Does Occupational Exposure to Pesticide Increase Heart Health Risks?

When studies began to show proof that pesticides bear heavy risk to human health it was not that much of a surprise.  But more and more studies continue to show that high levels of exposure to pesticides—particularly while on the job—can significantly raise the risk of things like heart disease and stroke.  A new study, for example, has identified that these risks are significantly higher among a generally healthy group of Japanese American men, in the state of Hawaii. 

According to study co-author Beatriz L. Rodriguez, MD, PhD, MPH, “This study emphasizes the importance of using personal protective equipment during exposure to pesticides on the job and the importance of documenting occupational exposure to pesticides in medical records, as well as controlling standard heart disease risk factors.”

These latest statistics come out of the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program, which enrolled more than 8,000 Japanese American men living on the island of Oahu, between 1965 and 1968.  These men were between the ages of 45 and 68 at the beginning of the study.  The group was followed through various examinations since then, with researchers tracking all causes of death and even some disease outcomes.  

It is not always easy to estimate pesticide exposure but the analysts used a scale available from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which assesses both intensity and length of [potential] occupational exposure.  When compared with men who were [definitely] not exposed to pesticides at work, the researchers found, in a ten-year follow-up, that they were at a 45 percent higher risk of heart disease or stroke.  However, they also identified there appears to be no significant risk between low-to-moderate exposure to pesticides and heart disease or stroke risk. 

The University of Hawaii (Manoa) professor of geriatric medicine goes on to say, “After following the men for 34 years, the link between being exposed to pesticides at work and heart disease and stroke was no longer significant. This was probably because other factors tied to aging became more important, masking the possible relation of pesticides and cardiovascular disease later in life.”