How to avoid lead poisoning
Although exposure to lead has decreased within the last two decades, it is still a concern and caution is advised, especially for children who have access to toys with lead-based paint or individuals who live in older homes. In some instances, lead can leach from the main water pipes and into the household water supply. If exposed to lead, eating a healthy diet can help reduce its absorption by the body.
What are the dangers of lead?When lead is consumed, research shows it can cause learning and behavior problems; as it accumulates, it can cause lasting problems with growth and development. Infants and children are at a higher risk because they absorb lead more quickly than adults, in addition to being more likely to put non-food items that might contain lead in their mouth.
How to avoid leadLead is most likely to be consumed as lead-based paint in and outside the home — peels, chips or cracks — and ends up being consumed because it is on toys or other surfaces that kids put in their mouth. When lead is present in the water system, it can become more difficult to avoid.
To minimize exposure to lead:
- always wash your hands and ensure children wash their hands with uncontaminated water before eating.
- do not use imported pottery or leaded crystal to store or serve food.
- use a filter on your faucet for drinking water, food preparation and cooking, and be sure to change the filter cartridge by the date printed on the package
- if a filter or bottled water are unavailable, use only cold tap water that has been thoroughly flushed from the pipes
- boiling water will not reduce the presence of lead
- regularly clean toys, pacifiers, floors, windowsills and other surfaces using liquid cleaners that control dust
- wipe or remove shoes before entering your home
- get your home tested for lead if it was built before 1978
Certain nutrients—like iron and calcium — have been shown to help protect the body against lead by binding with it and stopping it from being absorbed or stored. These nutrients are already a part of a healthful, balanced diet, so for most individuals, sticking to standard nutritional guidelines will go a long way in helping the body protect itself from high levels of lead.
Iron deficiency can make it easier for the body to absorb lead, so eating foods that are rich in iron may help slow lead levels from building up in the blood, especially in children who tend to absorb the heavy metal more quickly than older kids and adults.
Foods rich in iron include poultry, seafood, and iron-fortified soy products.
Vitamin C can also help the body absorb iron, so it's important to pair iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C, such as oranges, pineapples, or cantaloupe.
Similarly, research has shown calcium might make it harder for the body to store lead, especially in pregnant women.
Unfortunately, calcium can also keep the body from absorbing iron, so care should be taken to eat calcium-rich foods at separate times than predominantly iron-rich foods. While milk, yogurt, and cheese are all good sources of calcium, you can get it from non-dairy foods, too, like dark-green vegetables and fortified soy milk.
Much of the research on nutrition in lead is on the prevention of lead absorption (not on clearing the body of the metal), so these recommendations are mostly about helping individuals already exposed to lead stop lead levels from continuing to rise. For those with already high levels of lead in the body, however, more advanced treatment might be necessary in addition to environmental and dietary changes.
Chelation therapyFor those whose blood lead levels are confirmed around 45 μg/dL(micrograms per deciliter) or higher, doctors might recommend chelation therapy as a means to remove some of the lead that has built up in the body. This type of therapy involves administering a drug that will bind to (or chelate) lead, breaking particles down to make them less toxic and more easily removed from the body through urine or feces.
Several chelation drugs are available on the market, and each varies slightly in how its administered, when, and how well it works. What specific drug to use in any given case should be determined by a highly trained and experienced specialist.
Certain foods actually facilitate lead removal. Two of the best natural chelators are garlic and coriander.
GarlicA Bulgarian study published in 1960 found that workers at a car battery plant who took garlic extract three times a day for four weeks saw a significant decrease in their blood lead levels.
A study from 2012 confirmed how symptoms of lead poisoning decreased when subjects took garlic extract. Researchers concluded that garlic was “a safer medication” than the synthetic amino acid “for the treatment of mild lead poisoning.”
A big part of garlic’s lead removal secret is sulfur. According to researchers, sulfur oxidizes heavy metals such as lead, making them water soluble, so that they’re easy to pass.
Other sulfur-rich foods include onions, eggs, and cruciferous veggies such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Coriander/CilantroCoriander, better known in Northern America as cilantro, can remove heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, and lead from the body.
Coriander has always had a reputation for purification, but researchers have shown that it can remove heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, and lead from the body. In an animal study, coriander decreased lead absorption into bone (where heavy metals often settle). Researchers in Mexico developed a cilantro-based water filter that successfully removed lead and nickel.
If someone has significant heavy metal accumulation, coriander by itself may not be enough to do the job. Clinical protocols combine coriander with an algae called chlorella. Chlorella helps prevent retoxification—a scenario where metals that were previously residing deep in the tissues wind up back in the bloodstream, and stirs up symptoms of toxicity. Chlorella binds to the metals that coriander pulls out so the toxins make their way safely out of the body.
Other Natural SolutionsPectin is a soluble fiber found in a variety of fruits and vegetables, and the highest concentrations come from peaches, apples, and citrus. A study looking at children hospitalized with high blood lead levels found that consumption of modified citrus pectin increased lead removal.
Herbs such as dandelion root, and Echinacea are used in folk medicine to cleanse the blood of various toxic substances including heavy metals.