Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Nutrition and Health Coach.
As summer beats on and most of you are enjoying warm, sunny days outside at the pool, in the yard, or at the beach, you probably aren’t thinking about things like lead, mercury, and other things that pose as toxins to us, especially our developing children. However, it’s times like this when we can be exposed to a greater amount of things that can attribute to something we never may have considered to be an issue. In fact, many parents are unaware of the potential that their children (and themselves!) can be walking around with toxic levels of heavy metals in their bodies. Left untreated, this can manifest into numerous health concerns that one would definitely want to avoid. I am going to dedicate the next few weeks covering numerous things that we should be aware of – for our children and ourselves – to protect our health and longevity.
My fascination with studying toxins started when I went back to school for health coaching. Studying report after report and scientific study after study, I was amazed (and angered) that so many things exist in our society that can be so harmful to our health and well-being. It became even more real for me when my son’s pediatrician ordered routine bloodwork for him at age 6 months…and one of the things being screened for was lead and other heavy metals. I inquired why, for how can a 6 month old be exposed to such things? Amazingly, our doctor explained that there is an alarmingly increasing rate of young children with lead and mercury levels that exceed the tolerable “safe” limits – and the sooner it’s detected, the sooner life-saving interventions can be implemented. I also started encountering clients in my health coaching practice with heavy metal toxicity – something that has plagued them with fatigue, immunity issues, headaches, vision problems, inflammation, brain fog, mood imbalances, hormonal imbalances, sleep disruption, and cognitive function issues. The more I looked into the possibility of heavy metal build-up in the body (because many of them manifest themselves in the fatty tissue), one of the first recommendations I make is to get tested for heavy metals present in the body. Sure enough, 90% of the time there is an issue with heavy metals, and then we discuss options to start detoxing and eliminating exposure (which actually has to happen first, for there is no point in detoxing if you are just going to keep re-introducing the toxin). Curious about this health conundrum and its effect on children, I read the book “The Toxic Sandbox” by Libby McDonald – a parent and researcher who spent years investigating the concerns over common toxins that all parents should be aware of, but namely lead and mercury. All of the references in this article are citing work covered by Libby McDonald from her book.
Lead is considered the top toxin to be aware of and to worry about, especially in young children due to how sensitive developing brains are to this metal. Lead has been used since the twentieth century, and it was very common in gas and paint until tighter restrictions came about within the last 30 years. Thanks to extensive research over the past three decades linking lead exposure to severe health risks, limits have been placed on manufacturing standards for this metal in addition to preventative measures to be taken to safeguard our most vulnerable populations.
One of the most common exposures to lead was through paint and gasoline; until 1978, when a ban was placed on lead being used in paint, it was widely used in most homes and is the source of most lead poisoning cases to date. The ban on lead being used in gasoline wasn’t put into effect until 1991, so think about all of the lead that was airborne from vehicle emissions..being breathed in AND falling onto our soil (farms) and being washed into the groundwater supply (not to mention bodies of water that fish, etc. live in…and we eat).
- The Centers for Disease Control says that ¼ of US children are exposed to lead in their own homes (especially if built before 1978); and with 80% of US houses built before the 1978 ban on lead paint, the threat of exposure will not go away for a long time.
- There is mounting evidence that there is no safe threshold for lead in the body – evidence that conflicts sharply with the Center for Disease Control’s position that up to 10 mcg/dL is acceptable (yikes!).
- Thankfully, lead levels in children have dropped significantly over the past 30 years. Today’s average count is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 mcg/dL.
- Exposure to lead early in childhood causes lifelong impairments for which there are no simple treatments.
- Lead in children is associated with:
o Decreased IQ
o Reading problems
o Failure to thrive and/or grow
o Hearing loss
o Speech deficits
o Attention deficits
o Antisocial behavior
o Aggressive behavior
o Delinquency and criminal behavior
- A 2005 study done by Dr. Bruce Lanphear (at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital) showed that lead harms children at levels considerably lower than the CDC’s threshold of 10 mcg/dL. Children show a decline of 7.4 IQ points for the first 10 mcg/dL of blood.
- Lead targets developing brain cells – the frontal lobe, which is responsible for planning, judgment, and concept formation is the last part of the brain to fully develop, so it tends to be at the greatest risk for lead poisoning.
- Children are particularly vulnerable to lead. The BBB, or blood-brain-barrier, serves as the body’s built-in mechanism for protecting the brain from poisonous substances. Lead messes this whole protective system up by masking as calcium, which easily crosses the blood-brain-barrier. What makes this fact concerning is babies’ and toddlers’ brains crave calcium in their effort to develop, until children are around six years old; this becomes a problem because they can absorb 3-4 times more lead than an adult. If a child has a calcium deficiency, it makes matters worse because the developing body will grab on to this calcium imposter, accelerating the uptake of lead.
- All brain damage caused by lead has a lag effect, meaning you will not see the deficits until a child is 6 or 7 years old.
