Image Credit: Pixabay. This image has been modified.

Adult Exposure to Lead

“Children in approximately 4 million households in the United States are being exposed to high levels of lead.” As I discuss in my video The Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure in Adults, “Despite the dramatic decline in children’s blood-lead concentrations over the decades, lead toxicity remains a major public health problem”—and not just for children. Yes, lead is “a devastating neurotoxin,” with learning disabilities and attention deficits in children beginning around blood lead levels of 10 mg/dL, which is when you start seeing high blood pressure and nerve damage in adults, as you can see at 0:41 in my video. But, the blood levels in American adults these days are down around 1 mg/dL, not 10 mg/dL, unless you work or play in an indoor firing range, where the lead levels in the air are so high that more than half of recreational target shooters have levels over 10 mg/dL or even 25 mg/dL.

In fact, even open-air outdoor ranges can be a problem. Spending just two days a month at such a range may quadruple blood lead levels and push them up into the danger zone. What if you don’t use firearms yourself but live in a house with someone who does? The lead levels can be so high that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises those who go to shooting ranges to take “measures to prevent take-home exposure including showering and changing into clean clothes after shooting…, storing clean clothes in a separate bin from contaminated clothing, laundering of non disposable outer protective clothing…and leaving at the range shoes worn inside the firing range,” among other actions. Even if none of that applies and your blood levels are under 10 mg/dL, there is still some evidence of increased risk of hand tremors, high blood pressure, kidney damage, and other issues, as you can see at 1:44 in my video. But what if you’re down around a blood lead level of 1 mg/dL, like most people?

“Blood lead levels in the range currently considered acceptable are associated with increased prevalence of gout,” a painful arthritis. In fact, researchers found that blood levels as low as approximately 1.2 mg/dL, which is close to the current American average, can be associated with increased prevalence of gout. So, this means that “very low levels of lead may still be associated with health risks,” suggesting “there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of exposure to lead.”

Where is the lead even coming from? Lead only circulates in the body for about a month, so if you have lead in your bloodstream, it’s from some ongoing exposure. Most adults don’t eat peeling paint chips, though, and autos aren’t fueled by leaded gas anymore. There are specific foods, supplements, and cosmetics that are contaminated with lead (and I have videos on all those topics), but for most adults, the source of ongoing lead exposure is from our own skeleton. I just mentioned that lead only circulates in the body for about a month. Well, where does it go after that? It can get deposited in our bones. “More than 90% of the total body lead content resides in the bone, where the half-life is decades long,” not just a month. So, half or more of the lead in our blood represents lead from past exposures just now leaching out of our bones back into our bloodstream, and this “gradual release of lead from the bone serves as a persistent source of toxicity long after cessation of external exposure,” that is, long after leaded gasoline was removed from the pumps for those of us that who were around back before the 1980s.

So, the answer to where the lead comes from is like Pogo’s We’ve met the enemy and he is us or that classic horror movie scene where the call is coming from inside the house.

The amount of lead in our bones can actually be measured, and research shows higher levels are associated with some of our leading causes of death and disability, from tooth decay and miscarriages to cognitive decline and cataracts. “Much of the lead found in adults today was deposited decades ago. Thus, regulations enacted in the 1970s were too late” for many of us, but at least things are going in the right direction now. The “dramatic societal decreases” in blood lead in the United States since the 1970s have been associated with a four- to five-point increase in the average IQs of American adults. Given that, a “particularly provocative question is whether the whole country suffered brain damage prior to the 1980 decreases in blood lead. Was ‘the best generation’ really the brain damaged generation?”

I’m such a sucker for science documentaries, and my favorite episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey was The Clean Room, which dealt with this very issue. Trivia: Carl Sagan was my next-door neighbor when I was at Cornell!

If you want to find out How the Leaded Gas Industry Got Away with It, check out that video. How the Lead Paint Industry Got Away with It is similarly scandalous. Lead in Drinking Water offers the modern-day tale of what happened in Flint, Michigan, and “Normal” Blood Lead Levels Can Be Toxic explores the impacts on childhood development.


I close out this extended video series on lead with information on what we can do about it:

Interested in learning more about lead being absorbed and released in our bones, and how calcium supplements may affect that process? See The Rise in Blood Lead Levels at Pregnancy and Menopause and Should Pregnant Women Take Calcium Supplements to Lower Lead Levels?.

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

 

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


19 responses to “Adult Exposure to Lead

Comment Etiquette

On NutritionFacts.org, you'll find a vibrant community of nutrition enthusiasts, health professionals, and many knowledgeable users seeking to discover the healthiest diet to eat for themselves and their families. As always, our goal is to foster conversations that are insightful, engaging, and most of all, helpful – from the nutrition beginners to the experts in our community.

