The Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure in Adults

The Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure in Adults
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Much of the lead found in adults today was deposited decades ago in our skeleton and is just now leaching out from our bones into our blood. What are the health consequences of having lead levels down around the American average?

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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.

“Children in approximately 4 million households in the United States are being exposed to high levels of lead.” “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,” starting with learning disabilities and attention deficits in children starting down around a blood lead level of 10 (micrograms per deciliter), which is when you start seeing high blood pressure and nerve damage in adults. But, the blood levels in American adults these days are down around 1, not 10—unless you work or play in an indoor firing range, where the lead levels in the air are so high, more than half of recreational target shooters have levels over 10, or even 25.

In fact, even open-air outdoor ranges can be a problem. Spending just “2 days a month” at a range may quadruple blood lead levels up into the danger zone. But, what if you don’t use firearms, or live in a house with someone who uses firearms? The lead levels can be so high the CDC advises those who go to shooting ranges to shower there, change into clean clothes, don’t mix clean clothes with contaminated clothes, don’t bring your shoes home, etc. Even if none of that applies, and your blood levels are under 10, there’s still some evidence of increased risk of hand tremors, and high blood pressure, and kidney damage, and other issues.

But, come on, just 1? What if you’re down around a blood level of 1, like most people? We didn’t know, until this study, which found that “[b]lood lead levels [even] in the range currently considered acceptable are associated with [an] increased prevalence of [the painful arthritis known as] gout…”

They found blood levels “as low as approximately…1.2…can be associated with increased prevalence of gout,” which is close to the current American average. So, this means “very low levels of lead may still be associated with health risks,” suggesting “that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of exposure to lead.”

Okay, but where is the lead coming from? Lead only circulates in your body for about a month; so, if you have lead in your bloodstream, it’s some ongoing exposure. But, most adults don’t eat peeling paint chips; there’s no more leaded gas on the road. I mean, there are specific foods, supplements, and cosmetics that are contaminated with lead, and I have videos coming up on all those topics.

But, for most adults, the source of ongoing lead exposure is from our own skeleton. Remember how I said lead only lasts around about a month? Well, where does it go? 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 [not a month but can be] decades long.” So, half or more of the lead in our blood represents lead from “past exposure” just now leaching out of our bones back into our bloodstream, and it is this “gradual release of lead from the bone [that can serve] as a persistent source of toxicity,” long after leaded gas was removed from the pumps, for those of us who were around back before the 80s.

So, the question of where is the lead coming from is like Pogo’s: “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.” Or, like that horror movie, the call is coming from inside the house.

The amount of lead in your bones can actually be measured, and 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 [may have been] 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 U.S.] since the 1970s” have been associated with a four- to five-point increase in the average IQs of American adults. “A particularly provocative question [then] 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?”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Stockdevil via 123RF. Image has been modified.

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.

“Children in approximately 4 million households in the United States are being exposed to high levels of lead.” “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,” starting with learning disabilities and attention deficits in children starting down around a blood lead level of 10 (micrograms per deciliter), which is when you start seeing high blood pressure and nerve damage in adults. But, the blood levels in American adults these days are down around 1, not 10—unless you work or play in an indoor firing range, where the lead levels in the air are so high, more than half of recreational target shooters have levels over 10, or even 25.

In fact, even open-air outdoor ranges can be a problem. Spending just “2 days a month” at a range may quadruple blood lead levels up into the danger zone. But, what if you don’t use firearms, or live in a house with someone who uses firearms? The lead levels can be so high the CDC advises those who go to shooting ranges to shower there, change into clean clothes, don’t mix clean clothes with contaminated clothes, don’t bring your shoes home, etc. Even if none of that applies, and your blood levels are under 10, there’s still some evidence of increased risk of hand tremors, and high blood pressure, and kidney damage, and other issues.

But, come on, just 1? What if you’re down around a blood level of 1, like most people? We didn’t know, until this study, which found that “[b]lood lead levels [even] in the range currently considered acceptable are associated with [an] increased prevalence of [the painful arthritis known as] gout…”

They found blood levels “as low as approximately…1.2…can be associated with increased prevalence of gout,” which is close to the current American average. So, this means “very low levels of lead may still be associated with health risks,” suggesting “that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ level of exposure to lead.”

Okay, but where is the lead coming from? Lead only circulates in your body for about a month; so, if you have lead in your bloodstream, it’s some ongoing exposure. But, most adults don’t eat peeling paint chips; there’s no more leaded gas on the road. I mean, there are specific foods, supplements, and cosmetics that are contaminated with lead, and I have videos coming up on all those topics.

