A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has found that when children are exposed to high levels of lead during childhood, negative changes to brain structure are more likely to occur later in life. These findings are based on a long-term research project involving 1,037 people born in the same town in New Zealand in 1972 and 1973. 564 of the study participants had been tested for levels of lead in their blood when they were 11 years old, “which allowed the study authors to examine how this correlated with their brain structure in middle-age,” according to IFLScience.com.
MRI scans revealed some small, but significant changes, in the brains of those with higher lead exposure. Participants with the highest childhood exposure demonstrated structural deficits in the integrity of their brains’ white matter and, while the participants themselves reported no loss of cognitive abilities, those close to them noted they had problems with memory and attention.
“We find that there are deficits and differences in the overall structure of the brain that are apparent decades after exposure,” Duke University doctoral candidate and co-first author of the study, Aaron Reuben said “And that’s important because it helps us understand that people don’t seem to recover fully from childhood lead exposure and may, in fact, experience greater problems over time.”.
Based on these results, the study authors conclude that “adults who were exposed to elevated lead levels as children, including the millions exposed during the peak era of leaded gasoline, could be viewed as potentially at risk of neurodegenerative diseases.”