A new finding has emerged from historic data from the Kuakini Medical Center Honolulu Heart Program, which began to track the health of about 8,000 Japanese American men on Oahu in the mid 1960s: pesticide exposure may increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.

The University of Hawaii Manoa analysis, published in a Sept. 25 article in the Journal of the American Heart Association, found even healthy men could be at risk for cardiovascular issues.

“This study emphasizes the importance of using personal protective equipment during exposure to pesticides on the job and the importance of documenting occupational exposure to pesticides in medical records, as well as controlling standard heart disease risk factors,” said Beatriz Rodriguez, co-author of the study and professor of geriatric medicine at the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine.

A new survey of data from a cohort of Japanese American men between the 1960s and 1990s points to a possible link between occupational pesticide exposure and the development of heart disease. Zeynel Cebeci/Wikimedia Commons

The findings were based on more than three decades of data that tracked the cohort’s rates of heart disease and stroke.

According to the article, previous research from the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program has linked occupational pesticide exposure to death, but this new study is the first longitudinal examination of pesticide exposure in its relation to coronary heart disease.

The authors of the study concluded that health care providers must be cognizant of occupational health risks for people who work in close proximity to pesticides, such as workers in the industrial and agricultural sectors.

They urged people who work with pesticides wear protective equipment and regularly screen for heart disease.

Many of the pesticides commonly used in the late 1960s have since been banned, such as chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, heptachlor, hexachlorobenzene, and toxaphene.

Data from the Kuakini cohort of men continues to be examined long after the heart program wrapped up in 1999. In July, a separate UH study analyzed the data from the group of elderly Japanese Americans and found that insulin resistance may have unexpected benefits for elderly people.

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