UH, Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program study links pesticides on the job to heart disease

Researchers emphasize use of protective gear, reporting job exposure in your medical history

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Tina M Shelton, (808) 554-2586
Dir of Communications, Office of Dean of Medicine
Posted: Oct 14, 2019

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa study of data from the Kuakini Medical Center’s Honolulu Heart Program suggests pesticides may play a role in the development of cardiovascular disease. The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, finds that occupational exposure to high levels of pesticides may raise the risk of heart disease and stroke, even in generally healthy men. And it emphasizes the importance of using protective gear when handling pesticides on the job and including pesticide exposure in your medical history.

“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 L. Rodriguez, co-author of the study and professor of geriatric medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa.

The findings are the latest to emerge from the Kuakini Honolulu Heart Program, which enrolled more than 8,000 Japanese American men on Oʻahu between 1965 and 1968. Men enrolled in the study were 45 to 68 years of age and self-reported their occupation. The group has since undergone multiple examinations and researchers are also tracking all causes of death and some disease outcomes. Data on rates of heart disease and stroke were available through December 1999, for up to 34 years of follow-up.

Pesticides have a long half-life, so health effects may occur years after exposure. By analyzing different time lags, the researchers found that the maximum effect of exposure on heart disease and stroke risk was during the first 10 years.

“After following the men for 34 years, the link between being exposed to pesticides at work and heart disease and stroke was no longer significant. This was probably because other factors tied to aging became more important, masking the possible relation of pesticides and cardiovascular disease later in life,” Rodriguez said.

The study was conducted only in men of Japanese descent, and the results may not apply to women or other races.


“Previous studies have found that men and women may respond differently to pesticide exposure. One class of pesticides may give women heart attacks but not men and other pesticides may give men heart disease but not women. Hormones may also play a role in the impact of pesticide exposure and the development of cardiovascular disease,” said Zara Berg, (graduate of the JABSOM Translational Research Program) co-author of the study and adjunct science professor at Fort Peck Community College in Poplar, Montana.

Although the study was conducted solely in first or second-generation Japanese American men, similar results were found in Taiwan for high pesticide exposure in middle age.

The Kuakini Medical Center in Honolulu,Hawaiʻi; the National Institute on Aging, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; and the J. David Curb Memorial Fund supported the study.

Other study co-authors are James Davis, JABSOM Quantitative Health Sciences; Alan R. Katz and Robert V. Cooney, UH Mānoa Office of Public Health Studies; and Kamal Masaki, chair of the JABSOM Department of Geriatric Medicine.


For more information, visit: https://jabsom.hawaii.edu/university-of-hawaii-kuakini-honolulu-heart-progr