“Normal” Blood Lead Levels Can Be Toxic

“Normal” Blood Lead Levels Can Be Toxic
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What are the health consequences of even “low” levels of lead exposure?

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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.

“By the 1950s, lead—a dangerous neurotoxin that was once buried deep in the ground, far [far] away…—had polluted the entire planet,” thanks to leaded gasoline. I mean it’s hard to imagine “a better [way] for maximizing population exposure to a poison than to have it emitted by a ubiquitous mobile source…to line the surfaces of our [neighborhoods] with it.”

“Overall, about 5 million metric tons of lead was deposited….” A single busy street could receive more than a ton a year, and the lead just built up decade after decade, but at least—thanks to regulations starting in the 70s—we stopped spewing so much into the air, and as lead use dropped, so did the levels of lead in our blood, resulting in a 98% reduction in the percentage of young children with elevated blood lead levels. Of course, the term “elevated” is relative.

Prior to 1970, lead toxicity was defined as 60 (μg/dL) or higher, but then, they dropped the definition to 40, then 30, then 25, then 10, as lead levels “previously thought to be safe or inconsequential for children [were] consistently shown to be risk factors” for cognitive and behavioral problems.

Currently, elevated is considered more than 5. But under 5, your lead level is considered non-elevated, normal. But, what does having a “normal” lead level mean?

“[V]irtually all residents of industrialized countries have bone lead stores that are several orders of magnitude greater than those of our pre-industrial ancestors.” If you go to a museum and test the lead levels of ancient skeletons buried a millennium ago, they have a thousand times lower lead level compared to people today, “which indicates the probable existence within most Americans of dysfunctions caused by poisoning from chronic, excessive overexposure[s] to industrial [lead].”

This is a graphical representation, where each dot represents 40 micrograms of lead. The amount of lead in the right figure represents overtly symptomatic lead poisoning, where you might be doubled over in pain, whereas the middle figure is the lead in a typical American citizen, and the left figure is how much they found in pre-industrial bodies. See, what the medical and research community [has] failed to understand is they’d just been looking at these two figures—people with lead poisoning and those of us down at normal levels, so-called “very low levels.” But what these new data, on what’s natural for our species, shows is that typical levels of lead in humans are quite definitely not very low at all, “but instead constitute grossly excessive 1000-fold over-exposure levels.”

The bottom line is that “[n]o level of lead exposure appears to be ’safe’ and even the current ’low’ levels of exposure in children are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits,” including reduced IQ. But hey, it could have been a lot worse if we hadn’t started restricting leaded gas. Thanks to falling blood lead levels starting in the 70s, preschoolers born in the 90s were like two to five IQ points smarter than kids, like me, born before 1976. So, when we see our kids and grandkids being such whizzes at technology that it’s hard to keep up with them, a small part of that may be them not suffering as much lead-induced brain damage as we did. And, what that means for the country is potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of improved productivity, because our kids are less brain-damaged.

If that seems like a lot for just a few IQ points, what you have to realize is that even a small shift in average IQ could result in a 50% increase in the number of the so-called “mentally retarded,” millions more in need of special education and services.

So, the “[r]emoval of lead from gasoline in the United States may be…one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century, but it almost did not happen.”

“Tremendous pressure by the lead industry…was brought to bear to quiet, even intimidate, researchers and clinicians who [dared report on or identify] lead as a hazard.” Decent “scientists and health officials faced enormous opposition but never lost sight of the mandate to protect public health.”

In this personal perspective, two of the “idealistic” young employees at the newly-formed EPA, who played key roles in the fight, recount how “naive [they were] to the ways of Washington.”

“Our youth was…used against us,” they recall. “[Their] inexperience was cited as a reason for rejecting [their] proposals. In retrospect, however, their “youth and inexperience” may have helped them “to succeed” in taking on a billion-dollar industry. “We were too young to know that regulating lead in gasoline was impossible.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

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.

“By the 1950s, lead—a dangerous neurotoxin that was once buried deep in the ground, far [far] away…—had polluted the entire planet,” thanks to leaded gasoline. I mean it’s hard to imagine “a better [way] for maximizing population exposure to a poison than to have it emitted by a ubiquitous mobile source…to line the surfaces of our [neighborhoods] with it.”

