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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Arsenic in Drinking Water May Change Heart Structure Raising Risk of Heart Disease

Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart’s main pumping chamber in young adults, finds a Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health study. This structural change increases the risk for future heart problems. The findings are in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, an American Heart Association journal.

The researchers reviewed data from the Strong Heart Family Study on cardiovascular risk factors among young American Indian adults from Oklahoma, Arizona, and the Dakotas. Arsenic exposure was measured in urine samples; heart size, shape and function were assessed using ultrasound (echocardiography).

“People drinking water from private wells, which are not regulated, need to be aware that arsenic may increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. Testing those wells is a critical first step to take action and prevent exposure,” said Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman, and senior author.

People are most frequently exposed to arsenic through drinking water where groundwater is contaminated, including many Indian tribal communities. This is the first study to review the question in young adults.

The researchers found:

“The stronger association in subjects with elevated blood pressure suggests that individuals with pre-clinical heart disease might be more prone to the toxic effects of arsenic on the heart,” said first author Dr. Gernot Pichler, Hospital Hietzing in Vienna, and a visiting scholar at Columbia Mailman.