To do this we need your help, so here are some basic guidelines to get you started.

The Short List

To help maintain and foster a welcoming atmosphere in our comments, please refrain from rude comments, name-calling, and responding to posts that break the rules (see our full Community Guidelines for more details). We will remove any posts in violation of our rules when we see it, which will, unfortunately, include any nicer comments that may have been made in response.

Be respectful and help out our staff and volunteer health supporters by actively not replying to comments that are breaking the rules. Instead, please flag or report them by submitting a ticket to our help desk. NutritionFacts.org is made up of an incredible staff and many dedicated volunteers that work hard to ensure that the comments section runs smoothly and we spend a great deal of time reading comments from our community members.

Have a correction or suggestion for video or blog? Please contact us to let us know. Submitting a correction this way will result in a quicker fix than commenting on a thread with a suggestion or correction.

View the Full Community Guidelines

  1. I was wondering about the association between dairy product consumption and breast cancer. I found a paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology (1) that analyzed a cohort of 52,000 women, finding increased risk of breast cancer in women consuming dairy products. However, the systematic reviews and meta-analyses that I have looked at refute this claim. (2,3) I am curious about this as there are no videos on NutritionFacts.org on the association between dairy product consumption and breast cancer risk. Can someone please clarify this?

    1. Fraser GE, Jaceldo-Siegl K, Orlich M, Mashchak A, Sirirat R, Knutsen S. Dairy, soy, and risk of breast cancer: those confounded milks. International Journal of Epidemiology. February 2020. doi:10.1093/ije/dyaa007
    2. Shin M-H, Holmes MD, Hankinson SE, Wu K, Colditz GA, Willett WC. Intake of Dairy Products, Calcium, and Vitamin D and Risk of Breast Cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2002;94(17):1301-1310. doi:10.1093/jnci/94.17.1301
    3. Zang J, Shen M, Du S, Chen T, Zou S. The Association between Dairy Intake and Breast Cancer in Western and Asian Populations: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Journal of Breast Cancer. 2015;18(4):313. doi:10.4048/jbc.2015.18.4.313

    Note: This comment is also posted under the video Dairy & Cancer.

    1. Vinay Kalva,

      But why would you want to consume milk?

      Because there are so many reasons not to. You can search “milk” or “dairy” on this site to read about the adverse health consequences. Dairy production is also not a sustainable food, degrades the environment and contributes to GHG emissions, is cruel, and contributes to development of antibiotic resistance.

      So why?

    2. Dr. T Colin Campbell did research over many years at Cornell showing how diary protein caused cancer to grow and stopping it stopped the cancer growth. You can find his talks on Youtube. His first book, The China Study, also talks about this.

      Jane Plant, a British scientist had breast cancer come back FIVE times before she discovered that her daily carton of yogurt, the only dairy product in her diet, was the cause. She stopped the yogurt after being told she had only months to live – and recovered. She has several books about her experience.

      I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, which is considered the most aggressive and deadly breast cancer. After going dairy free and having chemo the tumor shrunk considerably. But a couple of months later I must have forgotten what I’d read, because I started eating cheese as a snack. The tumor grew back VERY quickly.

      Another British woman discovered research showing how several off label drugs, most quite old and inexpensive, some specific supplements, as well as diet change, including no dairy helps block various pathways cancer has of fueling its own growth and spread. Her name is Jane McLelland and her book is How to Starve Cancer. I recommend it to anyone dealing with cancer. McLelland has now lived 15 or more years since her ovarian cancer metastasized to her lungs, using the approach she developed. Without what she learned and applied, she would have died years ago. She now helps people with many kinds of cancers, certainly breast cancers, and many are having excellent results. She is on Facebook and Chris Wark interviewed her a year or so ago on ChrisBeatCancer.com.

      There is an oncology group now in this country which implements a similar approach to starving cancer. They work through telemedecine, so you can have doctor and nurse visits from the privacy of your home, no matter what state you live in. This is CareOncology.com. They encourage you to work with a local oncologist as well, and to implement their program along with any other therapies you choose.

      1. Rebecca,

        That is exciting that you found a place that does telemedicine.

        Eventually, telemedicine would be what I would want.

        Not there yet.

        I am getting rid of my electric bill and oil bill soon.

        Medical care might be 3 years away for me.

        I think I used to feel bad that I spaced everything out but I am getting rid of all of my bills without going homeless and some of my friends who went the medical route did end up homeless and I realized that people chose which thing was important to them. I chose WFPB and working hard at not becoming homeless at the end.

        YouTube keeps me motivated every day. They gave me a documentary on homelessness in the USA and 40% of the homeless have jobs

        30% are over 50-years-old and of that group, it is often medical bills or natural disasters or apartments being knocked down.

