Accumulated low-level lead exposure can lead to cataract development in men

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According to lead author Debra A. Schaumberg, Sc.D., O.D., M.P.H. of BWH, “This research suggests that reduction of lead exposure throughout a man’s lifetime should help reduce his chances of developing cataracts and of requiring cataract surgery. By preventing or delaying the onset of this condition, many instances of blindness worldwide could be prevented.”

In this study, Schaumberg and colleagues from the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed data from men 60 years and older who participated in the Boston-based Normative Aging Study. Between 1991 and 1999, these men had lead levels from their tibial and patellar bones measured as well as participated in regular eye examinations. The researchers found that men with the highest levels of lead exposure in their tibia had a more than 2.5-fold increased risk of cataract compared with those with the lowest levels.

“Lead exposure continues to pose a significant public health problem,” said Schaumberg. “Because prevention of age-related cataracts is an important worldwide public health goal, this study adds to the evidence that continued reduction of lead exposure should be a priority.”