relationships between pulse pressure, blood lead levels, and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Neurobehavioral tests and simple reaction times also were measured. They found that, after adjusting for other variables, the interaction of pulse pressure and blood lead levels on the completion times for a test of mental abilities was significant. The researchers found slower and less stable reaction times associated with increases in pulse pressure and blood lead levels.

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