An Increased Exposure to Lead May Cause Mental Problems


Lead refers to a type of metal used in paints, water pipes, and gasoline for a number of purposes. However, a lot of recent studies have revealed a potentially dangerous side of this metal as well.

Lead is said to get accumulated in the body, leading to the disruption of the central nervous system. Increased exposure to this metal during early childhood has also been linked to a lot of intelligence and behavioral deficits.

A new study has further added to the list by suggesting that exposure to lead during early childhood can negatively damage the personalities and increase their risk of encountering mental problems during adulthood.

The findings of this research are published in JAMA Psychiatry and indicate that people who had higher blood levels of lead in their childhood experience more mental issues until they reached 38 years of age. The study also found that such people are more likely to develop unhealthy traits in their personality such as neuroticism.

What Scientists Found

The research team analyzed the data taken from 1037 participants all of which were born in 1972-1973 in Dunedin, New Zealand. At that time, New Zealand was considered as one of the countries with the highest level of lead in their gasoline.

Out of all the participants, 579 children underwent blood tests at the age of 11 years in order to find the exact level of exposure to lead. The results indicated that over 94 percent of these children had more than 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.

Today, when a child is found to have such high levels of lead, they are immediately referred to urgent medical attention. However, this was not the case a few decades ago.

Throughout the entire study, the participants were continually assessed for their mental health. The most recent of these assessments took place when the participants turned 38 years.

The psychopathology factor (p-factor) of these participants was analyzed by the researchers. They determined it by looking for 11 disorders including alcohol misuse, tobacco, cannabis dependence, hard drugs, generalized anxiety, depression, conduct disorder, phobia, mania, schizophrenia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

By combining the p-factor with the blood levels of lead, the researchers concluded that the effects of lead exposure on the mental health are modest. The effects can last for a really long time, over three to four decades as in the current study.

Effects on the Personality

While asking the family and friends of the participants about their personalities, the researchers also found that people who were evidently exposed to a higher level of lead had increased neurotic tendencies. They were less conscientious and a lot less agreeable as compared to their fellow participants who had exposure to a comparatively lower amount of lead in their childhoods.

The researchers also noted that carrying unhealthy personality traits can also affect the adaptability of a person in various life situations. This impacts their satisfaction related to their relationships and jobs. Such people are also more likely to be associated with a poorer state of mental health.


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Samantha Issac
Samantha is a graduate of Medicine with masters in Public Health. Most of her writings are in medicinal tools, technology, and treatments. In addition to that, she is a freelance healthcare writer based in the USA.


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