Researchers reveal new risk factor for poor mental health

ngd-The first brain-related research paper I ever read was in late 1970. The focus was the influence of lead levels on what today we would call ADHD in elementary school children. It said that lead levels that were only 25% of the threshold for medical poisoning by lead produce sharp increases in hyperactivity and attention problems. This is an old story that apparently has to be relearned by each generation. There are still no safe and effective ways to remove lead once it is in the brain.
A new study has found that some people exposed to a certain toxic metal as children may face poor mental health as adults. This finding may have far-reaching implications for all populations exposed to this risk factor.

Now, new research from Duke University in Durham, NC, also suggests that exposure to lead during childhood can affect how an individual’s personality develops and predispose them to mental health problems in adulthood.

The research findings, which appear in JAMA Psychiatry, indicate that people who had high levels of lead in their blood when they were young are more likely to experience mental health issues by the time they turn 38. The study also indicates that they are also more likely to have developed unhealthy personality traits, such as neuroticism.

The researchers assessed the participants’ psychopathology factor (p-factor), which is a mental health measurement. They determined the factors by looking at 11 disorders: alcohol misuse, dependence on cannabis, tobacco, and hard drugs, conduct disorder, major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, phobiasobsessive-compulsive disorder, mania, and schizophrenia.

After looking at the p-factor in conjunction with blood lead levels, the researchers concluded that, while lead exposure’s impact on mental health may be modest, it may have far-reaching effects.

Lead exposure’s “effects really can last for quite a long time, in this case, 3 to 4 decades,” according to study coauthor Jonathan Schaefer.

“Lead exposure decades ago may be harming the mental health of people today who are in their 40s and 50s,” Schaefer warns.

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