- Scientific studies show that lead attributes to about 1/3 of attention-deficit-disorder among US children in comparison to tobacco smoke before birth. Children with blood levels of more than 2 mcg/dL were four times more likely to have ADHD than children with lower levels.
- Unborn babies are also exposed to lead! Lead passes through the umbilical cord to unborn babies, so it is crucial for about-to-become or already pregnant women to be cautious about previous and current lead exposure. Studies on lead and pregnancy show that pregnancy doubled the lead levels in the blood.
- Lead can also find its way into breast milk, although it’s not as great as the lead that is released from a woman’s bones during pregnancy.
- Half of the lead ingested or inhaled when women were younger gets stored in their bones for up to 30 years. During pregnancy and lactation, women’s bodies require additional calcium, and the lead (which mimics calcium) stored in their bones activates and enters the bloodstream. A calcium supplement during pregnancy can help prevent the transfer of lead into unborn babies.
Other than exposure in the womb and/or through breast milk, how else are children exposed to lead?
Humans can only be exposed to lead in two ways (outside of the womb): either SWALLOWING or BREATHING IT IN. The good news is that it’s nearly impossible to absorb lead through the skin.
The most common ways people are exposed to lead are:
– House paint *Lead paint in old homes is the most common way for a child to get exposed to lead. It’s estimated that 42-47 million homes in this country still contain lead paint, mostly in the eastern US, with parts of New York City considered to be the lead belt of the country. Also, lead paint is sweet, thus enticing to children who pay peel a piece of chipped paint off and eat it.
– Soil *Due to lead being added to gasoline in the past, it still lives on in dirt alongside roadways as well as in soil around old houses and fences where lead paint has chipped away over the years.
– Plumbing *Some of the drinking water in the US still travels through lead pipes and lead solder into our homes, especially in older communities where houses pre-date a modern revision to the Safe Drinking Water Act. You should and can have your water tested for lead. You should also have the plumbing in your house inspected to see if it contains lead. Hot water leaches more lead than cold water.
– Did you know that most garden hoses contain lead? This is especially important to know if you water your garden with a hose that is lined with lead and/or if you or your children drink from a lead-tainted hose in the summer, etc. Non-lead versions are available and becoming more popular to use.
– Food containers *Lead solder is sometimes used to seal imported canned food, in addition to leaching into food served on dishes painted with lead paint or from pewter.
– Objects made with lead (i.e. products from foreign countries lacking lead standards) *Toys, costume jewelry, lunch boxes, flashlights, fishing rods, lipsticks and other cosmetics, hair dyes, and calcium supplement tablets are just to name of few of commonly tainted products. Namely, this is why I highly recommend switching cosmetics and also sticking to supplement companies that strictly test their raw materials for supplements.
– Imports from Asia *Unfortunately, countries like China have had a horrible reputation with pollution and tainted products, namely lead used in metals and paints on things like toys. Additionally, any food supplement like traditional Chinese herbs, etc. contain high levels of lead because they are grown in polluted areas as well as being processed in plants that are tainted with heavy metals.
– CHECK THE CONSUMER PRODUCT SAFETY COMMISSION’S WEBSITE FOR A LIST OF PRODUCTS RECALLED FOR LEAD: www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx
As parents, we need to be ever vigilant for our children, so when I read accounts of parents losing children from accidentally ingesting lead charms from bracelets made overseas, it makes me shudder. High enough levels of ingested lead can cause deadly seizures and brain dysfunction. It is also important to try and know where your food is grown. Lead has been known to collect in the roots of plants, although not moving as much into the shoots and leaves. Regardless, you should be cautious of crops grown in any areas that could have potential lead exposure (i.e. near highways, in highly-industrialized areas, etc.). Even dust from demolition work can be tracked into homes, lodging itself in carpets, between floor boards, and then eventually circulated throughout the home via air vent system.
The CDC dropped the universal testing requirement for children in the US (due to complaints from insurance companies that it was not a money-maker or doctors that it was a cost burden many families), therefore opening up a huge loophole for children to slip through the cracks if they have been exposed.
Personally, one of the best ways to help your child is to have them screened for lead when they are 6 months old and again at 1 year (due to the fact that young babies and children put everything in their mouths). If the count is above 2 mcg/dL, see where possible sources are coming from and have them tested again at 2 years old, which is the time lead levels generally peak.
Lead exposure is a scary thing and what’s even scarier is that you do not really know your levels unless you have your blood tested. Consuming supplements like chlorella and spirulina are heavy-metal binding, therefore they can help reduce levels in the body. Additionally, calcium supplements have been shown to be very effective at helping to prevent lead from crossing the blood-brain-barrier (besides, healthy calcium levels are important for growing children). I use an allergy-free, great-tasting liquid calcium supplement made by Blue Bonnet. My son takes it like a charm (it’s blueberry flavored).
I hope this information has been helpful about learning a bit more about what I refer to as a silent killer. Stay tuned next week for coverage on mercury.
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods, products, and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more:http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at:firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Megan on Twitter (@MPowerNutrition) and like her onFacebook: Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC.