N.C. A&T Researcher Conducts Pilot Study on Lead Exposure, Stress and Effects on Heart Health

By Jamie Crockett / 04/08/2020 Employees, College of Science and Technology, Built Environment

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (April 8, 2020) – In its campaign to reduce lead poisoning, the World Health Organization consistently highlights data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which estimated that 1.06 million people died worldwide in 2017 because of lead exposure.

Emmanuel Obeng-Gyasi, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Built Environment at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, conducted a pilot study to determine the role stress plays on cardiovascular disease risk markers in individuals who had been exposed to lead.

Obeng-Gyasi focused on predominantly middle-aged adults who were exposed to elevated levels of lead using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies blood lead levels greater than 5 µg/dL as elevated exposure, but no level of exposure is safe.

Allostatic load (AL), a measure of chronic stress, and markers of cardiovascular disease risk (non-HDL cholesterol and Gamma-glutamyl transferase) were explored in individuals exposed to lead (≥ 5 µg/dL) compared with those who were less exposed (≤5 µg/dL). Obeng-Gyasi adjusted the data for potential confounding factors including race, age and gender, as well as smoking and alcohol consumption habits as both may contain lead and are likely to increase as stress increases.

The study found positive associations between lead exposure and increased stress and cardiovascular disease risk among those differentially exposed to lead, with the association increasing with elevated lead exposure.

The results also added to previous literature by finding that AL in individuals exposed to lead was higher in Blacks compared with Caucasians, as well as in males compared with females.

“There is a legacy of lead that we must consider and understand,” said Obeng-Gyasi. “I encourage others to first identify their risks and limit exposure as much as possible.”

The Mayo Clinic suggests families should consume enough vitamin C and iron in diets, frequently check and fix peeling lead-based paint and remove shoes before entering the house to ensure lead-based soil stays outdoors.

Regarding stress, Obeng-Gyasi noted just how easy it is to get into a state of AL. For example, long work hours and even working or living in unsafe neighborhoods all trigger AL response. Resilience, or anything that helps us “turn off” AL, is needed for treatment.

“The treatment takes us to a place where in some environments there may be a need to engage in public policy and government, which may involve building more parks, reducing workload and paying people more to help reduce their stress,” said Obeng-Gyasi. “Other options include social support and physical exercise, which are critical in managing stress.”

The next step is for a larger study in Greensboro based on a lead exposure risk map developed by Obeng-Gyasi and his research team.

To read more about Obeng-Gyasi’s findings, visit the Diseases journal website.


Media Contact Information: jicrockett@ncat.edu