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J Bone Miner Res. 2008 Sep;23(9):1417-25. doi: 10.1359/jbmr.080404.

Relationship of blood lead levels to incident nonspine fractures and falls in older women: the study of osteoporotic fractures.

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Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15261, USA.


Lead is stored in the skeleton and can serve as an endogenous source for many years. Lead may influence the risk of fracture, through direct effects on bone strength or indirectly by disturbing neuromuscular function and increasing the risk of falls. The objective of this analysis is to test the hypothesis that women with higher blood lead levels experience higher rates of falls and fracture. This was a prospective cohort study of 533 women 65-87 yr of age enrolled in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures at two U.S. research centers (Baltimore, MD; Monongahela Valley, PA) from 1986 to 1988. Blood lead levels (in microg/dl) were measured in 1990-1991 by atomic absorption spectrophotometry and classified as "low" (<or=3; lower 15th percentile, referent); "medium" (4-7); or "high" (>or=8; upper 15th percentile). Total hip BMD was measured by DXA twice, 3.55 yr apart. Information on falls was collected every 4 mo for 4 yr. Incident nonspine fractures were identified and confirmed over 10 yr. Cox proportional hazards models were used to estimate the hazard ratio (HR) and 95% CI of fracture. Generalized estimating equations were used to calculate the incident rate ratio of falls (95% CI). The mean blood lead level was 5.3 +/- 2.3 (SD) microg/dl (range, 1-21 microg/dl). Baseline BMD was 7% lower in total hip and 5% lower in femoral neck in the highest compared with lowest blood lead group (p < 0.02). Hip bone loss tended to be greater in the high lead group, but differences were not significant. In multivariable adjusted models, women with high blood lead levels had an increased risk of nonspine fracture (HR = 2.50; 95% CI = 1.25, 5.03; p trend = 0.016) and higher risk of falls (incident rate ratio = 1.62; 95% CI = 1.07, 2.45; p trend = 0.014) compared with women with lowest lead level. Blood lead levels are associated with an increased risk of falls and fractures, extending the negative health consequences of lead to include osteoporotic fractures.

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