The hidden cause of a half a million deaths a year

Heavy metal testing is something I do with nearly all of my patients. Granted, I live in an urban area. And I also see many patients who lived in New York City during the aftermath of 9/11, when there were lots of harmful substances in the air.

But as I hope today’s discussion will show you, heavy metals need to be on your radar no matter where you live.

That’s because a new study estimates that upwards of half a million premature heart disease deaths in the U.S. every year have ties to low-level lead exposure.

And for the record, that’s higher — by about ten times — than previous estimates.

That’s at least partly because previous estimates only factored in the deaths of people with lead levels above 5 μg/dL. But this toxin is far more insidious than those parameters give it credit for. And higher mortality rates — from heart disease, in particular — can also happen at levels well below this threshold.

This study featured participants with baseline lead levels from below 1 μg/dL all the way up to 56. The average lead level was 2.7. And roughly 20 percent of subjects had levels of at least 5.

Results shows that subjects with a level of 6.7 faced a 37 percent higher risk of all-cause early death compared to subjects with lead levels of 1 μg/dL or lower. They also faced a 70 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease death. And double the risk of death from ischemic heart disease.

Ultimately, low-level lead exposure was linked with a 38 percent increase in all-cause mortality, a 95 percent increase in cardiovascular disease mortality, and a 157 percent increase in ischemic heart disease mortality. Which means that lead exposure might actually be responsible for up to one third of all heart disease deaths.

Let those staggering numbers sink in for a moment. And then think about it: If this small amount of lead can prove fatal, just imagine what it’s doing to our bodies before it kills us.

So if you don’t mind me asking, when was the last time your doctor tested you for lead? Because if this makes anything clear, it’s that there are no safe levels—not for anyone of any age.

And the sad fact is that, despite increased awareness, sources of lead exposure are everywhere—in old paint, fuel, lead pipes and batteries, industrial waste, and even our food supply.

Until we start to demand remediation in all of these areas, the public health will continue to hang in the balance. And considering the fact that lead’s death toll is now neck and neck with tobacco smoke exposure, I think it’s high time we did exactly that.

At the very least, do me a favor and get yourself tested. It could very well save your life.