“Overall, about 5 million metric tons of lead was deposited….” A single busy street could receive more than a ton a year, and the lead just built up decade after decade, but at least—thanks to regulations starting in the 70s—we stopped spewing so much into the air, and as lead use dropped, so did the levels of lead in our blood, resulting in a 98% reduction in the percentage of young children with elevated blood lead levels. Of course, the term “elevated” is relative.

Prior to 1970, lead toxicity was defined as 60 (μg/dL) or higher, but then, they dropped the definition to 40, then 30, then 25, then 10, as lead levels “previously thought to be safe or inconsequential for children [were] consistently shown to be risk factors” for cognitive and behavioral problems.

Currently, elevated is considered more than 5. But under 5, your lead level is considered non-elevated, normal. But, what does having a “normal” lead level mean?

“[V]irtually all residents of industrialized countries have bone lead stores that are several orders of magnitude greater than those of our pre-industrial ancestors.” If you go to a museum and test the lead levels of ancient skeletons buried a millennium ago, they have a thousand times lower lead level compared to people today, “which indicates the probable existence within most Americans of dysfunctions caused by poisoning from chronic, excessive overexposure[s] to industrial [lead].”

This is a graphical representation, where each dot represents 40 micrograms of lead. The amount of lead in the right figure represents overtly symptomatic lead poisoning, where you might be doubled over in pain, whereas the middle figure is the lead in a typical American citizen, and the left figure is how much they found in pre-industrial bodies. See, what the medical and research community [has] failed to understand is they’d just been looking at these two figures—people with lead poisoning and those of us down at normal levels, so-called “very low levels.” But what these new data, on what’s natural for our species, shows is that typical levels of lead in humans are quite definitely not very low at all, “but instead constitute grossly excessive 1000-fold over-exposure levels.”

The bottom line is that “[n]o level of lead exposure appears to be ’safe’ and even the current ’low’ levels of exposure in children are associated with neurodevelopmental deficits,” including reduced IQ. But hey, it could have been a lot worse if we hadn’t started restricting leaded gas. Thanks to falling blood lead levels starting in the 70s, preschoolers born in the 90s were like two to five IQ points smarter than kids, like me, born before 1976. So, when we see our kids and grandkids being such whizzes at technology that it’s hard to keep up with them, a small part of that may be them not suffering as much lead-induced brain damage as we did. And, what that means for the country is potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of improved productivity, because our kids are less brain-damaged.

If that seems like a lot for just a few IQ points, what you have to realize is that even a small shift in average IQ could result in a 50% increase in the number of the so-called “mentally retarded,” millions more in need of special education and services.

So, the “[r]emoval of lead from gasoline in the United States may be…one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century, but it almost did not happen.”

“Tremendous pressure by the lead industry…was brought to bear to quiet, even intimidate, researchers and clinicians who [dared report on or identify] lead as a hazard.” Decent “scientists and health officials faced enormous opposition but never lost sight of the mandate to protect public health.”

In this personal perspective, two of the “idealistic” young employees at the newly-formed EPA, who played key roles in the fight, recount how “naive [they were] to the ways of Washington.”

“Our youth was…used against us,” they recall. “[Their] inexperience was cited as a reason for rejecting [their] proposals. In retrospect, however, their “youth and inexperience” may have helped them “to succeed” in taking on a billion-dollar industry. “We were too young to know that regulating lead in gasoline was impossible.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

52 responses to ““Normal” Blood Lead Levels Can Be Toxic

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      1. While I do agree that politics is not the preferred topic here in most cases, this time might be the exception, but I hope that respect and courtesy remain. The lead (pronounciation) author of one of the studies cited in this video was 2016 Green Party Presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein. Personally, I would love to see all the US political leaders aligned with Dr. Greger’s advocacy for healthy food, a clean environment, and compassionate ethics — let alone supportive of science — by also being published scientific leaders themselves. Perhaps this is a good time to reflect on our possible choices in leaders as well as our food choices.




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      2. Continue to play in your sandbox…but don’t come a whinin’ when you wake up one day and find it bulldozed away. But then you really don’t want to attract the Koch brothers parrots either.