But, for most adults, the source of ongoing lead exposure is from our own skeleton. Remember how I said lead only lasts around about a month? Well, where does it go? 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 [not a month but can be] decades long.” So, half or more of the lead in our blood represents lead from “past exposure” just now leaching out of our bones back into our bloodstream, and it is this “gradual release of lead from the bone [that can serve] as a persistent source of toxicity,” long after leaded gas was removed from the pumps, for those of us who were around back before the 80s.

So, the question of where is the lead coming from is like Pogo’s: “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.” Or, like that horror movie, the call is coming from inside the house.

The amount of lead in your bones can actually be measured, and 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 [may have been] 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 U.S.] since the 1970s” have been associated with a four- to five-point increase in the average IQs of American adults. “A particularly provocative question [then] 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?”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Stockdevil via 123RF. Image has been modified.

Doctor's Note

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. “Normal” Blood Lead Levels Can Be Toxic explores the impacts on childhood development.

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

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

38 responses to “The Effects of Low-Level Lead Exposure in Adults

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  1. About the daily dozen; does something like chickpea flour count as bean serving? If so, how much would be considered a serving?




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    1. Why not? There are lots of creative ways to get beans in your diet. There is a brand of cereal called Qia that is made with black bean, and lots of lentil or bean pastas out there that taste amazing.
      I use chickpea flour for a lot of things and try to replac wheat flour with it as much as possible. In the ethnic section of your grocery store there are also other flours, like mung bean flour. I haven’t experimented much with them though.

      I currently use chickpea flour to make cookies, pancakes, waffles, battered veggies, and minor parts in other baking. People are always shocked they are eating beans instead of cookies, and that the cookies have no sugar or eggs.




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        1. Heres a WFPB cookie recipe made with chickpea. Most of the recipes that I see have coconut oil, but this one looks good. I haven’t had a chance to try it, but perhaps you can give it a go and let us know. Regards…

          http://mywholefoodlife.com/2016/04/26/morning-glory-breakfast-cookies/
          1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed OR 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
          1 medium carrot, shredded
          1 flax egg (real egg works too)
          1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
          1/4 cup maple syrup
          1/4 cup raw pecans
          1/4 cup raisins
          1 tsp cinnamon
          1/4 tsp ginger
          Pinch sea salt

          Preheat oven to 350.
          In a food processor , add the chickpeas, maple syrup and flax egg. Blend well.
          Then add the remaining ingredients and pulse a few times to mix them up.
          Use a cookie scoop to drop cookies onto a lined baking sheet.
          Bake for 15-18 minutes.
          Let cool before removing from the baking sheet .
          Cuisine: Vegan, Gluten Free, Grain Free | Recipe Type: Breakfast




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    1. It looks as if the problem is being explored, and that Dr. Greger has not yet gone into the solution space. I expect that video(s) outlining possible means to deal with lead exposure to follow at some point.




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      1. A WEIGHTY QUESTION ABOUT CHELATION OF LEAD AND MERCURY

        Thanks, Joe, you took the question out of my hands.

        Cilantro is supposed to be effective against heavy metals in blood serum. The question, however, is how effective cilantro has proven to be in human studies– and under what specific dosage / protocol.

        Aside from therapeutic chelation of lead and mercury buildup over decades, the question might occur to some that chelation actually may reduce (even remove) impairment of nervous function that manifests in lower IQ (and other measures). Put another way, enough chelation might reverse some lead-induced damage to the children in Flint and other cities where the cost of simply caring about public health has been too great for some politicians.




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    2. I agree Tom. My daughter had it twice, aged only two. But the final toxic level was mopped up with homeopathy. The medics were amazed.




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      1. Does high levels of exercise tend to work too. I don’t get to a sauna but on some of my rides I can go through as much as a gallon of water in 2-3 hours?




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        1. Doctor’s told my brother (who now has major neurological issues) that it was the increase in strenuous exercise that got the lead stored back into circulation and that made it go to his brain. It’s very counterintuitive and frustrating that his efforts to improve his health are ending up costing him his life.




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          1. Karen, see comments below in IV chelation. Presumably, your brother’s physician is deeply-read about this method, but there is always the chance he might have overlooked something recent. What brought my comment is simply this– if exercise released the lead burden from his bones, then exercise might be able to re-release the lead for chelation with IV.

            Just a thought, and this might apply to mercury, as well. Many American seniors were given mercury-containing patent-products containing varied doses of mercury to “clean out” their bodies. (So much for the profit motive and patent medicine– a license to kill.)




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  2. Does this apply to other countries (I’m Portuguese)? How can we be contaminated if not from weapons and similar? Thank you! Oh, and great job as always! Thank you for your hard work all of you!




