Lead Toxin Negatively Affects Boys More Than Girls

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Estrogen and estradiol may be a natural barrier against the toxic effects of lead in girls, according to a new study published in the Journal of Environmental Health.

The study, which evaluated 40 young children aged 3 to 6 years in an area of Omaha designated as a Lead Superfund Site by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), found that young girls did not show cognitive signs of lead poisoning, while boys of the same age and with similar blood lead levels performed poorly on cognition tests.

Maya Khanna, PhD, of Creighton University in Omaha, found that 23 of the 40 children had blood lead levels equal or higher than 10 (µg/dL), while 17 did not. The children were evaluated on tests of executive functions like memory and reading readiness.

Among those with higher blood lead levels, boys performed worse on cognition tests, but not reading readiness, than girls with equal blood lead levels. Boys with higher blood lead levels performed worse cognitively than boys with lower blood lead levels, but the same effect was not observed among the girl subjects, further reinforcing previous evidence that the hormones estrogen and estradiol may be neuroprotective against the effects of neurotoxins.

Additionally, Khanna pointed out that the study results show that lead exposure affects cognitive functions controlled by the prefrontal cortex, and not so much the temporal or parietal lobes that reading skills rely more heavily on. 

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Lead Toxin Negatively Affects Boys More Than Girls
A new study suggests that the female hormones estrogen and estradiol may protect the brain against the toxic effects of lead. It found that young boys with higher levels of lead in their blood performed worse on cognition tests than those with lower levels, while this was not the case for girls, who appeared hardly affected by the chemical element.

The study - which is published in the Journal of Environmental Health - is the work of Maya Khanna, a psychology professor in the College of Arts and Sciences at Creighton University in Omaha, NE.

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