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      1. Doug: thanks for doing so. I agree with Ruth T. This is not a place for political discussion or insulting people. We’re here to learn the facts about nutrition & share it with others, no matter what their political leanings may be.




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    1. Ralph, I am impressed at your interest in the facts about good nutrition, and your openness to new information. As you might have guessed, many beliefs are represented among those who come here in search of research-based, scientific studies– not merely opinion. Whatever our political beliefs, everything begins with a healthy mind and body– the major gift of the whole-foods, plant-based diet.




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      1. And this is another aspect of our “set in stone” Word Press application we now have for these comments.

        In the olden thymes not only could we edit our own entries, but trollish or political commentary (or sales junk) could be swiftly and painlessly removed from the comments under each video. Moderators had that power, and it was used.

        Apparently now NO ONE can remove or edit anything ever posted on this Word Press.

        I fail to see the advantage of that.

        I take my leave. I may watch videos, but this has degenerated* and there appears to be no concerns or authority who can fix it.

        I take my leave of commenting in Word Press with no editing options. It was fun when it was fun and informative, but I’m not going to sit here and watch trolls and political aspects take over.

        *Now all the threads under the older videos are susceptible to such corruption and trolling. Is a real pity because there are some great comments and discussions by Dr. Greger and other Physicians and other students/practitioners of healthy lifestyles embedded there, and I often recommend older videos as valid information and reference points. I have recommended the comments sections and cut/shared from them in the past. It was that good.

        All that may now become polluted with angry politics and trolls. Very disheartening because of the detraction and distraction from these valuable truths and nutritional science discoveries and otherwise hidden knowledge that Dr. G works so hard to bring to us. NOW it’s all wide-open for the detractors and commercial interests to muddy the waters. And to re-establish the nutritional confusion and befuddlement that is rampant in our Western Society, to dilute the message of NF.O.

        I don’t know how that can be avoided given this irreversible Word Press situation.

        Thanks to Dr. G, and all the old regulars and those with open-minds asking honest questions. You may endeavor to persevere, but I’ve other dragons to slay. I do hope that things improve here for the betterment and great health of all.

        Anyone can find me on FB or any of the dozens of other forums where I’m active. WPvelo at Gmail is my email (dotcom).

        aloha




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        1. One of the great things about this website is that it is uncensored unlike many of the the “health” websites out there. If you can’t handle a few political jabs or screen size issues or whatever, oh well, your loss.




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        2. Too bad you feel that way. There are definitely issues I’m not at all fond of it either, but I don’t see them as fatal flaws when there is otherwise so much good. We’ll miss you.




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  1. I find it hard to understand why the screen size problem has not been fixed. No other internet site I have visited has this problem.

    Advising us to change our settings is unhelpful. Why should anyone change their computer settings which work perfectly well for every other site just to view this one? If NF wants to attract more visitors it needs to be client focussed not just pander to the wishes of website developers who are more interested in cool technology than delivering a good client experience. I visit NF less and less now because it is such a difficult viewing experience.




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    1. I wonder what you mean by screen size problem? I have viewed this website and video on both an old laptop and an iPad, in different browsers, and it looks fine on both. So it does not appear to be a general problem. The video can also be expanded to full screen on both. What browser version are you using and what are you seeing as a problem? Perhaps then someone from nutritionfacts.org could advise you.




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      1. Yes .. going to full screen solved my problem with screen fit .. I just don’t know why I had to file a complaint to resolve it and didn’t think of it myself?? Maybe the lead from my childhood?




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      2. I use chrome on my laptopand the new format now means that I can’t view the whole video, because several inches of the screen is taken over by the search option and the video library, podcast option bar. So I’d say it is a general problem, I just haven’t bother to comment about it “until now”, and only because your comment to TG is a tad dismissive.




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        1. BBKing, I’m using Chrome on my Macbook and have the same issue, but clicking on the square in the lower right-hand corner of the viewing screen expands the video into full screen and eliminates the problem. Have you tried that?

          I’m assuming your “until now” was a reference to Dr. Greger’s catch phrase – if so, very funny!




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          1. Opps, so simple now you’ve said it!

