Attempting to explain why Hispanics suffer from serious kidney disease at two times the rate of non-Hispanic whites, a recent study took a look at the blood-lead levels of 245 residing in U.S. border towns.
While the study did not look into where the patients were exposed, it is believed that Mexican candy, folk remedies, older homes, and industrial pollution are all sources of increased lead in the blood of Hispanics.
Dr. German Hernandez, the study’s author, said, “The higher your blood-levels, the lower your kidney function.”
Though the patients studied had blood-lead levels below 10 micrograms per decimeter, which is the CDC level of concern, the study noted dramatic changes in those with small increases in lead concentrations, specifically non-diabetic patients. Hernandez said that even taking into account smoking, socio-economic status, gender, education, health insurance – which may have determined how often a person went to the doctor, age, and alcohol use, Hispanics still remained at the top of the list for those at risk for serious kidney disease.
“We found a striking result. For every 2.7 microgram per deciliter increase in blood lead, there was a 38 percent drop in kidney function. Maybe we should be worried about lower (lead) levels,” said Hernandez.
A toxicologist with the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Environmental Injury, Epidemiology and Toxicology Unit, said Mexican candy, older homes with lead paint, folk remedies, and industrial pollution are a serious problem.
“Wrappers sometimes are printed with ink that has lead that gets into the hands of the kids,” the toxicologist, Thandi Ziqubu-Page said. “And they do chew on the wrappers, especially the toddlers.”
Certain folk remedies given to children with digestive problems also contain lead.
Ziqubu-Page notes a small decrease in cases related to lead paint, and states a bigger concern is toys coming from China, particularly teething rings, which manufacturers make more pliable using lead.
While lead settles into blood, it can go back into the blood at different points in a child’s life. Growth spurts can “mobilize” the lead back into the bone, and women can pass the increased lead to their fetus. The onset of osteoporosis can also send the lead back into the blood.
Hernandez admits there is “a lot of work to do still” on the relationship between blood-lead levels and kidney disease, but says he will be looking for funding to track patients over time.
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