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PLoS One. 2012;7(9):e46142. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046142. Epub 2012 Sep 27.

Burnt sugarcane harvesting - cardiovascular effects on a group of healthy workers, Brazil.

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Pulmonary Division - Heart Institute, Hospital das Clínicas da Faculdade de Medicina da Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil.



Brazil is the world's largest producer of sugarcane. Harvest is predominantly manual, exposing workers to health risks: intense physical exertion, heat, pollutants from sugarcane burning.


Panel study to evaluate the effects of burnt sugarcane harvesting on blood markers and on cardiovascular system.


Twenty-eight healthy male workers, living in the countryside of Brazil were submitted to blood markers, blood pressure, heart rate variability, cardiopulmonary exercise testing, sympathetic nerve activity evaluation and forearm blood flow measures (venous occlusion plethysmography) during burnt sugarcane harvesting and four months later while they performed other activities in sugar cane culture.


Mean participant age was 31 ± 6.3 years, and had worked for 9.8 ± 8.4 years on sugarcane work. Work during the harvest period was associated with higher serum levels of Creatine Kinase - 136.5 U/L (IQR: 108.5-216.0) vs. 104.5 U/L (IQR: 77.5-170.5), (p = 0.001); plasma Malondialdehyde-7.5 ± 1.4 µM/dl vs. 6.9 ± 1.0 µM/dl, (p = 0.058); Glutathione Peroxidase - 55.1 ± 11.8 Ug/Hb vs. 39.5 ± 9.5 Ug/Hb, (p<0.001); Glutathione Transferase- 3.4±1.3 Ug/Hb vs. 3.0 ± 1.3 Ug/Hb, (p = 0.001); and 24-hour systolic blood pressure - 120.1 ± 10.3 mmHg vs. 117.0 ± 10.0 mmHg, (p = 0.034). In cardiopulmonary exercise testing, rest-to-peak diastolic blood pressure increased by 11.12 mmHg and 5.13 mmHg in the harvest and non-harvest period, respectively. A 10 miliseconds reduction in rMSSD and a 10 burst/min increase in sympathetic nerve activity were associated to 2.2 and 1.8 mmHg rises in systolic arterial pressure, respectively.


Work in burnt sugarcane harvesting was associated with changes in blood markers and higher blood pressure, which may be related to autonomic imbalance.

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