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Researchers have found that small declines in blood lead levels were associated with long-term heart health improvements in Native American adults through the Strong Heart Family Study. 

Participants of the Strong Heart Study included 285 Native American adults who lived in one of four tribal communities in Arizona, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The study is the largest following cardiovascular health outcomes and risk factors among Native American adults.  

The findings, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found that a 2.5 percent drop per year in blood lead levels resulted in a drop in blood pressure comparable to the effects of blood pressure-lowering medication. 

“This is a huge win for public health, especially since many American Indians can face higher risks for elevated lead levels,” Anne E. Nigra, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and senior author said in a press release. “Compared to the general U.S. population, American Indian communities experience both a higher burden of cardiovascular disease and elevated metal exposure. We saw that even small decreases in a person’s blood lead levels can have meaningful health outcomes.”

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to the American Heart Association. Native Americans are 50 percent more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease than white people.

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In addition to seeing improvements in blood pressure, researchers found that reductions in blood lead levels were associated with reductions in a marker linked with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and heart failure. 

Lead exposure is known to harm the health of children by damaging the brain and nervous system and slowing growth and development. The drop in blood lead levels is likely due to lead-reduction policies affecting paint, gasoline, water, plumbing, and canned goods, according to the study. 

“This is a sign that policies and awareness and education campaigns in these communities to reduce blood lead levels are working,”  Mona Puggal, M.P.H., an epidemiologist in the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) said in a statement. “The reductions in blood pressure are comparable to improvements one sees with lifestyle changes, such as getting 30 minutes of daily exercise, reducing salt intake, or losing weight.”

The American Heart Association and the US Department of Health and Human Services recommend eating a heart-healthy diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins and fats to give your body the fiber, vitamins, and minerals it needs to support a healthy heart. 

To help prevent heart disease, you can also: 

  • Exercise regularly 
  • Stay at a healthy weight 
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke 
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure 
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation 
  • Manage stress 

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The Native News Health Desk is made possible by a generous grant from the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation as well as sponsorship support from the American Dental Association. This grant funding and sponsorship support have no effect on editorial consideration in Native News Online. 
About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.