Deaths tied to lead poisoning are far greater — by as much as 10 times — in the United States than previous estimates, according to a startling new study.
The findings, reported by an international team of researchers in The Lancet Public Health journal, concluded that nearly 412,000 Americans die every year as a result of lead contamination. That figure is 10 times higher than prior estimates by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The researchers — from Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, the University of California-Berkeley School of Public Health, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati School of Medicine — said the study should be a wake-up call about lead dangers.
Lead researcher Dr. Bruce Lanphear, a professor of health sciences at Simon Fraser University, noted that scientists have long known about the link between lead exposure, lower I.Q., and high blood pressure, the magnitude of the cardiovascular-death risk uncovered by the study was far greater than expected.
“Low-level environmental lead exposure is an important, but largely overlooked, risk factor for cardiovascular disease mortality in the USA,” wrote Lanphear and his team. “A comprehensive strategy to prevent deaths from cardiovascular disease should include efforts to reduce lead exposure.”
The new study tracked 14,000 adults for 20 years found those with the highest blood-lead concentrations were 70 percent more likely to die from heart disease over the course of the research project — and 37 percent more likely to die from all causes of death — than those with the lowest lead levels.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards indicate blood lead concentrations above 5 micrograms per deciliter are dangerous and require medical attention. But the agency also notes that no safe blood lead level has yet been identified.
Participants in the new study who had the highest lead concentrations averaged 6.7 micrograms per deciliter, while those at the lower end had levels of 1.0 micrograms per deciliter.
Lanphear’s team relied the medical records of of 14,289 adults ages 20 years and older who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 and 1994, an annual survey conducted by the CDC.
Of the initial study respondents, 4,422 had died by 2011. The researchers calculated that approximately 18 percent of those deaths could have been prevented by reducing blood lead concentrations to 1.0 micrograms per deciliter.
Treatment for lead poisoning typically involves chelation, a therapy that removes lead from the blood. But the new research suggests more widespread use of the technique might help lower death rates from heart disease, experts say.
Scientists believe lead exposure can damage the epithelial cells lining the body’s blood vessels, which increases the likelihood of developing plaques that can then cause a heart attack, in ways similar to cholesterol.
As a result, some specialists believe removing lead — and possibly other environmental contaminants — through chelation will result in benefits that may far surpass the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs and aspirin.
Dr. Gervasio Lamas — chief cardiologist with the Columbia University Division of Cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach — is spearheading new research that could prove chelation therapy could be an effective way to prevent cardiovascular disease.
Preliminary findings of his research suggest it could be a game changer in the treatment and prevention of heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S.
The National Institutes of Health recently authorized a $37 million grant for Lamas to conduct a follow-up study to determine whether chelation is as beneficial as conventional therapies — or more so — in preventing heart attacks in diabetics.
The five-year study — the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT2) — is currently enrolling 1,200 patients for the project, and will ultimately involve researchers at more than 100 other leading medical institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
“I am very hopeful that we will be able to develop a new way of treating heart disease by removing some of the toxic substances that we take into our bodies inevitably during our lifetime,” Lamas recently told Newsmax Health.
“We live in an industrialized society, we can’t go back to living in caves and on farms. So we need to recognize [environmental toxins] as a risk factor for heart disease and treat [them] in the same way that we treat cholesterol.”
For the new study, Lamas’ research team is looking for individuals with diabetes who have suffered a heart attack to determine if chelation can prevent the odds of another heart attack.
“We think the bad actors are lead and cadmium, but we’re also looking at other toxins. We’re hoping we show we can stop heart attacks and deaths and so we’re looking for individuals who will give us their time and commitment to help us on this.”
If the findings prove the therapy is successful, chelation could become a front-line therapy for heart disease, says Lamas, who expects results by 2021.
For more information: To learn more about the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT2) or enroll in the study, visit the www.tact2.org Website or call 305-674-2260. Researchers are seeking individuals with diabetes who have suffered a heart attack to determine if chelation can prevent the odds of a second heart attack.
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