Lead and air pollution hampers brain development in kids, says study
New Delhi: Early exposure to environmental toxins like lead, air pollution, and arsenic can have long-lasting and irreversible consequences in children's brain development, especially in the developing world.
However, Dr Sheffali Gulati, Child neurology division, All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) has observed hundreds of children with neurodevelopmental disorder every week while using quantitative EEG and psychological evaluation.
Dr Gulati writes, she is currently investigating possible link between children behaviour problems and chronic background exposure to heavy metals including lead.
Kam Sripada, is a PhD candidate at the Norwegian University for Science and technology recently published an article in the journal Neuron, titled "Beginning with the Smallest Intake: Children's Brain Development and the Role of Neuroscience in Global Environmental Health" that discusses how these toxins affect the growing brain and how to support children's healthy development, including in India.
In this study, Dr Gulati have seen dozen of cases of lead poisoning, including children with blood lead levels above 200 μg/dL (By contrast, the CDC found in 2015 that 0.5% of American children under 3 years old had blood lead levels at or above 10 μg/dL).
"At high exposure levels, children may present with non-specific symptoms resembling other disorders, ranging from seizures to hearing loss, vomiting, and anemia, since lead's mechanisms of action can affect multiple organ systems" Dr Gulati said.
She further said, "This presents a challenge to physicians while determining a diagnosis and treatment plan."
Coming to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi as a part of a PhD program, Kam Sripada interviewed Dr. Sheffali Gulati at the child neurology division, which conducts research into the effects of heavy metals - in particular lead - on children's brain development.
Decades of research have shown that increased lead in the blood can be linked to poorer attention, lower IQ scores, and hearing and vision problems.
Yet lead is also a part of many products and industrial activities in countries around the world, so children continue to have lead in areas where they live and play.
The study further noted that there is no antidote available for lead, and the neurobehavioral effects following early exposure appear to be irreversible.
Public policy—informed by exposure science linking blood lead levels to cognitive decline—has reduced exposure to lead significantly in many countries. Yet globally, exposure routes abound in areas where children live, learn, and play.