Blood Lead Levels Associated With Risk of Depression

Study suggests so-called 'safe' levels of lead exposure could affect mental health

THURSDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Young adults in populations with low levels of environmental exposure to lead are at increased risk of depression and panic disorders if they have higher levels of blood lead, according to a study in the December issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Maryse F. Bouchard, Ph.D., of the University of Montreal, and colleagues analyzed data from the 1999 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on 1,987 adults aged 20 to 39 years, to ascertain the incidence of major depression, generalized anxiety and panic disorder relative to the participants' blood lead levels.

For the group as a whole, the mean blood lead level was 1.61 µg/dL, and those in the top quintile had 2.3-times higher odds of major depressive disorder and 4.9-times higher odds of panic disorder than those in the lowest quintile, the researchers discovered. One cause of higher blood lead levels was smoking, but, the authors note, once this was excluded from the analysis, the findings of an association between increased risk of the two mental conditions and higher blood lead levels persisted.

"These findings, combined with recent reports of adverse behavioral outcomes in children with similarly low blood lead levels, should underscore the need for considering ways to further reduce environmental lead exposures," Bouchard and colleagues conclude.

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