Longitudinal study of prenatal and postnatal lead exposure and early cognitive development in Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia: a preliminary results of cord blood lead levels.J Trop Pediatr. 2008 Oct; 54(5):300-7.JT
Extensive data shows a direct link between low-level lead exposure during early development and deficits in neurobehavioral-cognitive performance evident late in childhood through adolescence. Our previous studies confirmed the transfer of lead from the mother to the fetus as well as the effect of low lead exposure on neuropsychological behavior in school children. Such results led us to design a longitudinal survey to evaluate the effect of prenatal and/or postnatal lead exposure on early cognitive development among selected group of children from birth to 2 years of age. During the first stage of this study (between March and July 2004), we measured lead levels in 653 umbilical cord blood samples taken from healthy Saudi mothers delivering at King Khalid Hospital, Al-Kharj. This gave a good opportunity to look at the prevalence of increased blood lead levels in umbilical cord blood and to identify risk factors for prenatal lead exposure. The mean cord lead levels were 2.21 +/- 1.691 microg/dl in the range of 0.284-17.276 microg/dl. Only 1.23% of the newborns had blood lead levels >10 microg/dl, the Center for Disease Control level of concern. To investigate risk factors affecting cord blood lead levels, only subjects with lead levels above the 75th percentile (2.475 microg/dl) were selected in the multiple regression models. We observed that cord blood lead levels were significantly influenced by maternal age, the location of residence and intake of prenatal supplements. Controlling for newborn's head circumferences confounders, it was found that cord blood lead levels were significantly and negatively associated with newborn's head circumference (beta = -0.158, p = 0.036). The negative association was seen between intake of prenatal supplements and cord blood lead levels emphasizing the role of prenatal supplementations during pregnancy. The significant reductions in newborns, head circumferences due to lead exposure may have serious implications for their future performance and achievement. This study reveals that even at low prenatal lead exposure, all possible measures to inspect lead sources in our environment and reduce lead exposure should be taken.