Lead Poisoning

As crazy as our lives have been over the last two years, it is sad that some big news stories have been "missed" or quickly passed over by our major media outlets. There has been a lot of recent news and uproar about lead and lead poisoning in the last few months that I hope you have heard about.

In September and October of 2021, two more cities (this is on top of the infamous Flint, Michigan crisis) in Michigan have reported dangerously high levels of lead in their precious drinking water, a study was published that showed that over 50% of all US children have detectable lead levels in their blood and the CDC has announced that they are going to officially lower the acceptable level of lead in a child's blood. 

It's important to understand the nuances in the study about lead levels in children and how that relates to all of us and our environment.  This study was published in JAMA Pediatrics, and it showed that 50.5% of any child tested for lead (mostly on routine screenings) had detectable levels of lead in their body and in four states (Nebraska, Missouri, Michigan and Iowa) over 75% of children had detectable levels. The subtext  of this study is that these levels are considered totally normal by our current standards and that means that most of these children were most likely not even told that they had a problem because the level was not flagged as abnormal by the lab. Thus, if it is not flagged as abnormal most pediatricians are going to consider that a normal test and not alert the parents that there was some detectable lead in their children's blood stream. Thus parents were not given the opportunity to remediate their home environment of the possible old lead paint on their walls.. (In most states, elevated levels are reported to the health departments and are supposed to offer some form of help in remediation of the lead).

Tthe researchers of this current study stated,  “Any detectable lead level is abnormal and potentially harmful, particularly in young children.......a neurotoxin, lead has been associated with brain and nervous system damage, as well as learning, behavior, speech and hearing problems.” In fact, on the CDC website, while discussing lead levels in all ages it reads, "No safe blood lead level has been identified."

The CDC announced in October 2021 (most likely due to this blockbuster study) that they are going to lower the "alert" level of lead in a child's bloodstream from 5 to 3.5. even though the CDC says, "No safe blood lead level has been identified".  They are still allowing 0.1 to 3.5 micrograms of lead to be in the bloodstream before saying that it is abnormal or thus alerting the family and the health department.

Over the years the levels of what the CDC considered "normal" have come down. In 1991 the standard of what was considered "normal" for children was 10 and it was in 2012 that the level was lowered all the way to 5 .......and as mentioned now it just got lowered to 3.5. 

There are multiple confirmed medical studies that lead is very dangerous to a child's developing nervous system. A quote from the CDC website says that "Exposure to lead can seriously harm a child's health, including damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, and hearing and speech problems." The CDC feels that children are more susceptible to the effects of lead than adults because "of all people, young children face the most danger from exposure to lead because their growing bodies are more prone to harm and also children absorb lead more easily than do adults' bodies."

These days most of us are being exposed to lead through bits of old paint, contaminated dust, and in some cities drinking water (especially these two new towns in Michigan that have recently had serious issues) that passes through lead pipes.  There are other sources such as fishing sinkers, firearm ammunition and some imported toys, food and some dinnerware.   The fact is that levels of lead in all of our bodies now is SO much better than it was 10 years ago and even  better than the 1980's and this is a drop in the bucket compared to what our average lead levels/exposure was before 1978. 

Adults are not immune to this problem.  There are rules in many states that pediatricians are required to check young children for lead in their blood before a certain age but there are NO rules or standards for any teenager or adults. As I mentioned above, there is some thought that children absorb lead more easily than adults BUT that does mean that adults do not absorb lead. Have you ever had your blood lead level even though it is a simple blood test that can be done at any local lab?

Along these lines, there is solid data linking elevated blood lead levels in adults with serious and deadly consequences.  A study published in the journal Circulation in 2006 revealed that even a blood lead level as “low” as between 3.6 and 10 micrograms per deciliter was associated with 25 percent higher risk of death from any cause, a 55 percent higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease, an 89 percent higher risk of death from heart attack and two and a half times the risk of death from stroke.  Another study, published in 2010, followed nearly 10,000 patients with slightly elevated lead levels when they were over 40 years old, and it showed that having a lead level between 5 to 9 micrograms per deciliter was clearly associated with an increased risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer!! 

This is a good time to mention that if you own or live in a dwelling made before 1978, then you should get some lead swabs from the hardware store or online and check your home/walls/windows/doors for lead. You can also order water testing kits to check for lead in the drinking water as well. Ignoring the blood lead levels in adults and relying on other medications to mask and treat the consequences of lead and not doing such an inexpensive and easy blood test is not wise.  And,  a blood lead level is usually the tip of the iceberg of what is really going on in the bones and rest of your body. 

It is known medical fact that when you are exposed to lead (as you all were before 1978) that if the kidneys and liver cannot process the lead fast enough to get it out of your body, it is then ferreted away in our bodies. One the CDC website, it actually states, "Within our bodies, lead is absorbed and stored in our bones, blood, and tissues. It does not stay there permanently, rather it is stored there as a source of continual internal exposure. As we age, our bones demineralize, and the internal exposures may increase as a result of larger releases of lead from the bone tissue. There is concern that lead may mobilize from the bone among women undergoing menopause. Post-menopausal women have been found to have higher blood lead levels than pre-menopausal women." 

In other words,  lead is leaching out of the tissues EVERY day and causing damage to your bodies.  If you were born before 1978.... then it is almost guaranteed that you have at least some lead in your bones and body.  The bones can actually act as a storage of lead, parceling it out to the body over  time.

Thus, the weaker your (men and women) bones are (such as osteopenia or osteoporosis) then the more lead that is leached out every day which damages and poisons many of your precious organs and blood vessels.  So, maintaining your bone health with exercise, optimizing vitamin D and even optimizing your sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen and progesterone) can all be very important for your bones BUT can also prevent cancer, heart disease and stroke.

When the conventional medical community sees that a child has a lead level over 5 (or 10 before 2012) there is no medical treatment for them to do. They do not give them a drug nor a supplement to take unless the lead level gets to 45 (and around 80 in adults)! They inform the family to check their home for lead and/or alert the health department about the situation---and that is it.

In the Integrative Medicine community, we feel that we can evaluate the amount of lead stored in the bones and tissues by doing certain forms of heavy metal testing. The most common technique is called a urinary provocation challenge in which a patient is given a chelating substance that mobilizes the metals from the bones and tissues and then the urine is collected over a six-hour period after the administration of the chelating substance.  The urine is then analyzed for the amount of heavy metals that were provoked or "chelated out" and usually compared to what is collected in the urine before the chelating substance was given. As the CDC says, "No safe blood lead level has been identified”.

In fact,  there are techniques and treatments that try to remove the lead from the tissues or at least try to mop up the metals from the blood stream as they are leached out of our aging bones. The most powerful method is IV chelation therapy that uses an intravenous amino acid called EDTA. The more accessible and less controversial therapies are over the counter remedies containing  chlorella, spirulina, fulvic and humic acid.




American Heart Association. "'Safe' Blood Lead Levels Linked To Risk Of Death." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 September 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060918192146.htm>.