            Shame on me, as I know to do that on YouTube. My cognition skills are not always up to scratch, but it’s a worry that I fail to transfer a simple task I do on one site, yet don’t connect the dots on another site. However, on bad days I’ve even forgotten how to bookmark, which was very distressing the first time.

            You assumed right, so you didn’t make an ass out of you or me!




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    2. I use both chrome and microsoft edge browsers and they both display fine, with no cropping of the video. The only exception is when the browser window is sized such that the ratio of the width of the browser window is very large relative to the height. In that relatively uncommon case, simply resizing the browser window by decreasing it’s width fixes the problem and brings the full extent of the video fully into view.




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    3. TG & anyone else having difficulty with screen size: there’s no need to change your settings. Just click once on the full screen option (lower right next to the HD button) & that should eliminate any screen size issues. Then just click once on the full screen button again when you’re done or hit Escape. I hope it’s helpful.
      I used to watch the older videos that way, too. I’ve always liked watching them in full screen mode.

      Am looking forward to the next installments about lowering lead levels in the body. I see one of them is on chlorella, cilantro, tomatoes & moringa. An Indian woman was talking to me about moringa just this morning. She told me about a local Indian store close to my office where I can buy the leaves to either grind them up into a powder or make chutney with them. I’ve never heard of it before, so I’m intrigued to find out if it’s effective for removing lead from the body.

      Thank you, Dr. G, for disseminating reliable information on this crucial topic of lead poisoning! You’re one of the few sane voices in this sometimes senseless world we live in.




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      1. I agree, Moringa is an amazing plant, and one grown all over the world in the most challenging hot climates, but it can also be grown on the dry side as a pot plant elsewhere and put outside in the summer, the seeds sprout easily. I live in Florida and it grows like a weed here in the hot summers when most other greens refuse. All parts of the tree are edible and extremely nutritious, a veritable grocery story of options. I am most fond of the “drumsticks”, immature seed pods much like asparagus, the leaves are an acquired taste but even if you aren’t fond of them, they can always be air dried and powdered in the blender to add nutrition to anything!




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      2. Thanks Nancy but it didn’t work for me though.

        However, the problem now seems to have resolved itself. I logged on again 10 minutes ago and the video displayed perfectly. I have no idea why.

        Thanks again.




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    4. TG, You don’t need to change anything in Settings. Just scroll down the video to the lower right hand corner and click the icon for enlarging the screen. That will make it fit your screen. When it’s over, simply hit Escape, or whatever your device has for that purpose.




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      1. Thanks Rebecca. Didn’t work for me though.
        However, when I logged on for the second time this morning, the video displayed perfectly. It didn’t an hour ago but I don’t know what if anything changed in that short time. Yesterday and earlier this morning, I did try the various hacks suggested here by helpful posters like you but none seemed to work at the time. Now everything is fine – perhaps the NF team made some changes or I changed the browser settings through dumb luck so it now works first time.
        Cheers




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    5. Several folks have pointed out that fullscreen viewing is one solution. If that doesn’t meet your needs, perhaps changing the zoom on your browser fits your style better. On most browsers, pressing Ctrl – (hyphen) will decrease the zoom amount step-by-step for the whole page, including the video. Ctrl + (plus) increases the zoom.
      Hope this helps.




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      1. Thanks Charlie. I have Chrome on all 3 laptops but that didn’t seem to work for me.
        However, as I mentioned to Rebecca a moment ago, the problem seems to have resolved itself and the video displays perfectly on at least one laptop now. It didn’t an hour ago Must check the others.
        Thanks again for your helpful suggestion.




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  2. Thank you for this very important information about how lead polluted we all are. Can you tell us what to do about getting lead to leave our bodies and how to avoid putting more in? Does hair analysis for metals give us good clues as to our pollution levels? I read that apple peels help remove heavy metals, however, most apples are sprayed with a toxic wax that cannot be washed off so they may do more harm than good. sjc




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    1. Sara, you asked about lead’s affect on bones. As one of the moderator’s for NutritionFacts.org, I found this article helpful: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1964893/ titled Baring Bone’s Secrets: Understanding How Lead Exposure Affects Skeletal Development:
      While more focus is on lead’s affect on the nervous system, it seems the exact way lead affects bones is still being explored “lead is known to delay fracture healing and may contribute to osteoporosis. Yet the exact mechanism by which lead affects normal cellular functions in bone and cartilage is poorly understood” The article references the finding that lead may affect cartilage development which may then negatively affect bones. I hope you find this helpful.




