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Estrogen May Lessen Cognitive Effects of Lead Exposure

May explain why lead exposure is less likely to cause brain damage in girls than in boys

MONDAY, Feb. 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Estrogen and estradiol may help protect against lead’s harmful effects on the frontal areas of the brain, according to a study published recently in the Journal of Environmental Health.

The study included 40 children between the ages of 3 and 6 and all living in an area of Omaha considered the largest residential lead clean-up site in the United States. The area has high levels of lead contamination in the soil due to emissions from a lead refinery that operated there for 125 years. Also, many homes in the area are old and still have lead-based paint.

The researchers found that 23 of the children had elevated blood lead levels. Boys with elevated lead levels scored low on tests of memory, attention, and other thinking abilities. Girls with elevated lead levels did not do as poorly on the tests. The researchers also found that elevated lead levels had a much stronger negative impact on thinking abilities than on reading readiness.

“The study supports existing research suggesting that estrogen and estradiol in females may act as neuroprotectants against the negative impacts of neurotoxins,” study author Maya Khanna, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Creighton University’s College of Arts and Sciences in Omaha, Neb., said in a university news release. This is the first study to show that very young children already experience harm from lead exposure, and that lead has a greater impact on thinking abilities in boys than in girls, according to Khanna.

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