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Posted: January 15, 2008

Scientists Worry that Lead in Kids Can Spark Alzheimer's Decades Later

The uproar over lead in too many items of everyday use, including millions of toys made in China, has led scientists to warn that young children exposed to lead today could be at risk of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
 
A new study indicates that exposure to lead by infants and young children may tinker with the ways their genes function and set the stage for the mind-robbing Alzheimer’s many years later.
 
However, Britain’s Alzheimer’s Society, reacting to the report, stressed that the public should not over-react to the study, which used monkeys instead of humans as subjects, and reminded that to-date there is no direct proof that the toxins associated with lead poisoning cause Alzheimer’s.
 
The US study, conducted at the University of Rhode Island, indicated that even small amounts of the hazardous metal, which can still be found in old buildings as well as Chinese-manufactured toys, when contacted in the first few years of life can cause changes in the brain associated with the fatal disease.
 
"We're not saying that lead exposure causes Alzheimer's disease, but it's a risk factor," Dr. Nasser Zawia, of the University of Rhode Island, told the publication New Scientist. The study findings are published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
 
Zawia and colleagues fed infant formula milk laced with low doses of lead to baby monkeys for their first 400 days of life and tracked them for the next 23 years. While the monkeys did not show any symptoms of dementia – and no health problems were noted in the 23 years -- a post mortem of their brains revealed the presence of plaques, which are the harmful deposits of protein normally found in Alzheimer's patients.

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