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  3. So much to talk about… That shooting range data should be broadcast and exposed far and wide. On a side note; very interesting considering the contributive and compounding warlike behaviors of lead fever (and pretty mind boggling that anyone would want to repeal the lead bullet “prohibition”).

    But, I’m curious of Dr. Gregor’s opinion on recommending single-thiol bond foods (like cilantro and chlorella) with the recent science on *their* stirring up heavy metals only to probably (high probability) release them sometime before elimination. Double thiol bonds like DMSA or DMPS are being touted as the only truly safe heavy metal detox, but are not represented in any bodily function or metabolic process…




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      1. Steve, thanks for your comments, adding the information about biochemistry of chelation.

        In regard to editing comments, I am not sure what the administrative cost imposed by an edit function might be– if there is any cost or impediment, at all. Presumably, it was not that great, since this WordPress forum was initially provided with about four minutes of edit time after posting.

        Administrators are aware of the normal need for editing posted comments, and many of us already have made that clear in our having to make duplicate or follow-up posts. This forum is not yet as user friendly as it could be, which is the reason many of us still prefer Disqus by a wide margin.




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  4. I would really be enjoying this series on lead if it we’re not so tragic. My brother is 56 and will not be with us much longer due to neurological issues caused by lead. He is an aircraft mechanic and spent years around avgas and using aircraft paint that contained lead. He followed all the safety methods that we’re known at the time, but it was too little too late. He now has symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Frontal Temporal Dementia and Lewy Body’s. My father and grandfather both died similarly after lives of similar exposures. This is tragic and personal. It makes me wonder what my own risk has been from having worked at an airport and flying in lots of private aircraft.




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    1. As you may have read, the biochemistry behind chelation was discovered when veterans of WW2 shipyards suffered rapidly declining health after years of painting with lead, and breathing lead fumes. Government medical experts used calcium EDTA and other chelations simply to halt the progressive failure of organ systems, but it was such a resounding success, they continued IV (drip) chelation for more than 50 sessions per patient. Obviously and unfortunately, such intensive therapy is not only expensive but even dangerous, depending on patient safeguards.

      We might believe there would be widespread, renewed public interest, given the resurgent news about “legacy” toxins and lead on our very neighborhood streets. Lead remains a public health issue so long as water utilities must dump massive quantities of lead-fixing chemicals into municipal water processing systems, lest lead levels rise promptly from lead pipe joints made decades ago. Not only Flint, Michigan, but most water utility authorities already know lead is not going anywhere until we remove it. That is called urban infrastructure renewal, and it is only a century or so overdue.




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  5. Geez, baby boomers are pretty much defeated from childhood between the lead, radiation from thousands of nuclear tests, DDT sprayed on us like vermin, monkey viruses in our polio vaccines, all that milk, margarine and dead animals we were force-fed, on top of all the other environmental contaminants, compliments of “progress”. If humanity is supposedly so smart, why are we still so busy engineering the sickness and suffering of the entire planet on such a massive scale? Taking care of yourself sometimes seems like a exercise in futility.




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    1. LOL VegeTater, I was recently telling a friend about how we had ASBESTOS to play with in kindergarten in lieu of modelling clay. I kid you not! It came packaged in 40 or 50 lb boxes that the teacher mixed up with water (and of course we helped.. nothing like inhaling asbestos that flies light as a feather through the air !)




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    2. Shhhhhhhh ! Don’t be caught criticizing “modern progress”. Through the miracle of profit-driven innovation, today’s consumers have a virtual grab-bag of things to weed through. Before plundering through the bag, however, we must sign a “Consent to Arbitration Agreement” not to sue the SOBs who thought putting tetraethyl lead into gasoline was the ideal industrial engineering fix. Or the wizards who believed shoving all the nuclear weapons waste into the Savannah River and Columbia River basins would keep it safe for the foreseeable future– all five years of it.

      The single consolation we have is the WFPB diet– an island of refuge, buttressed by sound research against all the gimmicks the so-called food and pharmaceutical industries can throw at us.




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  6. Thanks for the extremely useful information about lead.
    Any possibility to relate to the value of hair analysis for examinations of lead toxicity and of heavy metals in general in hair cuttings?
    How reliable are these examinations, widely done as you may know.
    Difficult to find objective literature about this.




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    1. On monitoring lead levels in the body, the difficulty arises from the body’s own tendency to sequester toxic metals (including mercury). If the body were to distribute metal toxins evenly throughout the body, a measure from blood serum or even a muscle-tissue biopsy would be useful. Unfortunately, the body does such a good job of sequestration, it is almost never direct or easy.

      Hair analysis has been suggested, but with many reservations because of the way the body deals with its heavy metal burden..




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