Does regular lead contact cause dementia?

Does regular lead contact cause dementia?

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Do exposure to lead lead to dementia?

Since people who live on main roads or who have contact with lead through their work are at increased risk of dementia, researchers investigated the impact of exposure to lead in everyday life on our risk of developing dementia.

A new hypothesis from the University of Toronto suggests that declining dementia rates that have been observed over generations may be due to declining lifelong exposure to lead. The study was published in the English-language journal "Journal of Alzheimer's Disease".

Declining rate of dementia noted

To the surprise of the medical community, several studies from the USA, Canada and Europe indicate a promising downward trend in the frequency and prevalence of dementia.

Risk factors for dementia are changing

Important risk factors for dementia, such as obesity and middle-aged diabetes, are increasing in an increasing number of people, so that the decrease in the incidence of dementia is particularly astonishing. The new hypothesis suggests that falling dementia rates may well be the result of generation differences in lifelong exposure to lead.

Effects on adults have not been adequately studied

While the negative effects of exposure to lead on children's IQ are known, less attention has been given to the cumulative effects of exposure on cognition and dementia in older adults. In view of the exposure to lead to date, the researchers assume that further research into the hypothesis is entirely justified.

Lead used to be a common source of air pollution

Leaded gasoline was a pervasive source of air pollution between the 1920s and 1970s. As the use of leaded petrol ceased, the lead content in the blood of the citizens also decreased.

Exposure to lead has decreased over the years

It was also shown, for example, that people in America who were born before 1925 had about twice as much exposure to lead as those who were born between 1936 and 1945.

Blood lead levels are falling sharply

In 1976, 88 percent of people in the United States had over ten micrograms of lead per deciliter in their blood. In 2014, however, only one percent of children in Flint, Michigan had a blood lead level of over ten micrograms per deciliter.

Connection between lead and dementia?

Lead is a well-known neurotoxin that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Animal studies and examinations of people who are exposed to lead indicate a connection between lead exposure and dementia.

Pollution increases risk of dementia

Other studies have found a higher incidence of dementia in older adults who live closer to major roads and in people who are more exposed to traffic pollution.

New dementia subtype discovered

The researchers were particularly interested in a possible link between lifelong exposure to lead and a recently identified subtype of dementia: limbic-predominant age-related TDP-43 encephalopathy (LATE), the pathological features of which were identified in 20 percent of dementia patients over 80 years of age .

Is there really a drop in the rate of dementia?

Other plausible explanations for the improving trends in dementia incidence are higher levels of education, lower prevalence of smoking, and better control of hypertension in older adults today compared to previous generations. But even when these factors are taken into account statistically, many studies still found a decrease in the dementia rate.

More research is needed

Further research should take a closer look at this topic, because if it turns out that lifelong exposure to lead is an important factor for dementia, the incidence of dementia can be steadily improved in the coming decades, since each subsequent generation has fewer years came into contact with the neurotoxin. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Esme Fuller-Thomson, ZhiDi Deng: Could Lifetime Lead Exposure Play a Role in Limbic-predominant Age-related TDP-43 Encephalopathy (LATE) ?, in Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (query: 19.12.2019), Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

Video: Frontotemporal Dementia (June 2022).