How to Lower Lead Levels with Diet: Breakfast, Whole Grains, Milk, Tofu?

How to Lower Lead Levels with Diet: Breakfast, Whole Grains, Milk, Tofu?
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Get any food in your stomach within a few hours of lead exposure and you can suppress the absorption by 90% or more, but which foods are particularly protective?

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The same amount of lead given 12 hours before a meal is absorbed at about 60%; so, most of the lead is absorbed. Three hours after a meal, most lead is absorbed; seven hours after a meal, most lead is absorbed. But, get some food in your stomach within a few hours of lead exposure, and you can suppress the absorption of some, or nearly all, of the lead you ingested.

That’s why it’s critical to “get the lead out” of our tap water. Now, it’s estimated that most of our lead exposure comes from food, rather than water, but it’s not what we eat; it’s what we absorb.  If 90% of the lead in food is blocked from absorption by the very fact that it’s in food, you could get 10 to 20 times more lead absorbed into your bloodstream consuming the same amount of lead in water drunk on an empty stomach.

And, since children empty their stomachs faster than adults, meal timing may be even more important. With little tummies emptying in as few as two hours after a meal, offering midmorning and midafternoon snacks in addition to breakfast and regular meals may cut down on absorption in a contaminated environment, making sure, also, of course, that children are washing their hands prior to eating.

So, do preschoolers who eat breakfast have lower levels of lead in their blood? In the first study of its kind, researchers found that, indeed, children who ate breakfast regularly did appear to have lower lead levels, supporting recommendations to “provide regular meals and snacks to young children” at risk for lead exposure.

Anything in food that’s particularly protective? Researchers tested all sorts of foods to find out, and it turns out that the meal effect “was probably largely due to its content of calcium and phosphate salts but lead uptake was probably further reduced by phytate which is plentiful in whole [grains].” Now, if calcium and phosphates are protective, you’d think dairy would work wonders. And, indeed, they started giving milk to lead workers ever since “calcium was shown to inhibit lead absorption in rats.” But, in humans, there’s something in milk that appears to increase lead uptake. It wasn’t the fat, since they found the same problem with skim milk.

“For over a century milk was recommended unreservedly to counteract lead poisoning,” but started to be abandoned in the middle of the last century, once we learned that the “overall effect [of milk may have been to actually] promote the absorption of lead from the intestinal tract.” What’s the agent in milk that promotes the absorption of lead from the gut? It may be the milk sugar, lactose, though “[t]he mechanism by which lactose enhances lead absorption is not clear.” Bottom line is that while “[i]n the past, milk was used as a prophylactic agent to protect workers in the lead industry. Recent studies…suggest that this practice is unjustified and may even be harmful.” So, maybe giving people whole grains may offer “greater protection against lead uptake,” though the most potently calcium- and phytate-rich food would be tofu.

Isolated soy phytonutrients may have a neuroprotective effect, at least in petri dish-type studies, where, if you add a little lead to nerve cells, you can kill off about 40% of them. But then, if you add more and more soy phytonutrients, you can ameliorate some of the damage. This is thought to be an antioxidant effect. If you add lead to nerve cells, you get a big burst of free radicals, but less and less as you drip more and more soy compounds. Okay, but even if this worked outside of a lab, cutting down on the toxic effects of lead is nice, but cutting down on the levels of lead in your body is even better. “Because tofu [tends to have a] high content of both calcium and [phytate, it’s] plausible that tofu may inhibit lead absorption and retention, thus reducing blood lead levels.” But you don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Tofu consumption and blood lead levels were determined for about a thousand men and women in China, and for every nine or so ounces of tofu consumed a week, there appeared to be about 4% less lead in their bloodstream. Compared to those eating less than about nine ounces a week, those that ate up to two and a half ounces a day only had half the odds of having elevated lead levels, and those consuming nearly four ounces a day appeared to cut their odds by more than 80%. Now, this was just a cross-sectional study, a snapshot in time; so, it can’t prove cause and effect. What you’d need is an interventional study where you randomize people into two groups, give half of them some food, and see if it drives lead levels down—which we’ll cover next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Universal Icons, Gan Khoon Lay and Thomas Helbig from the Noun Project.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

The same amount of lead given 12 hours before a meal is absorbed at about 60%; so, most of the lead is absorbed. Three hours after a meal, most lead is absorbed; seven hours after a meal, most lead is absorbed. But, get some food in your stomach within a few hours of lead exposure, and you can suppress the absorption of some, or nearly all, of the lead you ingested.

