Low-Level Lead Exposure: Health Effects

Lead is one of the world's most widely used metals, and although it is toxic, it has been incorporated into many different products, including paints, cosmetics, fuel, etc., due to its unique properties such as low melting point and corrosion resistance. However, lead persists in the environment and cannot be metabolized in the human body.

It can enter the body through a variety of routes; for example, particles from lead-based paint or housing renovation can adhere to food and be ingested, and industries using lead in manufacturing can pollute the air and soil, exposing humans through the food chain.

Lead Exposure and Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disorders are the world's leading cause of deaths. The effect of leading on the cardiovascular system and cardiovascular markers has been well noted in the literature. Among other mechanisms, the mechanism by which lead induces hypertension may be related to oxidative stress, inflammation, changes in the renin-angiotensin - aldosterone system, alteration of regulatory hormones vasoactive and volume, and dysregulation of nitric oxide.

Other conditions linked to exposure to lead include:

  • Cardiovascular disease caused by a shortening of telomeres and lipid disorder.

  • Kidney damage through oxidative stress and the peroxidation of lipids.

  • Peripheral arterial disease, electrocardiographic abnormalities, and left-ventricular hypertrophy.

  • Kidney damage via oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation.

  • Respiratory, neurologic, digestive, and urinary diseases.

Lead Exposure to Children

Young children are at the highest risk of lead-related health problems including severe brain and kidney damage. Children aged 3 and under are particularly vulnerable because their ways of playing and exploring — like crawling and putting objects in their mouth — increase their risk of lead contact, and lead entering their bodies by breathing or swallowing.

Children may be exposed to lead from a variety of sources, including:

  • Prenatal exposure.

  • Soil and water.

  • Lead paint.

  • Children's products.

  • Household dust.

  • Food.

  • Folk or home health remedies and certain cosmetics.

  • Artificial athletic fields.

To Sum It Up

Lead exposure can affect the health of both adults and children. There is no safe level of blood lead in children, and even at low levels health effects from exposure to lead have been seen in adults. So limiting your exposure to lead is the best way to lower your risk. Know the ways to protect your family’s health and your own.

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