Childhood lead exposure tied to poor adult mental health, behavior

  • Reuben A & al.
  • JAMA Psychiatry
  • 23 Jan 2019

  • curated by Kelli Whitlock Burton
  • Clinical Essentials
Access to the full content of this site is available only to registered healthcare professionals. Access to the full content of this site is available only to registered healthcare professionals.

Takeaway

  • Childhood lead exposure increased the risk for mental illness and the prevalence of negative behaviors and personality traits in adulthood, according to a 30-year study.

Why this matters

  • Prior studies suggesting a link between lead exposure and mental illness had small sample sizes and focused on specific diagnoses, whereas this study was much broader, with a significantly larger study population.

Study design

  • This prospective cohort study evaluated a population-representative birth cohort of 1037 individuals born between April 1972 and March 1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • Blood lead levels measured at 11 years age ascertained childhood lead exposure.
  • Participants were followed up in December 2012, at 38 years of age.
  • Funding: National Institute on Aging.

Key results

  • Each 5 μg/dL increase in childhood blood lead level was associated with a 1.34-point increase (P=.03) in general psychopathology, driven primarily by internalizing (b, 1.41-point increase; P=.02) and thought disorder (b, 1.30-point increase; P=.04) symptoms.
  • Participants with higher blood lead levels were:
    • more neurotic (b, 0.10; P=.02),
    • less agreeable (b, −0.09; P=.03), and
    • less conscientious (b, −0.14; P=.01).

Limitations

  • Use of a single cohort with predominantly white patients.
  • Blood lead exposure recorded may not be generalizable.

  Coauthored with Antara Ghosh, PhD