Exposure to arsenic in drinking water increases the risk of developing heart diseases among young adults, a new study has found.

Researchers warned that long-term consumption of water contaminated by arsenic, a naturally occuring element, might lead to the thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber which, in turn, can cause cardiac arrest and stroke.

They made the discovery after reviewing data from the Strong Heart Family Study, a paper that evaluated the risk factors of arsenic exposure among American Indians. In the paper, the levels of arsenic were measured in urine samples from over 1,000 adult volunteers. The size of the participants' hearts was also monitored using echocardiography.

None of the participants had diabetes or heart disease at the beginning of the Strong Heart Family Study.

Health Risks From Arsenic Exposure

The researchers found that the risk of disproportionate growth of the heart increases when the level of arsenic in the drinking water rises.

"The higher the arsenic content in drinking water, the greater the damage to the heart," said Gernot Pichler, lead author of the study and a visitor scholar at Columbia University.

According to the analysis, as arsenic levels in urine doubled, the chances of a patient experiencing a thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber rises to 47 percent. The likelihood increases to 58 percent among participants with high blood pressure.

"The stronger association in subjects with elevated blood pressure suggests that individuals with pre-clinical heart disease might be more prone to the toxic effects of arsenic on the heart," added Pichler.

When the walls of the heart muscle thicken, the organ has to work harder to pump blood. The condition is closely associated to the occurrence of cardiac arrest, stroke, and heart failure.

Arsenic In Unregulated Drinking Water

The researchers noted that majority of the people who are at risk of arsenic exposure are those who drink water from unregulated sources, including private wells. Many American Indian communities rely on groundwater which might be contaminated with arsenic. Pichler stated that those who are affected must be made aware of the potential adverse health effects of the toxic element to prevent exposure.

This is the first study to review the effects of arsenic among young American Indians in Oklahoma, Arizona, and North and South Dakota. The findings appear in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.

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