        Addiction, mental health, and having been in prison are also on the list, but 40% just don’t make enough money to survive.

        No, that will not be me. But the reality of that happening all around me has motivated me to get rid of bills.

        I am going to be so happy to get rid of my winter oil bill and my summer a/c bill.

        And she lived happily ever after.

        1. So many places have criminalized homeless now.

          It is illegal to sleep in a vehicle.

          And it is illegal to sleep in a public space.

          They intentionally wake homeless people up the minute they fall asleep and ticket them and move them and then do the same thing at the next place all night long.

          And the shelters have 1200 people waiting lists.

          And the low-income housing has a 10-year waiting list.

          The psychology of how it damages people is so terrible.

          The make your own solar guy finally bought his own house and a Tesla off of his YouTube channel but he can’t sleep in the master bedroom. He hides in his house because he got so paranoid sleeping out on the street.

          Now, he is buying a house for his mother and sister but there is a devastatingly beautiful homeless community. I was watching a 64-year old whose house was destroyed in a natural disaster and she was saying that she had great peace but no direction in her life.

          In some ways, I already was feeling that way, but my “once and done” shore up my life project has given some direction.

          Medical care may come eventually if I can find a not-overly-authoritative doctor.

          Tesla Solar got rid of pushy sales and I LOVE it. They put every bit of the information online and offer human help understanding things but it is you and a computer screen to seal the deal. No pressure at all. I haven’t said it yet but them doing that is probably why I will go solar. I didn’t have to go through any traumatizing processes at all with them.

          It gives me hope that eventually, I will find a medical version of that.

  2. Thank you for this. Wondering what your thoughts are on the trace amounts of lead in the soil, because of which is now in plenty of fruits and veggies as well as turmeric, amla, chocolate and coffee etc. grown in that soil?

  3. more than half of recreational target shooters have levels over 10 mg/dL or even 25 mg/dL….might explain a lot: mass shootings, Alex Jones, etc.

  4. First, I love street art. It reminds me of the Brazil gutter art entitled “No Smoking”

    https://mymodernmet.com/2100445blogpost24744/

    Speaking of second-hand exposure.

    Yikes.

    One of my brothers and a sister-in-law and a worker and my law enforcement relatives, plus my fathers’ friends who visit go to shooting ranges way more often than twice per month.

    My worker repairs guns and makes his bullets and hunts and trains people in shooting.

    I am being exposed left and right and center.

    Yikes.

    Better get some more Modified Citrus Pectin.

  5. I haven’t fired a gun since I was a youth. Couldn’t stand the noise.

    Plus, I don’t have depth perception.

    Someone won a bottle of wine betting for me in a competition once way back when. The person who made the bet was so confident because I don’t have depth perception, but I might have had some angels surrounding me that day.

  6. How to get rid of lead? 60+ years old and went to functional doctor. 11-30-17 lead 0.6 and put on 75mg DMSA. 7-10-18 lead 18 and put on 1000mg DMSA. 12-31-18 lead 16 and put on 1000mg DMSA. On 6-28-19 lead 20 and put on 1000mg DMSA. Doctor could not explain. I’ve been vegan for 15+ years, eat organic as much as possible, live in 15 year old home, and had water tested and it was within limits. Don’t know source or how to remove from body.

  7. This is relevant to me as I have off the charts levels of lead after having a ‘forced urine’ test from a physician. From watching all the videos on this page it seems that only 2 cloves of garlic daily (raw) would really help chelate or remove the lead in my system? Could you just clarify that. I do have trouble sorting information logically…
    Thanks and best to you all. Really interesting data you provide.

  8. Do metal retainers, especially the ones that are permanent have traces of lead in the metal? I have Leah’s wondered if my permanent bottom retainer contains lead. I’ve had it over 20 years.

  9. I’d like to recommend a book by the Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Elisabeth Blackburn, The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer. I found it a real eye opener, as it referenced a number of studies with results I had not heard about and would not have expected. It combines easy to understand reports of research, followed by practical recommendations, many of them well worth considering, both for preserving one’s telomeres, and even lengthening them.

    The bulk of the book focuses on lifestyle, not on diet. However, as far as diet goes, the authors basically soft pedal a predominantly plant based diet with some fish, to get omega-3’s. Not surprising, as Blackburn did do at least two landmark studies with Dean Ornish on the activation of telomerase and the lengthening of telomeres in a group of men eating an almost entirely plant based diet with fish oil supplements after all. However, this study involved comprehensive lifestyle changes – and included not just diet, but exercise, meditation and other stress release practices, including social support groups.

    What has the most harmful effect on telomeres? Surprisingly, LEAD POISONING (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3694068/ ).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This