Imbalances in thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels are associated with metabolic syndrome (MetS), and the underlying mechanism is partly in alignment with that of lead exposure causing MetS. Many studies have reported the association between lead exposure and MetS, but no study has considered the possibility of TSH mediating lead’s effect on MetS. Therefore, we aimed to examine the association between lead exposure and MetS considering TSH as a partial mediator. The data of 1,688 adults (age ≥19 years) from the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 2013 were analyzed. The prevalence of MetS in the Korean population was 21.9%, and the geometric mean of blood lead and serum TSH levels were 1.96 μg/dL and 2.17 μIU/mL, respectively. The associations between blood lead levels, serum TSH levels, and MetS were determined through a multiple logistic regression analysis. Blood lead levels were positively associated with high TSH levels (upper 25%) with an odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (CI) of 1.79 (1.24, 2.58) per doubled lead levels. The increase in blood lead and serum TSH levels both positively increased the odds of developing MetS. The OR of MetS per doubling of blood lead level was 1.53 (1.00, 2.35), and was not attenuated after adjusting for TSH levels. These findings suggest that higher levels of blood lead are positively associated with serum TSH levels and MetS. By exploring the role of TSH as a partial mediator between lead and MetS, we verified that lead exposure has an independent relationship with MetS, regardless of TSH levels.
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