While the neurotoxic effects of heavy metals at even low levels have been well-studied, few studies have examined the cardiovascular effects of heavy metals on resting heart rate and these have focused on adult populations. The present study aimed to examine the association between low-level environmental lead and mercury exposure and resting heart rate in community adolescents. As part of the China Jintan Cohort Study, 532 adolescents aged 12 years (SD = 0.6) were tested for blood levels of lead (BLL) and mercury (BML) and resting heart rate (RHR). Generalized linear models were conducted to test the relationship between BLL and BML and RHR, controlling for children's sex, age, and socioeconomic status. Analyses were clustered at the preschool level when the children were recruited to adjust for standard error. The mean (SD) BLL and BML were 3.14 (SD = 1.19) μg/dL and 1.26 (SD = 0.68) μg/L at age 12 years, respectively. After adjusting for confounders, we found a significant interaction between BML and BLL in predicting RHR in boys (B = -1.27, SE = 0.49, p < 0.01, n = 289). We created BLL and BML groups in boys based on median cut-offs. Boys in the High BLL/High BML group had significantly lower RHR (mean = 84.22 beats per minute [bpm], SD = 8.77, n = 61) than boys in the Low BLL/Low BML group (mean = 89.03 bpm, SD = 10.75, n = 69; p < 0.05). BML and BLL did not interact to predict RHR in girls (B = -0.18, SE = 0.88, p > 0.05, n = 242). Combined high BLL and BML were associated with low RHR in community adolescent boys. Low RHR is an indication of chronic under-arousal and has been implicated in psychopathology, particularly for externalizing behavior. Our findings may stimulate further communication and research in this area.
Keywords: Autonomic function; Cardiovascular; Heavy metal; Lead; Mercury; Resting heart rate.
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