Get the lead out or add five years to your brain age


I wrote recently about the booming industry in brain calisthenics, designed to keep our thought processes buffed. According to a recent AP article, many of we boomers might be well advised to adopt such a workout to offset the damages caused by our childhood lead exposure.

The article by AP's Malcolm Ritter cites research suggesting lead could cause our apparent brain age to exceed our actual age by as much as five years. Boomers could be especially prone to this effect due to the prevalence of lead-enhanced gasoline prior to its phasing out, which began in 1976.

One's lifetime lead load can be estimated by a scan of the shinbone. A 2004 study of 466 men showed a significant difference in brain function decline between those with high lead content in their shinbones and those without.

Of course, this is only one of many possible factors responsible for acuity decline, which also includes (for me) playing in the mist of DDT trucks as they sprayed our neighborhood, and chewing on balls of fresh tar.

The results are sobering in light of the lead-contaminated toys that have made recent news. Five extra years of mental alertness is a hell of a price to pay because we once decided to quell clattering valves by leading our gas.