Low-Level Lead Exposure, Metabolic Syndrome, and Heart Rate Variability: The VA Normative Aging Study

Altered heart rate variability (HRV), a marker of poor cardiac autonomic function, has been associated with sudden cardiac death and heart failure.

We examined the association of low-level lead exposure measured in bone by K-X-ray fluorescence with alterations in HRV, and whether metabolic syndrome (MetS) or its individual components modify those associations.

HRV measures [power in high-frequency (HFnorm) and low-frequency (LFnorm) in normalized units, and LF/HF] were taken among 413 elderly men from the Normative Aging Study. MetS was defined as subjects having three or more of the following criteria: abdominal obesity, hypertriglyceridemia, low high-density lipoprotein, high blood pressure, and high fasting glucose.

Of the subjects, 32% were identified as having MetS. Inverse but nonstatistically significant associations of both tibia and patella lead levels with HFnorm and nonstatistically significant positive relations with LFnorm and LF/HF were found in the entire cohort. There was a graded, statistically significant reduction in HFnorm and increases in LFnorm and LF/HF in association with an increase in patella lead as the number of metabolic abnormalities increased. We also observed that higher patella lead was consistently associated with lower HFnorm and higher LFnorm and LF/HF among subjects with MetS or its individual components. No statistically significant interaction between MetS and tibia lead was observed.

The results suggest that elderly men with MetS were more susceptible to autonomic dysfunction in association with chronic lead exposure as measured in patella. The modification by MetS is consistent with a role for oxidative stress in lead toxicity on the cardiovascular system.