- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Use of a single cohort with predominantly white patients.
- Blood lead exposure recorded may not be generalizable.
Coauthored with Antara Ghosh, PhD