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Lead exposure plus high blood pressure may impair mental ability

Exposure to lead in early childhood and adolescence may contribute to hypertension-related decline that can impair a person's cognitive abilities, according to a new study presented at the 2005 American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research meeting.

"Both lead exposure and hypertension have been associated with cognitive impairments in older adults. Lead exposure early in life may have a long-term effect on cognitive ability and motor function, and have a carry-through effect in adult life," said lead investigator Domenic Sica, M.D., professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.

Preliminary findings from this epidemiological analysis of the Third National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES III) indicate that the interaction between lead exposures early in life combined with high blood pressure in working age adults may lead to diminishing cognitive abilities in later life.

"These findings suggest a possible additive or synergistic effect between blood pressure levels and blood lead load on the accuracy and time taken to perform a mental task involving concentration, in working age adults in the general population," Sica said.

To determine cognitive function, researchers used the digit symbol substitution, a complex test of mental abilities that considers time and accuracy in completing the task. Using data from NHANES III, researchers looked at the relationships of pulse pressure, blood lead level, and C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation. Neurobehavioral tests and simple reaction time tests were also assessed.

NHANES III involved 4,835 people ages 20 to 59, (average 35.8). Fifty-one percent were female, 35.4 percent were Caucasian, 31.4 were percent Black and 29.7 percent were Hispanic.

"The interaction of pulse pressure and blood lead levels on performance of the digit task was significant after controlling for other variables," Sica said. "There was an inverse relatio
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Contact: Carole Bullock
carole.bullock@heart.org
214-706-1279
American Heart Association
24-Sep-2005


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