Arsenic in drinking water is a concern throughout Indian country for its connection to diabetes and other ills. But now it may also be implicated in heart disease, according to a study profiled in The New York Times.
Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, started studying the issue years ago after seeing incidences in Taiwan, Chile and Bangladesh. Seeking a U.S. subject group, she was able to piggyback her research on a study of arsenic in American Indian populations in the Southwestern U.S. and the Dakotas that was already long underway.
The Strong Heart Study, as it was called, was looking at the exact type of subjects she needed to study: “a stable population relying mainly on private well water,” as The New York Times described it in an October 30 story. The 4,000 subjects had been tracked since the late 1980s with measurements of lifestyle and environmental exposure to various substances, the newspaper said. Navas-Acien compared arsenic levels in their urine with heart disease rates and found that atherosclerosis, stroke and heart attack incidences rose along with arsenic levels.
“For those with chronic exposure to arsenic, rates of cardiovascular illness were often doubled, even after taking into account various lifestyle and genetic risks,” The New York Times reported.
The contamination is from geological rather than man-made sources, The New York Times noted, with the problem most pronounced in the Southwest, the upper Midwest and northern New England.
All in all, environmental factors cannot be ruled out when it comes to assessing heart-disease risk, said Dr. Gervasio Lamas, chief of cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami, to The New York Times. “We need more cardiologists to be thinking about environmental effects on the heart. It’s not just some abstract E.P.A. problem. It’s actually affecting our patients.”
Read A Heart Risk in Drinking Water in The New York Times.