Occupational exposure to pesticides increases risk for cardiovascular disease among Latinos

Latinos who are exposed to pesticides in their workplaces are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease compared with Latinos who are not exposed to pesticides at work, according to a new study published in the journal Heart.

The study looked at survey questionnaire responses from 7,404 employed Latinos ages 18 to 74 years old enrolled in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) regarding occupational exposure to pesticides, metals and solvents -- substances known to have a negative impact on cardiovascular health. The HCHS/SOL is the largest epidemiological study of Hispanics/Latinos and includes more than 16,000 participants from Chicago, San Diego, Miami and the Bronx in New York. Participants were asked whether they had been exposed to metals, solvents or pesticides at work.

"Recent studies have linked certain chemicals found in solvents and pesticides and metal dust to cardiovascular disease, but none of those studies looked specifically at Hispanics/Latinos -- a group that is especially vulnerable to exposure to toxins at work," said Maria Argos, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and corresponding author of the paper.

About 5 to 9 percent of employed Latinos reported exposure to solvents, metals or pesticides in the workplace.

"While our study didn't involve objective measures of exposure to toxic chemicals or metals in blood or urine samples, we observed significantly increased cardiovascular disease, most strongly for atrial fibrillation, among those who self-reported occupational exposure to pesticides," Argos said.

The researchers found that participants reporting occupational exposure to pesticides were twice as likely to have some form of cardiovascular disease compared with those who didn't report pesticide exposure.

Participants reporting exposure to pesticides at work were twice as likely to have coronary heart disease, a type of cardiovascular disease where cholesterol-based plaques accumulate on the walls of the arteries, causing stiffness and increasing the risk for blood clots and stroke. When the researchers looked specifically at atrial fibrillation -- a type of cardiovascular disease characterized by an irregular, often rapid heart rate that can cause poor blood flow -- they found that participants reporting occupational exposure to metals were almost four times as likely to have the disease, and those who reported occupational exposure to pesticides were more than five times as likely to have the disease compared with participants who did not report having these exposures at work.

"Our findings strongly suggest that asking patients about their occupational history can help clinicians uncover exposure to toxic chemicals or metals that can contribute to cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Martha Daviglus, the Edmund F. Foley Professor of Medicine in the UIC College of Medicine, director of UIC's Institute for Minority Health Research and principal investigator of the HCHS/SOL Chicago Field Center. "We know that exposure to toxins and metals is damaging to health, and our study corroborates the harmful effects with regards to cardiovascular health. Thus, efforts should be taken to reduce exposure to these substances whenever possible."

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