The dangers of exposure to pesticides – which include increased risk of cancer and other serious health problems – have been well documented in recent years. Now, another risk associated with these toxic chemicals has been uncovered by researchers from the Universities of Illinois and Miami, and Michigan’s Wayne State University.
The study, which was published in the journal BMJ Heart, confirmed that there is a disturbing link between exposure to pesticides and metals, and the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), the leading cause of death in the United States. A dramatic increase in risk of atrial fibrillation was also noted.
Link between exposure to pesticides and heart problems
As reported by HealthLine, to establish what the effects of pesticide and metal exposure might be on cardiovascular health, the research team took a close look at the health of 7,404 participants in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. This long-term study hopes to uncover the possible causes of chronic health problems among these population groups.
Participants were all between the ages of 18 and 74, and from either New York, Chicago, San Diego or Miami.
Shockingly, the researchers found that people exposed to pesticides on the job had twice as much risk of developing CVD than people who do not suffer this type of exposure. Those who were exposed to metals had a whopping four-times higher risk of developing atrial fibrillation.
Participants filled out a questionnaire that measured their exposure to harmful chemicals along with certain lifestyle factors regarding diet, physical activity, and alcohol consumption.
The research team then looked at the participants’ medical history, medication use, blood pressure, blood work, and electrocardiography — a measure of the electrical activity in the heart.
Approximately 5 to 9 percent of the participants reported exposure to solvents, metals, and pesticides at work. Those who reported that they regularly experience pesticide exposure were twice as likely to have some type of cardiovascular disease, researchers found.
Those who were exposed to pesticides were twice as likely to have coronary heart disease and five times as likely to have atrial fibrillation.
The participants who reported occupational exposure to metals were four times as likely to have atrial fibrillation.
Why the link?
Though the research team could provide no definitive answers to explain why exposure to metals and pesticides appears to increase risk of CVD and atrial fibrillation, they do believe that there are a few reasons that appear to make the most sense.
“The first is that pesticides cause the body to develop inflammation and oxidative stress, which are known to be risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Michael Ghalchi, a cardiologist at Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates, explained to HealthLine. “The second is that some chemicals can be directly toxic to the heart muscle, preventing it from contracting normally and disturbing the heart’s electrical system.”
Dr. Ghalchi added that people exposed to large volumes of these toxic chemicals and metals can quickly develop heart function abnormalities.
Protect your heart
As noted at the outset, CVD is the leading cause of death in the United States. And, atrial fibrillation, while not necessarily dangerous, can increase risk of a stroke, which can be deadly.
Protecting the heart should be a high priority for each and every one of us. As such, if at all possible, it is important to take the necessary steps to avoid exposure to pesticides and metals in the workplace. If, however, you have no choice but to work with these dangerous materials, it is important to reduce risk by educating yourself about risk reduction and always wearing a respirator, which experts advise can filter out toxins and prevent them from being inhaled or absorbed.