Heart Disease And Deaths In Both The U.S. And The U.K. Brought About By Lead Exposure

Medical News Today

Health experts talk about health factors such as diet, exercise, and family history. However, these aren’t the only ones that increase the risk for heart disease.

There’s awareness worldwide about the health risks that come with pollution, but despite that, the number of people who die because of toxins released into the environment has not changed from 2015 to 2019. It’s true that cigarette smoke is still the most common and potent airborne toxin linked to deaths brought about by heart disease, lead exposure and air pollution are found at the top of the list as well.

Lead exposure was the culprit behind heart disease deaths in the U.S. more when compared to the figures from the United Kingdom. This was seen in the new research that was presented recently at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2022 in Chicago. The findings of the study also showed that U.S. was better when it came to heart disease deaths linked to particulate matter, which are harmful particles found in air pollution, than the United Kingdom. The study contains all these details but it has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Researchers gathered data from the 2019 Global Burden of Disease study from both the U.K. and the U.S. Thus included more than 33 million deaths over the past 30 years. From there, they set out to measure how many deaths were possibly linked to the four environmental risk factors: lead, particulate matter, secondhand smoke, and smoking.

In the new study made, the researchers compared data from the U.K and the U.S. and found that more people in the U.S. died of cardiovascular issues due to lead exposure. In the U.K., on the other hand, the deaths were due to air pollution. Even if the main reason was different, the two environmental toxins were still the culprits behind the cardiovascular deaths, the authors said.

“We were all surprised with the results when we realized that these environmental risk factors had impacted the two countries differently,” says Anoop Titus, MD. He’s a third-Year Internal Medicine Resident St. Vincent Hospital Worcester, Massachusetts, and he also led the new study.

Heart disease is the main cause of death all over the word, as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported. As well as the main killer in America, as per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pollution is still the very thing responsible for around 9 million deaths each year. This was according to a 2022 study published May 17 in The Lancet Planetary Health. This number remained the same since 2015. In the U.S. alone, energy-related air pollution brings about around 53,000 premature deaths per year, as a separate study that was published in May 2022 in GeoHealth noted.

The research brings them further when it comes to understanding which policies and strategies are most effective when it comes to lowering certain environmental factors that could bring heart-related deaths to the people. The research also shines the spotlight on often overlooked causes of heart disease that a person cannot control, even the toxins that are found in the air.

“If you look at the main cardiovascular disease prevention guidelines, very often they focus on lifestyle factors such as physical activity, diet, and smoking. And then they focus on managing risk factors such as diabetes, blood pressure, and lipid levels,” said Ana Navas-Acien, MD. She is a professor of environmental health sciences at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. She was not part of the new study, but is an expert on the matter. “But in the past 20 years the field of environmental cardiology has really expanded and recognizes that environmental toxins such as lead and air pollution should be included in these cardiovascular disease prevention strategies.”

Lead is still found in our drinking water, soil, paint, and jewelry. Unfortunately, these enter the people’s lungs as well. According to Titus, the higher percentage of heart disease deaths in the U.S. due to lead could be mainly because of bigger public exposure instead of its higher concentration levels. They compared this to the U.K. but it’s not yet clear what the differences in the sources could be.

Once exposure to lead happens, this replaces essential nutrients found in the body, according to Dr. Naas-Acien. “Lead is similar to zinc and calcium, so it replaces these essential elements in our body and doesn’t allow for the normal cellular functions that require these elements to take place,” she stated.

One key function is reducing oxidative stress. This means that there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidants found in the body. Oxidative stress could bring heart health issues and it prevents the body making sure that oxidative stress is kept at bay. This could be why our cardiovascular health has been compromised, said Naas-Acien.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), air pollution is also what’s behind oxidative stress and chronic inflammation in the body. They stated this In a review that was published in 2020, in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. The researchers pointed out a growing body of evidence that connects exposure to air pollutants to inflammation of the vascular system. Included on the list are heart, blood vessels, blood, and oxidative stress. Aside from other health issues such as cholesterol and diabetes, abnormal blood pressure is linked to polluted air inhalation as well.

Oxidative stress could change the structure of blood vessel walls and could cause abnormal growth in heart chambers, as per Titus. While lead and air pollution exposure if a risk factor that needs to be included when it comes to heart disease, he noted that smoking is still the most toxic environmental risk for cardiovascular deaths.

Hence, it’s important to try and quit smoking. This will definitely lower the risk, both for themselves and others who could be exposed to secondhand smoke.

“Compared to smoking and secondhand smoke, lead and particulate matter only contribute fractionally to cardiovascular deaths,” Titus shared.