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Allostatic load amplifies the effect of blood lead levels on elevated blood pressure among middle-aged U.S. adults: a cross-sectional study

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Scientists and regulators have sought to understand whether and how physiologic dysregulation due to chronic stress exposure may enhance vulnerability to the adverse health effects of toxicant exposures. We conducted a cross-sectional study to determine whether allostatic load (AL), a composite measure of physiologic response to chronic exposure to stress, amplifies the effect of lead exposure on blood pressure among middle-aged adults.


We analyzed associations between blood lead levels and blood pressure in a nationally representative sample of 8,194 U.S. adults (aged 40-65 years) participating in the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, 1999--2008. Outcomes were elevated systolic (≥ 140 mm Hg) and diastolic (≥ 90 mm Hg) blood pressure. AL was defined as the aggregate score of seven components, reflecting dysregulation of the cardiovascular, inflammatory, and endocrine systems.


Logistic regression models showed a linear dose-response relationship for quintiles of blood lead and elevated systolic blood pressure in the high AL group (p = 0.03) but not the low AL group (p = 0.24). Similarly, the relationship between lead exposure and elevated diastolic blood pressure was stronger among the high AL group than the low AL group. Within the high AL group, the fourth and fifth quintiles had significantly elevated odds of elevated blood pressure compared to lowest quintile [OR = 1.92, (95% CI, 1.07, 3.47) and OR =2.28 (95% CI, 1.33, 3.91), respectively]. In the low AL group, none of the quintile effects were significantly different than the referent group although there was evidence of a linear trend (p =0.03). The lead by AL interaction term was not statistically significant for either systolic or diastolic blood pressure models.


Results suggest that higher AL may amplify the adverse effects of lead on blood pressure. Future research should assess the implications of cumulative exposures to environmental and social stressors for regulatory decision-making.

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