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  3. Dr. Gregor,
    Can you turn your attention next to mercury in vaccines? Is there a similar thing going on, with all the same puzzle pieces (Big corporations, huge money, corrupted science & bought-off regulatory agencies)? We may also be poisoning ourselves there, if Robert Kennedy is right. I’d love to see some science on it. What is the mercury exposure for the American 5 year old who follows the current CDC vaccine schedule? What mercury exposure is deemed “safe” by the EPA? Oral mercury vs. Injected? There are many questions that could use your laser insight.




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  4. All the dietary methods seem to just remove lead from the blood, and prevent absorption from food and environment….

    but, specific foods, herbs, supplements, etc., to me, do not remove lead from human bones. This is too bad. And this is
    what we need, something to remove lead-stores from our bones, going way back. I assume the lead slowly leaches from
    the bones back into the blood, body tissues, organs, no? Or do the human bones serve as a storage vehicle for our lead,
    thus, preventing further toxicity? Might the storage of lead in our bones actually be a good thing, all things considered (the
    toxic world we live in!), as if the lead was left to just circulate in the blood we’d then be slowly poisoning ourselves even more so?




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    1. a nugget from googling,

      …Compared to participants with blood lead below 1.9 μg/dL, participants with blood lead between
      3.6 μg/dL and 10 μg/dL had:
      – a 25% higher risk of death from any cause;
      – a 55% higher risk of death from cardiovascular diseases;
      – an 89% higher risk of death from heart attack; and
      – a two and a half times the risk of death from stroke.
      Then studies in the Journal of Epidemiology in 2007 and in a follow up study in 2009, showed that
      lead levels in bone, rather than blood, are an even more accurate indicator of mortality.
      Researchers found the risk of death from cardiovascular disease was almost six times higher in
      study participants with the highest levels of bone lead and death from all causes was related to
      bone lead levels.
      Dr. Marc Weisskopf, the lead researcher in these studies also concluded that by the time the lead
      has deposited in the bone, the damage has been done. He questions the benefit of chelation
      treatments to remove the lead. It may also be that mobilizing bone lead back into the blood
      stream may actually cause additional damage.




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  5. I am reissuing my comments that were posted too late (05/16/17, 10:50 PM) to find attention but seem pretty important to me in the context of our toxic environment:
    I read a fascinating article in WSJ: “A Farm grows in the City”, which mainly referred to the fact that new technology has enabled us to grow food (greens) closer to where people live with all the benefits (I.e. freshness, less pollution) that shorter transit entails. The greens, in one instance, are grown in trays, stacked 36 feet high, in a “High-tech vertical farm”. Sixteen acres of food are grown on a floor measuring an eighth of an acre. The question that concerns me most (not touched upon in the article) is: are hydroponically grown plants, raised under LED light, as healthy as those grown under natural conditions or, possibly even healthier if water and added fertilizer could be controlled to eliminate toxins? In the latter case, that would really mean phenomenal progress.




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    1. My guess is that whilst there will be some nutritional differences (maybe better, maybe worse), the plants will still be of the same botanical makeup as their counterparts. Therefore, the concern is probably not warranted… so long as the water given to them isn’t full of lead ;-)




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      1. On the other hand, plants make many phytonutrients in response to stressors in their environment–pests, uv rays. So are the levels of phytoactive nutrients lower in plants grown indoors under controlled conditions?




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  6. Yikes!!!! I had testing done and I’m at 16…..in the red zone! Is there something I should be doing? (ps, I’m a 58 yr old female)s




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  7. As one of the moderators for NutritionFacts.org, I saw your comment about your lead exposure concerns. Dr. Greger has prepared several videos which should give your some guidance on what you can do. These are all listed after the video you watched under Dr’s Notes with links to each one if you haven’t seen them already. Hope that helps! ;
    How to Lower Lead Levels with Diet: Thiamine, Fiber, Iron, Fat, Fasting?
    How to Lower Lead Levels with Diet: Breakfast, Whole Grains, Milk, Tofu?
    Best Foods for Lead Poisoning: Chlorella, Cilantro, Tomatoes, Moringa?
    Best Food for Lead Poisoning – Garlic
    Can Vitamin C Help with Lead Poisoning?
    Yellow Bell Peppers for Male Infertility & Lead Poisoning?




