A new study from Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, an American Heart Assn. journal, found that young adults free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease developed heart damage after five years of exposure to low-to-moderate levels of arsenic found in groundwater.
"Low-level arsenic exposure is associated with a disproportionate growth of the heart independent of hypertension and other traditional risk factors," said Dr. Gernot Pichler, the study's lead author, to CNN.
According to CNN, the study analyzed data from the Strong Heart Family Study, a study looking at cardiovascular risk factors among American Indians who rely on well water living in Oklahoma, Arizona, North and South Dakota.
Exposure to inorganic arsenic has been linked to various cancers, kidney damage, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, according to CNN. Organic arsenic, found in things like seafood, is not known to be toxic to humans.
According to the World Health Organization, the greatest threat to public health globally comes from groundwater. It is contaminated as it flows through rocks and minerals containing arsenic.
According to CNN, those who live in rural and some suburban areas in the U.S. can be exposed to untreated groundwater through the use of private wells.
"It is important for the general public to be aware that arsenic can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease," Pichler said to CNN. "Private wells are currently not regulated and people using private wells, including children and young adults, are not protected."
Urine samples were gathered from 1,337 adults and tested for arsenic levels. According to CNN, The size, shape and functionality of their hearts were assessed via ultrasound. None of the participants had diabetes or heart disease at the start of the study.
According to CNN, the researchers found when arsenic levels in urine doubled, the chance of developing left ventricular hypertrophy, rose to 47%.
"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," Pichler said to CNN.
He said the study's findings can apply to anyone living in a rural location with low or moderate levels of arsenic in their groundwater.