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Stunning Levels Of Lead Toxicity Revealed In Recent Research

May 18, 2008
Americans are too heavy -- but not just on the scale.

Metals, not fat, are making us heavy. In fact, almost 40 percent of us have toxic levels of lead in our bodies. And we don't even know it.

Lead toxicity does have symptoms, like headaches, insomnia, irritability, low sex drive, tremors, mood problems, nausea, depression, memory difficulties, trouble concentrating, poor coordination, and constipation. But it's hard for most us to realize that they may be caused by lead poisoning.

At a recent medical conference on heavy metals and health, I was surprised to hear about new research that the media has been ignored. For example, a 2006 study in the journal Circulation should have been major news.

In that study, researchers measured the blood lead levels of 13,946 adults and followed them for up to 12 years to track what diseases they developed and why they died. (1)

It's true that the average person's blood lead levels have dropped dramatically since lead was removed from gasoline and house paint several decades ago.

But our levels of lead are still high, because we are still exposed to lead in our soil and water, as well as from our own bones, where we store it.

The level considered "safe" by the government is less than 10 micrograms/deciliter. But in this study, blood levels of lead over 2 micrograms/deciliter significantly increased the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and death.

After researchers controlled for all other risk factors, they found that people with lead levels over 2 micrograms/deciliter had a 25 percent higher risk of dying from any cause, a 55 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease, a 151 percent higher risk of having a heart attack, and an 89 percent higher risk of having a stroke.

But that's not all.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed a strong link between high blood pressure in postmenopausal women and blood lead levels. That's because bone loss during menopause releases lead and injures blood vessels, which raises blood pressure.

Another study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that reducing lead levels in patients with kidney failure by using chelation therapy could prevent further loss of kidney function, save billions in healthcare costs, and eliminate the need for dialysis in millions of people. (3)

Lead has also been linked to ADHD, developmental and learning problems, and autism.

Yet most doctors don't offer chelation therapy. They haven't learned how to deal with environmental toxins like lead.

That's a huge concern, because research shows that children with decreased IQ scores are those who have lead levels between just 1 and 10 micrograms/deciliter. (4)

And more than 10 percent of poor and inner city children have lead exposure levels higher than 10 micrograms/deciliter!

I recently treated a young boy with extremely high lead levels who had Asperger's syndrome, severe ADHD, and violent behavior. The lead was probably passed to him from his mother in the womb.

But once we used chelation and nutritional support to eliminate his lead poisoning, his attention, behavior, and social skills got much better.

Lead isn't going away. It's still in our soil and water. We track lead into our homes from contaminated soil. Today regular house dust often contains 17 times the level of lead it once did.

And in Washington, DC, the government recently had to provide free water filters for everyone because up to 20 percent of the city's tap water may be contaminated with lead.

But there's good news. There are some ways you can treat yourself for lead toxicity. Do the following:

1. Test your lead levels. The easiest test is a simple blood lead test, but make sure the lab can measure extremely low levels of lead. Levels higher than 2 micrograms/deciliter should be treated.

Because the blood test only checks for current or ongoing exposures, you'll also need a heavy metal challenge test with DMSA, EDTA, or DMPS, which you can get from a doctor trained in heavy metal detoxification. (See www.functionalmedicine.org or www.acam.org to find a qualified doctor.) Consider undergoing chelation therapy if your lead levels are high.

2. Reduce your exposures by removing your shoes before you enter your home. Ask guests to do the same.

3. Test your water for heavy metals.

4. Buy a carbon or reverse osmosis drinking water filter.

5. Take 1,000 milligrams of buffered ascorbic acid (vitamin C) a day, this helps remove lead from the body.

6. Take 2,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily to prevent your bones from releasing lead into your bloodstream.

By following these steps, you can reduce your lead exposure and get -- and feel -- healthier.


(1) Menke A, Muntner P, Batuman V, Silbergeld EK, Guallar E. Blood lead below 0.48 micromol/L (10 microg/dL) and mortality among US adults. Circulation. 2006 Sep 26;114(13):1388-94.

(2) Nash D, Magder L, Lustberg M, Sherwin RW, Rubin RJ, Kaufmann RB, Silbergeld, Blood lead, blood pressure, and hypertension in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2003 Mar 26;289(12):1523-32.

(3) Lin JL, Lin-Tan DT, Hsu KH, Yu CC Environmental lead exposure and progression of chronic renal diseases in patients without diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2003 Jan 23;348(4):277-86

(4) Canfield RL, Henderson CR Jr, Cory-Slechta DA, Cox C, Jusko TA, Lanphear BP.Intellectual impairment in children with blood lead concentrations below 10 microg per deciliter. N Engl J Med. 2003 Apr 17;348(16):1517-26.
About the Author
Mark Hyman, M.D. is a pioneer in functional medicine, practicing physician and best-selling author. Visit us for a sneak preview of his book The UltraSimple Diet . See The UltraWellness Blog for more on Lead Poisoning.
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