That’s why it’s critical to “get the lead out” of our tap water. Now, it’s estimated that most of our lead exposure comes from food, rather than water, but it’s not what we eat; it’s what we absorb.  If 90% of the lead in food is blocked from absorption by the very fact that it’s in food, you could get 10 to 20 times more lead absorbed into your bloodstream consuming the same amount of lead in water drunk on an empty stomach.

And, since children empty their stomachs faster than adults, meal timing may be even more important. With little tummies emptying in as few as two hours after a meal, offering midmorning and midafternoon snacks in addition to breakfast and regular meals may cut down on absorption in a contaminated environment, making sure, also, of course, that children are washing their hands prior to eating.

So, do preschoolers who eat breakfast have lower levels of lead in their blood? In the first study of its kind, researchers found that, indeed, children who ate breakfast regularly did appear to have lower lead levels, supporting recommendations to “provide regular meals and snacks to young children” at risk for lead exposure.

Anything in food that’s particularly protective? Researchers tested all sorts of foods to find out, and it turns out that the meal effect “was probably largely due to its content of calcium and phosphate salts but lead uptake was probably further reduced by phytate which is plentiful in whole [grains].” Now, if calcium and phosphates are protective, you’d think dairy would work wonders. And, indeed, they started giving milk to lead workers ever since “calcium was shown to inhibit lead absorption in rats.” But, in humans, there’s something in milk that appears to increase lead uptake. It wasn’t the fat, since they found the same problem with skim milk.

“For over a century milk was recommended unreservedly to counteract lead poisoning,” but started to be abandoned in the middle of the last century, once we learned that the “overall effect [of milk may have been to actually] promote the absorption of lead from the intestinal tract.” What’s the agent in milk that promotes the absorption of lead from the gut? It may be the milk sugar, lactose, though “[t]he mechanism by which lactose enhances lead absorption is not clear.” Bottom line is that while “[i]n the past, milk was used as a prophylactic agent to protect workers in the lead industry. Recent studies…suggest that this practice is unjustified and may even be harmful.” So, maybe giving people whole grains may offer “greater protection against lead uptake,” though the most potently calcium- and phytate-rich food would be tofu.

Isolated soy phytonutrients may have a neuroprotective effect, at least in petri dish-type studies, where, if you add a little lead to nerve cells, you can kill off about 40% of them. But then, if you add more and more soy phytonutrients, you can ameliorate some of the damage. This is thought to be an antioxidant effect. If you add lead to nerve cells, you get a big burst of free radicals, but less and less as you drip more and more soy compounds. Okay, but even if this worked outside of a lab, cutting down on the toxic effects of lead is nice, but cutting down on the levels of lead in your body is even better. “Because tofu [tends to have a] high content of both calcium and [phytate, it’s] plausible that tofu may inhibit lead absorption and retention, thus reducing blood lead levels.” But you don’t know, until you put it to the test.

Tofu consumption and blood lead levels were determined for about a thousand men and women in China, and for every nine or so ounces of tofu consumed a week, there appeared to be about 4% less lead in their bloodstream. Compared to those eating less than about nine ounces a week, those that ate up to two and a half ounces a day only had half the odds of having elevated lead levels, and those consuming nearly four ounces a day appeared to cut their odds by more than 80%. Now, this was just a cross-sectional study, a snapshot in time; so, it can’t prove cause and effect. What you’d need is an interventional study where you randomize people into two groups, give half of them some food, and see if it drives lead levels down—which we’ll cover next.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Icons created by Universal Icons, Gan Khoon Lay and Thomas Helbig from the Noun Project.

