American Heart Association
American Heart Association
November 12, 2018
2 min read

Excess levels of heavy metals in bloodstream confer higher cholesterol

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CHICAGO — Adults with high levels of lead and other heavy metals in their blood had greater odds of having high LDL or total cholesterol, researchers reported at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

“We decided to go ahead with the study because there is evidence that these heavy metals increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and we wanted to find out possible mechanism(s),” Olajide Buhari, MD, internal medicine resident at Jacobi Medical Center in New York, told Cardiology Today. “This finding seems to increase our awareness about the effect toxic metals have on cardiovascular disease. It may also be useful to screen adults at risk of exposure for these to mitigate the effect.”

Buhari and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional survey of participants from the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine whether levels of lead, cadmium and mercury were associated with LDL and total cholesterol levels.

The participants were stratified into tertiles by levels of heavy metals in the blood, and the analyses were adjusted for age and sex. Elevated LDL was defined as at least 100 mg/dL and elevated total cholesterol was defined as at least 200 mg/dL.

Regarding lead exposure, there was a significant relationship with LDL and total cholesterol, with progressively higher tertiles having progressively higher LDL and total cholesterol levels (P < .0001). After adjustment, compared with those in the first tertile, those in the third tertile had significantly higher total cholesterol (OR = 1.567; 95% CI, 1.376-1.786) and a trend toward higher LDL (OR = 1.225; 95% CI, 0.835-1.739).

The researchers also found that those in the third tertile of mercury exposure compared with those in the first tertile had higher odds of elevated total cholesterol (OR = 1.73; 95% CI, 1.512-1.981), whereas those in the second tertile had higher odds than those in the first tertile of elevated LDL (OR = 1.233; 95% CI, 1.004-1.515).

Those in the third tertile of cadmium exposure had greater odds of elevated total cholesterol than those in the first tertile (OR = 1.412; 95% CI, 1.184-1.7), according to the researchers.

“Our study demonstrates increasing serum levels of heavy metals are significantly associated with increasing [total cholesterol] and LDL-C,” the researchers wrote in an abstract. “This, in turn, may be associated with cardiovascular consequences in populations exposed to heavy metals such as areas with natural disaster water crises, raising the consideration of screening for heavy metals as a risk for hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease.” – by Erik Swain


Buhari O, et al. Poster Mo1196. Presented at: American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; Nov. 10-12, 2018; Chicago.

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.