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  8. From my childhood I remember hearing the phrase “Get the lead out!” which I took to mean something akin to “Quit dragging your feet!”… you know, work faster.

    I’m guessing we intuitively knew that actual lead needed to be “gotten out.”

    Just thought of something… if you encounter a dullard, it is highly probable they siphoned gas (when it was leaded) by sucking the gas through a hose until it reached the mouth. Of course they spit it out, but not until it reached the lining in their mouth.




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  9. Response to Harriet Sugar Miller (5/23):
    The number of hydroponic farms is likely to increase in the future to satisfy the demand for fresh vegetables – and, we may not even be able to distinguish the wrapped packages on the supermarket shelf. I view the development with optimism, hopeful that science will support that artificially raised greens are “almost” as valuable as those grown naturally.




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  10. In the daily dozen app; how can you consider 1 slice bread a portion for the whole wheat group? When 1/2 cup grains is another portion… 1 slice bread is 35 grams but even the best store bougth breads are made with 50% being the whole wheat and 50% the other stuff like sourdough, white flour, glucose, etc… Thus 1 slice is only 17 grams whole wheat at best, while 1/2 cup oats is 65 grams. Then we would need to eat almost 4 slices of bread to get to one real portion.

    But seeing that the optimal daily amount is 100 grams whole wheat or more, I guess dr Gregor took that into consideration. For example eating 2 slices bread and 1/2 cup oats makes 100 grams.

    Still, I would rather have preferred the serving sizes being independant from each other. When only eating bread you would need 12 slices hi quality, high fiber bread that day and not 3.




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    1. hi Netgogate, not sure whereabouts you live, but at my neighbourhood stores there are a variety of whole grain breads for sale. The store bakeries often have 100% whole wheat bread as well as breads in the freezer section like the Ezekial brand http://m.foodforlife.com/product/breads/7-sprouted-grains-bread or Manna sprouted no flour breads https://mannaorganicbakery.com/ for example. I dont use the daily dozen app, but I just mention the bread thinking you might enjoy something like these brands rather than 50% whole grain products.




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      1. Susan, it is not because the label says “whole grain bread” that there are only whole grains inside. For example the Ezekial bread you reffered to; in the ingredient list it starts out with “organic sprouted WHEAT”, when it is mentioned as wheat, this means white wheat flour not whole wheat… Also this is the first ingredient on the label wich means it’s the most common ingredient in this bread.

        There is a simple trick you can use to asses the quality off the “wholeness” of a bread, just look at the fibre content. When you know that whole wheat flour has 15 grams fibre per 100 grams and your bread has only 9 grams per 100 grams, there is going to be some white flour or other ingredients besides the whole grains. This Ezekial bread has about 11.76 grams fibre per 100 grams, that’s a nice bread indeed, in my country I am having a hard time finding one with enough whole grains inside. The highest they seem to go here is 9 grams fibre per 100 grams and some of this fibre is comming from added nuts and seeds instead of whole grains. it’s kinda sad really, I live in Belgium when this is next to Germany where so many good whole fibre breads are made.




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  11. It’s no secret that like ionizing radiation, no levels of toxic heavy metals are safe. The most toxic are lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic but this is by no means a comprehensive list. The video did a great job educating us regarding sources of exposure and historical evidence that the problem has worsened markedly with
    industrialization. One can hope that weak chelators from food sources are insurance enough but they are mostly useful for acute exposure in the GI tract.
    For chelating from body tissues the issue is ever more complex. Lead sequesters in bone. Since there is an equilibrium between body stores and blood we need much stronger agents. Unfortunately waiting for peer reviewed science to catch up with clinical evidence is severely wanting, just as has been proven true for the toxicity or glyphosate or roundup…




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  12. This is just like Mercury and now Aluminum, known neurotoxins that are still in vaccines… injected directly into babies and children and our elderly. Obviously explains loss of IQ/ Autism/Alzheimers




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