22 responses to “How to Lower Lead Levels with Diet: Breakfast, Whole Grains, Milk, Tofu?

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  1. You do not have any videos discussing fluoride which is in much of the water supply. I wanted to suggest this for a future video.
    I am also wondering if you will be doing the research course again or perhaps as a webinar as I was not available on the day you held it.
    Thanks




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  2. Dr. G, posting preventative/integrative medicine on a three day weekend holiday. That’s dedication… Thx~

    And, I second the request for fluoride, next. Maybe a segment on long-term exposure fluoride damage and (a now) – solution and mitigation.

    When you consider that most of us, down to 30~20 years old, have been exposed to some of the worst evil that human kind has negligently and/or recklessly done to itself during the Dark Ages of this side of caveman science, through exposures to high concentrations of lead, fluoride, mercury, aluminum, arsenic, etc, phthalates/plasticizers, excitotoxins, hydrogenateds, and the long list of questionable chemical cocktails grandfathered in, for short-term fiscal health, well — we’re all thankful for folks like Dr. Greger… (maybe we could have a second, Better Memorial Day for heroes like him, and those that contribute to human evolution?)




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  3. What about lead being absorbed from showering? The water in my city is very pure and free from
    heavy metals, but the pipes under the house and neighborhood are very old, corroded, and full of
    lead, as is the water coming out of the shower and faucet sinks. Do humans absorbed much lead
    through skin contact? Should it be a concern? I can not afford home filtration water system and
    did stop drinking the tap water here many many years ago.

    Thanks.




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    1. I don’t think you would have much lead , You most likely don’t have lead pipes but galvanized pipes which are a real problem , as the zinc in the galvanized pipes leach lead. However, if you measure the lead in water that has been standing in the pipes overnight lets say , you will get high readings of lead . If you run the water for say 20 seconds before drinking or showering , most likely not much lead in that water.
      What is even worse is some copper and some galvanized pipes is a bad combination , as the water from copper to galvanizied will react with each other and can cause high readings.




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      1. Re: lead and copper pipes reacting with each other, . . yes, that’s correct. They do. However any plumber knows that this situation is mitigated by using a dielectric union when sweating copper to galvanized pipe. This situation has been mitigated this way for decades and shouldn’t be a problem if you have a qualified plumber.




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    2. Brenda,

      In terms of absorption of lead from your water see: https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=7&po=6. This is the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry a part of the CDC and they suggest that lead absorption, except for certain organolead compounds, is not an issue on the skin…. however….. you might want to note a study that looked at other lead compounds and found otherwise….https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3238426….

      I think it’s prudent to both test your water and know if indeed lead is an issue and if it is….. take action. Get a loan/grant or whatever it takes to install a filter system on your whole home as even small amounts clearly affect your neurologic system adversely.

      Dr. Alan Kadish moderator for Dr. Greger




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  4. unrelated question:
    what about fasting? what’s dr.greger’s opinion on it? what does the science suggest? i couldnt find any article on the topic here on the website.




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    1. Haku, Dr Goldhamer and his large staff at TrueNorth Health Center in Santa Rosa, CA have over 30 years of experience in turning around serious health issues in thousands of patients through medically supervised water only fasting, juice fasting, and whole foods plants only diet with no added sugar, oil or salt. You will find the website at http://www.healthpromoting.com.

      We spent 10 days there last October, with positive results for my husband. I told my doctor (Dr Klaper) there that I wasn’t much of a challenge for him, since I already eat that way. My husband brought his blood pressure, weight and other markers down to normal, just eating their food, without fasting.

      We met people who had turned serious health issues around and were back for a tune-up, or just a restful vacation.




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    2. Hi Haku: We don’t have any content on fasting at the moment. Stay tuned… it’s a topic that’s requested often, so I’m sure it’s on Dr. G’s radar.




