Lead danger with high levels, are there any nutritional therapies that ameliorate the damage?
March 19 2017 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D. certified natural health professional


Lead is a highly toxic metal or mineral that was used for many years in products found in and around the home. Lead may cause a range of health effects, from behavioral problems and learning disabilities, to seizures and death. Children 6 years old and under are most at risk, because their bodies are growing quickly. Lead can accumulate in the body as a body toxins.


Lead poisoning natural treatment

Clinical Toxicology. 2013. The administration of N-acetylcysteine reduces oxidative stress and regulates glutathione metabolism in the blood cells of workers exposed to lead. Department of Biochemistry, Medical University of Silesia , Zabrze , Poland. The aim of the study was to investigate whether treatment with N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is able to restore erythrocyte glutathione (GSH) content in workers exposed to lead. Additionally, we measured the leukocyte and erythrocyte activities of GSH-related enzymes, such as glutathione reductase (GR), glutathione-S-transferase (GST), and glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD), and estimated the influence of NAC administration on oxidative stress intensity, which was measured as the lipofuscin (LPS) level in erythrocytes. Blood lead levels decreased significantly in all groups receiving NAC compared to those in baseline. Erythrocyte GSH concentrations were significantly elevated in workers receiving 400 and 800 mg of NAC compared to those in baseline by 5% and 6%, respectively. Erythrocyte G6PD activity was significantly elevated in workers compared to those in baseline. By contrast, there were no significant differences in leukocyte G6PD or leukocyte and erythrocyte glutathione reductase (GR) activities before and after treatment. Leukocyte GST activities decreased significantly after treatment in workers. In conclusion, NAC decreases oxidative stress in workers exposed to lead via stimulating GSH synthesis.


J Toxicology Science. 2011. Elucidation of mechanisms underlying the protective effects of olive leaf extract against lead-induced neurotoxicity in Wistar rats.


EcoNugenics announced in 2008 the results of a collaborative study with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Research Service (ARS) that reveals the effectiveness and safety of modified citrus pectin (MCP; PectaSol) in dramatically lowering lead toxicity in children who were suffering from severe lead poisoning. The study was conducted with kids between the ages of five and twelve years old at the Department of Medicine, Children's Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Republic of China. It was published in the July/August 2008 issue of Alternative Therapies and Health Medicine, a peer reviewed journal. "We are very excited about demonstrating the effectiveness of modified citrus pectin," said principal investigator, Isaac Eliaz, M.D., L.Ac., M.S. "Children are most vulnerable to the long lasting health effects of lead exposure and now there is a safe way to address a very dangerous condition. This study lays the foundation for resolving a global health issue." Dr. Isaac Eliaz founded EcoNugenics, Inc. in 1995 with a commitment to offering dietary supplements and nutraceuticals based on the best of modern science integrated with the ancient wisdom of traditional and complementary therapies.

Lead exposure in children

Teenagers whose blood levels of lead were relatively high as children may be more prone to falls and injuries. The toxic metal is already known to be particularly dangerous for young children and fetuses, as even low-level exposure can damage the developing brain and cause learning and behavioral problems. The primary sources of lead exposure for most children are:
- deteriorating lead-based paint,
- lead contaminated dust, and
- lead contaminated residential soil.

   A new blood test that measures lead exposure and gives results in three minutes is made by privately held Magellan Biosciences Inc.. This lead exposure test improves on older ones that had to be sent to a laboratory and could take two weeks or more to deliver results. The new lead exposre test could be especially useful for health-care workers who test children in schools for lead exposure. Blood is drawn by pricking a finger and results are produced in three minutes. High levels of lead exposure can cause brain damage and other problems, particularly in young children.
About one-third of ADHD cases among U.S. children may be linked with tobacco smoke before birth or to lead exposure afterward. Even levels of lead the government considers acceptable appeared to increase a child's risk of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.


Lead in homes
Despite laws designed to rid homes of hazardous lead sources, many children with lead poisoning continue to live in unsafe conditions well after the danger is detected. In a study that followed 382 Wisconsin children with elevated blood lead levels, researchers found that it often took more than 18 months for the children's homes to be made "lead-safe." In only 18 percent of cases was the lead clean-up done within 6 months. In most U.S. states, cases of high lead levels among young children are reported to a state surveillance system. From there, it's usually the job of the local health department to inspect the child's home -- the most likely source of the lead exposure. Deteriorating lead-based paint, which is still present in some older homes and apartment buildings, is a chief source. If a home has hazardous lead levels, officials issue an order that the lead source be completely removed or otherwise addressed -- by covering lead-based paint, for instance. Lack of money is probably one reason driving the delays, according to the researcher. Even landlords, she noted, may not have the money to quickly clean up lead problems, and there's no national program to help them pay. American Journal of Public Health, February 2006.


Lead exposure in adults

It is commonly added to industrial paints because of its characteristic to resist corrosion. Industries with particularly high potential exposures include: construction work involving welding, cutting, brazing, blasting, etc., on lead paint surfaces; most smelter operations either as a trace contaminant or as a major product; secondary lead smelters where lead is recovered from batteries; radiator repair shops; and firing ranges.


