Researchers studied whether Hispanic and Latino people had increased heart disease risk if their workplace used pesticides.

Share on Pinterest
Pesticides have been linked to serious illnesses such as birth defects and cancer. Getty Images

Hispanic and Latino people exposed to pesticides in the workplace had increased risk for heart disease compared to those who didn’t work with the chemicals.

It’s no secret that pesticides are dangerous to our health. Exposure to pesticides has been linked to a number of serious illnesses, from respiratory problems and birth defects to cancer.

The toxic exposure can affect people of all backgrounds — especially those who work in agricultural and industrial settings.

A new study took a closer look at how metal and pesticide exposure affects Hispanic and Latino people who are exposed to pesticides in the workplace.

Hispanic and Latino people who are exposed to pesticides at work are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who aren’t, according to research published mid-December in the journal Heart.

To understand how cardiovascular health is affected by metal and pesticide exposure, researchers looked at 7,404 employed adults enrolled in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. This study has been evaluating potential risk factors linked to chronic health issues in the Hispanic and Latino population.

The participants were between the ages of 18 and 74 and from four major cities: Chicago, San Diego, Miami, and the Bronx in New York.

Participants filled out a questionnaire that measured their exposure to harmful chemicals along with certain lifestyle factors regarding diet, physical activity, and alcohol consumption.

The research team then looked at the participants’ medical history, medication use, blood pressure, blood work, and electrocardiography — a measure of the electrical activity in the heart.

Approximately 5 to 9 percent of the participants reported exposure to solvent, metals, and pesticides at work. Those who reported that they regularly experience pesticide exposure were twice as likely to have some type of cardiovascular disease, researchers found.

Those who were exposed to pesticides were twice as likely to have coronary heart disease and five times as likely to have atrial fibrillation.

The participants who reported occupational exposure to metals were four times as likely to have atrial fibrillation.

Although researchers are still working to fully understand the connection between pesticides and cardiovascular disease, there are a couple of theories that make the most sense, says Dr. Michael Ghalchi, a cardiologist with Manhattan Cardiovascular Associates.

“The first is that pesticides cause the body to develop inflammation and oxidative stress, which are known to be risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease,” Ghalchi explained. “The second is that some chemicals can be directly toxic to the heart muscle, preventing it from contracting normally and disturbing the heart’s electrical system.”

In the case of experiencing large exposures, abnormalities in the heart’s functionality can develop rapidly, adds Ghalchi.

The two forms of cardiovascular disease Hispanic and Latino populations appear to be most at risk for are coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation.

“[With coronary heart disease], a spectrum of plaque builds up in the arteries to the point where the buildup can be critical in severity, causing chest pain, a heart attack, and sudden death,” Dr. Kevin Marzo, the chief of cardiology at NYU Winthrop Hospital, told Healthline.

The condition is also known to cause arm and jaw pain, difficulty breathing, and sudden fatigue. Women may also have more subtle symptoms of heart disease, including additional symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, dizziness, and sweating.

Atrial fibrillation, on the other hand, is an irregular heartbeat in the heart’s top chambers, which can result in poor blood flow. Typical causes include aging, high blood pressure, and weak heart muscles.

Both acute and long-term exposure to pesticides can damage the cardiovascular system and exasperate symptoms in both coronary heart disease and atrial fibrillation.

“Pesticides are associated with causing inflammation in the body, which can lead to plaque buildup and be the culprit of cardiovascular disease,” Marzo explained.

It can also affect coagulation — the process of blood thickening into a solid — and put a person at risk for blood clots, which can cause strokes, Marzo notes.

Hispanic and Latino workers may be exposed to higher levels of harmful chemicals compared to other ethnic groups, the researchers stated. Language barriers, less education, and access to fewer resources may be why.

This group may also lack sufficient job safety training, the study suggested. Some may be more likely to take hazardous jobs out of concern for their job security and immigration status.

If you’re around harmful chemicals on a regular basis, there are certain preventive measures you can take.

“First and foremost, I’d recommend anyone who works with pesticides regularly wear a respirator, which filters out the toxins and prevents them from being inhaled and absorbed,” Ghalchi advised.

Even if you aren’t currently having symptoms, Ghalchi recommends speaking with a preventative cardiologist if you’ve experienced long-term exposure to these chemicals.

They can help develop a strategy to prevent heart complications from occurring down the road.

A large study focusing on Hispanic and Latino workers found that exposure to pesticides in the workplace significantly increased the risk of heart disease.

The workers who were exposed to pesticides were twice as likely to have coronary heart disease and five times as likely to have atrial fibrillation. The participants who reported occupational exposure to metals were four times as likely to have atrial fibrillation.