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  5. Is this why my children are smashing through school at a frightening rate? Removing lead with lots of snacks and lots of tofu? … I’ll take it.

    Someone tried to tell me soy was “toxic” a few days ago… Wrong way round, kiddo.




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    1. Ray- thank you for your comment. and glad to read how well your children are doing in school, thanks at least in part for what you’re indicating is a healthy diet including tofu. I’m hoping you shared some science with the someone who said soy was toxic. If that someone will listen, Dr. Greger has several science-based videos refuting the myths about soy. You may know all this information, but next time someone comments displaying ignorance about soy this would be a good response: https://nutritionfacts.org/topics/soy/




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  6. I had mentioned in an earlier blog using phytate for chelating lead and other toxic metals in water. Phytate are naturally present in whole grains, hence should bind toxic metals in cereals. Tap water can be freed of lead, iron and aluminum added as a flocculating agent during water processing, by adding a small amount or about 50 mg IP-6 powder per quart of water. Fluoride in water and in tea can be complexed as less toxic fluoroborate by simultaneously adding about 10 mg boric acid powder ( still sold in some drugstores; non toxic boric acid also restores arthritic joints) then boiling the water in a glass or porcelain pot to expel volatile organics, chlorine, etc. Adding a teaspoon of prerinsed granular fish tank charcoal ( preboiled and decanted to wash out fine charcoal) before boiling further destroys microbes and viruses and also removes non volatile organics like most drugs and metabolites, estrogens and mimics, pesticides, plasticisers etc. After cooling and decanting you have quadruple purified drinking water cleaner than most so called Spring waters, actually transported Maine river or tap water or most costly cartridge purified waters. The charcoal can be left in the pot and reused about 10 times.




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    1. Could you explain the chemistry of phytate binding lead? I assume that phytate’s negative charges bind to lead’s positive charges, correct? So if phytate in, say, grains or beans or nuts or seeds we eat binds the lead we ingest, does that necessarily mean that the lead then passes through and out our body without getting into our bloodstream?




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      1. Hi livewire Google The Boron Conspiracy to get details on boron as an oral supplement. It was so effective in restoring arthritic joints in Australia, the local pharmas and medical societies had it banned and the Doctor selling it OTC was fined for malpractice. Similarly borax or boric acid is still restricted in the EU as too toxic, since it is used as an ant and cockroach poison. 20 Mule brand borax is 99% pure and still used as a detergent booster in the USA. Actually borates are no more toxic than common table salt or baking soda per MSDS data. Boric acid was formerly used as a mild eye wash.
        Herman




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  7. My name is Roland Leger. I’m a medical doctor practicing family medicine since 1982 in the city Ottawa, Canada. I have read “How not to die” by Dr Michael Greger and “The Plant Paradox” by Dr Steven Gundry. On the subject of “whole grain” the 2 books contradict each other. This can be very confusing for any patients. I was wondering if Dr Michael Greger and Dr Steven Gundry ever meet and talked about “whole grain” and if they could come to an agreement on that specific subject??




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    1. Dr Roland Leger,

      I appreciate your wanting to help your patients clear the confusion in the nutrition world.

      If you will watch the introductory videos on http://www.nutritionfacts.org you will see how well Dr Greger vets the research he quotes.

      There are many doctors and others who write books and are less thorough in their researching, or in checking to see who paid for the research. Often research is not what it seems. When you check to see who paid for it, and sometimes who is behind the organization that paid for it, you can see that it is simply marketing in disguise. At other times, the research has simply been misquoted and actually shows the opposite.

      It’s a minefield out there. After a lifetime (I’m 74) of reading health books and trying my best to eat well, and studying to become a nutritional therapist, I have found the doctors and others who have the greatest credibility are people like Dr Greger, Dr Esselstyn, Dr Ornish, T Colin Campbell, PhD, Dr John McDougall, Dr Goldhamer, and others who advocate a whole foods plant based diet, including whole grains.




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