MMWR Morbidity Mortality Weekly Rep. 201. Very high blood lead levels among adults - United States, 2002-2011.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over the past several decades there has been a remarkable reduction in environmental sources of lead, improved protection from occupational lead exposure, and an overall decreasing trend in the prevalence of elevated blood lead levels in U.S. adults. 


Health influence

Lead enters the body either through ingestion or inhalation. Once in the blood, lead is distributed primarily among three compartments blood, soft tissue (kidney, bone marrow, liver, and brain) and mineralizing tissue (bones and teeth). Absorption via the GI track following ingestion is highly dependent upon presence of levels of calcium, iron, fats and proteins.


Lead and blood pressure

High levels of lead in the blood and in bone seem to raise the likelihood of developing high blood pressure, but this may be related in part to low levels of calcium in the diet. Dr. Barbara S. Glenn, from the US Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, and colleagues show that blood pressure responds relatively quickly to changes in lead levels. The study involved 575 people in South Korea who had worked for an average of 8.5 years in a job that exposed them to lead. The authors found that as lead levels changed on a yearly basis, so did blood pressure. This suggests that it is not just the cumulative lead dose over a lifetime that influences blood pressure. In a second study, Dr. Howard Hu, from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, and colleagues looked at how dietary calcium affects the link between lead levels and blood pressure. Bone and blood lead levels were associated with hypertension only among subjects with low calcium intake, defined as less than 800 milligrams daily.


Lead exposure well within levels generally considered safe may harm mental health. Men and women in their 20s and 30s with the highest levels of lead in their blood are more than twice as likely to suffer from major depression as their peers with the lowest blood lead levels, while their risk of panic disorder was nearly five times greater. Archives of General Psychiatry, December 2009.


Lead Poisoning is a serious thing
Lead poisoning affects nearly every system in the body. The complete development of the blood-brain barrier in fetuses and very young children (up to three years of age) increases the risk of lead entering the nervous system. Low but chronic exposure can affect the developing nervous systems in subtle but persistent ways. In children, blood lead levels as low as 10 to 15 ug/dL can stunt growth rates, affect attention span, cause learning disabilities, lower IQ scores, impair hearing perception, and cause behavioral problems. In addition to damaging the nervous system, elevated blood lead levels can also affect the kidneys and reproductive system, and cause high blood pressure.


Diagnosis of lead poisoning is difficult
Lead poisoning can be a slow, agonizing process or a swift killer with symptoms ranging from vomiting to bulges in the skull that can fool doctors. Lead is toxic if ingested and is often found in older homes containing lead -based paint, which has since been phased out. Objects such as toys and charm bracelets may also contain the metal and pose a threat to children who swallow them. Children with mild but chronic lead poisoning may show few symptoms but can suffer permanent brain damage. Children with more significant acute lead intoxication can present with more severe symptoms such as irritability, lethargy, vomiting, seizures, and coma. Another lead poisoning symptom to watch for is bulging in the soft spots or seams in the still-growing skull of young children. Lead poisoning should also be considered by doctors when the patient exhibits vomiting, developmental delays, hearing loss, behavioral problems, seizures, or anemia.


Lead exposure and Brain tissue, mental decline
Cumulative exposure can cause degeneration of the brain's white matter, which may explain the  progressive decline in brain function in organic lead workers. The brain's white matter contains nerve fibers, with many of these fibers, or "axons," surrounded by substance called myelin, the source of the whitish appearance. Myelin acts as an insulator and it increases the speed of transmission of all nerve signals. The more a worker is exposed to lead on the job, as measured by the amount of the metal found in the bone, the worse the brain damage many years later, mainly in the form severe and extensive white matter abnormalities in the brain. Greater lead exposure is also associated with a smaller brain volume, while specific regions of the brain also shrink after greater lead exposure. Neurology, May 23, 2006.


Chin Med Sci J. 2013. Neurotoxicity and biomarkers of lead exposure: a review. Appropriate selection and measurement of lead biomarkers of exposure are critically important for health care management purposes, public health decision making, and primary prevention synthesis. Lead is one of the neurotoxicants that seems to be involved in the etiology of psychologies. Biomarkers are generally classified into three groups: biomarkers of exposure, effect, and susceptibility.The main body compartments that store lead are the blood, soft tissues, and bone; the half-life of lead in these tissues is measured in weeks for blood, months for soft tissues, and years for bone. Within the brain, lead-induced damage in the prefrontal cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum can lead to a variety of neurological disorders, such as brain damage, mental retardation, behavioral problems, nerve damage, and possibly Alzheimer's disease, Parkinsons disease, and schizophrenia. This paper presents an overview of biomarkers of lead exposure and discusses the neurotoxic effects of lead with regard to children and adults.


