may be exposed to lead; it is especially true for children living in older or low-income housing or who live and play near busy streets. Much less exposure than would affect adults can lead to problems in children, because their absorption is better and their bodies are smaller. A small amount of leaded paint can increase body levels enough to create symptoms of toxicity. Children showing signs of hyperactivity or poor learning should be screened for lead levels.
Pregnant women and even the fetus are at risk of lead exposure. Anyone who works around car exhaust or in any of the many industries in which lead is used, from printing to painting to plumbing, should be aware of lead problems and probably get checked for lead levels every few years, until we as a society are able to lower our lead use and environmental exposure.
Treatment: EDTA, a synthetic amino acid, is the standard intravenous medical treatment for lead poisoning. It is a strong chelating agent, as it "claws" or latches onto metals and increases their urinary excretion. This treatment for lead intoxication led to use of the newer "chelation therapy" for other problems as well, as some of the patients treated for lead poisoning also experienced improvement of cardiovascular symptoms. This benefit may be a result of pulling out extra calcium and other metals that may be clogging arteries. Though chelation therapy is a controversial treatment that warrants further research, EDTA does much for lead and most heavy metal intoxication. This intravenous treatment, is administered by a doctor, often in a hospital setting. Other medical treatments for lead intoxication include Dimercaprol (British antilewisite, BAL), given intramuscularly, and oral D-penicillamine. Treatment by any of these pharmaceutical agents has risks, so the level of lead intoxication should be accurately assessed.
To reduce lead toxicity, a high-calcium diet or supplemental calcium will inhibit further lead absorption. Injections of calcium chloride and extra vitamin D will increase body levels of calcium, which may even displace some lead stored in the tissues, particularly the bones. Vitamin C also helps improve elimination of lead and other metals. The amino acids cysteine and methionine have some effect in detoxifying lead and other toxins, and foods such as eggs and beans, which contain these sulfhydryl-group amino acids, may also help bind and clear additional lead.
Prevention: Obviously, the number one prevention is to restrict lead exposure. That involves awareness of increased lead contamination potential. The following are some ways to practice this prevention:
- Do not exercise along freeways or in heavy traffic.
- Do not allow children to play near busy streets.
- Do not store food in pottery.
- Avoid soldered cans, which are mostly the tin cans.
- Evaluate for lead levels any questionable substances, such as water or bone meal, that are used regularly.
More positive things we can do to reduce lead problems in our body include eating a wholesome diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to obtain adequate minerals, avoiding refined foods, and possibly taking a mineral supplement so as to competitively reduce lead absorption. Calcium and magnesium do this well, so a good level of these minerals in our diet, as well as supplements, can reduce lead contamination. Iron, copper, and zinc also do this. With low mineral intake, lead absorption and potential toxicity are increased.