Link between PCBs and blood pressure broader than suspected.

Jan 06, 2011

Goncharov, A, M Pavuk, HR Foushee and DO Carpenter. 2010. Blood pressure in relation to concentrations of pcb congeners and chlorinated pesticides. Environmental Health Perspectives

Synopsis by Ami Zota, Sc.D

Among a highly exposed Alabama community, PCBs were more strongly associated with elevated blood pressure than any other risk factor except age.

High levels of certain PCBs in people's blood may contribute to elevated blood pressures across the full range of readings  – not just in those at the high end that might cause disease, as was previously thought. New findings show that exposure to the persistant pollutants could increase blood pressure in healthy people, too.

Other than age, total PCBs in the blood had the strongest association with blood pressure increases of the chemical risk factors studied. The study of a highly exposed group of people from Anniston, Ala., was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

While previous human studies – including one of the Anniston population by the same research group –  link PCBs with an increased risk of hypertension, this is one of the first to focus on and find effects of PCBs in the "normal" range of blood pressures. The associations observed across the range of blood pressures suggest that PCBs may play a critical role in the development of  hypertension.

Because of their versatile properties – they are long-lived and do not burn easily – PCBs were used in a number of industrial applications and consumer products for more than half a century. Electrical transformers, plastics and pigments made prior to their ban in the late 1970s contained the synthetic chemicals. Exposure still occurs through contaminated food, water, soil and air as the large family of chemicals persist in the environment and accumulate in animals and people.

PCBs have many health effects. They are linked to cancer and have been shown to affect the immune, reproductive and nervous systems in lab animals, wildlife and humans.

The researchers examined 394 Anniston residents between the ages of 18 and 92 and compared their blood levels of PCBs with blood pressure readings. Those taking medication to control high blood pressure were excluded from the study. The participants are considered highly exposed because they live near a Monsanto chemical plant  that closed in 1971 after manufacturing PCBs for more than 40 years.

The study's participants provided demographic and medical information. Blood pressure was measured three times at one sitting, and blood samples were analyzed for 35 types of PCBs (total PCBs), nine pesticides and several lipids.

The measured PCB blood levels were higher than 90 percent of the general U.S. population.

PCBs were associated with elevated systolic and diastolic blood pressure in the adults studied. These associations persisted even after accounting for important risk factors such as age, body mass index (BMI), gender, race, smoking and exercise.

The authors conclude that the contribution of environmental chemicals exposure to the development of chronic diseases, such as hypertension, has been underappreciated and deserves more attention.


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