The higher the cumulative exposure to lead in everyday life, the lower scores on a variety of cognitive tests -- and the worse the mental deterioration over time. Dr. Marc G. Weisskopf, of Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues examined the link between mental skills and life-time lead exposure among a subgroup of subjects in the Normative Aging Study, a cohort of community-dwelling elderly men. None of the men studied had dealt with high levels of lead in their work. Lead concentrations in blood and bone were measured from 1991 through 1999. Cognitive testing was performed from 1993 through 2001. At the beginning of the study, the average blood lead concentration was 5 micrograms (g) per deciliter. The average lead concentration in the kneecap, measured by an x-ray technique, was 20 g per gram of bone mineral. As blood lead levels increased, vocabulary scores went down. Above concentrations of 10 g per dL, scores declined about 1 point for every g/dL increase in lead level. Epidemiology, 2007.


Exposure to lead in early childhood or in the womb can cause permanent brain damage that may even cause criminal behavior.


Additional mineral information
Aluminum in underarm deodorant may be involved in breast cancer.
Mercury may be found in high amounts in sushi from tuna
Strontium may be helpful for bones.


Lead contamination in multivitamin
2007 - Of 21 brands of multivitamins on the market in the United States and Canada selected by ConsumerLab.com and tested by independent laboratories, 10 multivitamin brands met the stated claims on their labels or satisfied other quality standards. Most worrisome, according to ConsumerLab.com president Dr. Tod Cooperman, is that one product, The Vitamin Shoppe Multivitamins Especially for Women, was contaminated with lead. The Vitamin Shoppe women's product contained 15.3 micrograms of lead per daily serving of two tablets. This amount of lead is more than 10 times the amount permitted without a warning in California, the only state that regulates lead in supplements, Cooperman said. On average, most American adults are exposed to about 3 micrograms of lead through food, wine and other sources, he said, and while 15.3 micrograms of lead per day may not be immediately toxic, the mineral is stored in the body and could build up to dangerous levels with time. "I would be concerned about a woman taking a multivitamin that contains 15.3 micrograms of lead per daily serving," said Judy Simon, a dietitian at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Among other effects, she said, lead can contribute to high blood pressure. David Morrison, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at The Vitamin Shoppe, said his company's products are all tested more than once, including screening for lead, and he questioned the new results. "It would be very surprising to me if this were actually true," he said. ConsumerLab.com also tested a vitamin marketed for dogs called Pet-Tabs Complete Daily Vitamin-Mineral Supplement for Dogs and found the product was contaminated with 1.4 micrograms of lead per tablet.


Q. I recently bought a bottle of women's multi which had the disclaimer "this product contains lead". I went back to the store and asked the clerk in the vitamin dept why, and he said it was because of the Vanadium. Is this true or is the lead caused by something else? Three pills gives 9 mcg of Vanadium. Would you suggest I return this and look for a brand that doesn't have lead? Do you know of some brands that do not have lead.
   A. Lead and vanadium are different minerals, we don't see the connection between the two. There is a small amount of lead in many products we ingest and we are exposed to lead through inhaling of pollutants. The amount of lead in the multivitamin could make a difference. If it is a tiny amount, it may not effect health, but if the lead is present in significant amounts, it could be harmful. MultiVit Rx does not have lead in it.


I've stumbled upon your website looking for information on amino acids and their effect on muscles. I am getting clean from a 25 year accumulation of lead toxins from my career (stained glass artist). I have come a long way in the past 3 years getting clean with IV Chelation of EDTA and some supplements. My body burden was 140 ug/g at the beginning, tested with a 12 hour urine challenge and now it's down to 37 ug/g. I haven't looked into amino acids as a help in my recovery and think it might be a missing link. The muscles in my thighs are still weak and flexibility and stretching them is still a challenge. I started physical therapy 5 weeks ago at a program at SDSU and it has made a great difference. I just don't understand why my legs are giving me such grief. I ride horses and haven't been able to straddle my saddle for the past 4 years without pain. The San Diego Clinic of Preventative Medicine is where I am receiving my IV. Having said that, I can't find anyone that is knowledgeable about lead poisoning in adults, at least to the degree I was contaminated, that is willing to talk to me. The internet has a great deal of info about lead poisoning in children and it's effect but not adults. My question is still about the amino acids and the missing link thing. Could it be? And can someone be tested for amino acids to find a deficiency?
    It is very rare to have an amino acid deficiency when consuming a normal diet although I don't know how lead poisoning influences the amino acid profile in a person. The values of amino acids in the blood change constantly based on one's diet. A 24 hour urine amino acid profile may be more useful but it would be difficult to determine treatment based on the results. The supplement creatine is useful for muscle strength and growth and it is made of 3 amino acids.


I really enjoyed your book on Melatonin several years ago. It solved my sleeping problems. I have been taking NOW Foods Bone Strength product for several months, but have discovered that the MCHA calcium in it comes from a bovine source and may contain lead. When I contacted NOW Foods about this, they said yes but no more than .5ppm which is the allowable amount of lead in California. Should I be concerned about this? If all our supplements had a small amount, then we could end up ingesting a big amount. Jarrow also have a good calcium / magnesium product called Bone-Up, but it also has bovine-sourced MCHA calcium. Would I be better to go for a calcium citrate product? I really look forward to your learned opinion.
    I am not concerned with these small amounts of lead in these products. However, it is a good idea to try different products from different companies and to also take a day or two off a week from a particular supplement.