Research shows low lead in body can cause spontaneous abortion

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Medical scientists have known for decades that high levels of lead in the body often cause spontaneous abortions, but now a new study shows that lower lead levels can produce that result too.

The risk of spontaneous abortion nearly doubles for every increase of five micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, the research revealed.

Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health, Dr. Victor H. Borja-Aburto of Mexico's National Institute of Public Health and colleagues conducted the study. A report appears in the Sept. 15 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

"We did this work because results of previous studies of low-level lead in pregnant women and spontaneous abortion were inconclusive," Hertz-Picciotto said. "The earlier research was not designed well enough to answer the question. This study is the best-designed so far and, we believe, does answer it. While further work is needed to confirm our results, it does appear that low to moderate lead can be a problem during pregnancy."

The project took place in Mexico City from 1994 to 1996. Investigators enrolled 668 women, who were interviewed, contributed blood specimens and were followed through home visits or telephone calls during their pregnancies. Mexico's respected National Institute of Neurology and Neurosurgery, which participates in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Blood Lead Proficiency Testing Program, analyzed the blood samples for lead. Another Mexican laboratory conducted analyses for signs of infection. Women averaged about 11 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood, which is similar to average levels in the United States in the 1970s.

Researchers recorded whose pregnancies failed and whose did not and compared those records with subjects' blood lead levels. Thirty-six of 562 subjects still participating at

Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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