Lead smelter workers who read more suffered less brain insult from lead exposure than did coworkers with the same toxic exposure. Kevin Begos reports.
Could reading be good for your health? If you work in a lead smelter, the answer may be yes, according to a study just published by the American Academy of Neurology.
We’re not talking about just being able to read warning signs, since it’s long been common knowledge that exposure to lead can damage brain function. The new study divided smelter workers in Canada into two groups: those with high and low cognitive reserve. That’s the brain’s ability to function in spite of damage.
The workers were tested for cognitive skills (how fast they think) and motor speed skills (that’s how fast they react, not how fast they drive). Then there was a test of reading ability.
The surprise was that despite similar levels of exposure to lead the groups showed very different results. The cognitive effects of lead were 2.5 times greater in workers with low reading ability. Scientists think the heavy reading could contribute to building more brain capacity and ease of using alternative brain circuits - a kind of back-up system in case of damage.
Still, the fancy book-learnin’ wasn’t a cure-all: exposure to lead impacted the motor speed of both groups in about the same way. So reading is good for you, but working in a lead smelter still isn’t.