Lead Heavy Metal Poisoning and Adrenal Fatigue – Part 2

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Read Part 1 | Part 3

The Role of Lead and Heavy Metal Poisoning in Adrenal Fatigue

Neurological diseases can derive from heavy metal poisoningLead, along with several other toxic metals, can accumulate in the blood and tissue, causing heavy metal poisoning. As many as a quarter of all Americans have some degree of toxic metal buildup in their systems, most commonly lead. Hundreds of thousands of tons of lead are released into the environment from industrial processes, pesticide sprays, cigarette smoke, and other sources to then settle on soil, groundwater, and food crops.

Heavy metal poisoning has been found to be harmful to every system in the body, particularly the central nervous system, and has been associated with a variety of illnesses and conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and other serious neurological disorders. Lead tends to accumulate within the cells, and levels of lead in blood serum is not a good indicator of lead levels in the blood cells, where the damage is done. For this reason, the best way to determine whether an individual has toxic levels of the metal is through thorough analysis of blood.

In otherwise healthy individuals, detoxifying lead and other heavy metals is a simple matter of using chelating agents to mobilize and bind with toxic metals so they can be easily excreted. However, mobilizing these toxic metals means releasing them into the bloodstream, which means they are temporarily recirculating through the system. Most individuals who go through chelation therapy have higher results on tests for toxic metals in the early stages of the process. In adrenal fatigue sufferers, this means that symptoms may get worse for a time or even lead to full adrenal exhaustion, leaving the sufferer unable to handle the sudden flood of toxins, unless the NEM system is strengthened and supported to handle the onslaught.

We all, as a result of living in modern times, are carrying at least some toxic heavy metals and would be healthier by getting rid of them. Those with Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) need chelation even more than most. So how can someone suffering from adrenal fatigue avoid bringing on a severe case of adrenal burnout in the process of detoxing?

The answer lies in taking the chelation process slowly while supporting the adrenal glands and the rest of the endocrine system with good nutrition throughout. Focus on whole, minimally processed, preferably organic, foods.

Sources of Lead Toxicity

Lead has a lot of qualities that make it useful in a variety of applications. While it has been banned in the U.S. for many applications, it is still in use for some, and is still widely used in many products imported from other countries. Because of this, lead can be virtually impossible to avoid completely. Lead can be ingested via contaminated food or water, inhaled, and even absorbed through the skin. Those most susceptible to lead heavy metal poisoning include small children, smokers, and those with occupational exposure.


Heavy metal poisoning can be found in the dirt of your garden.For the average adult, diet is the primary source of lead exposure, specifically from contaminated water and food grown in contaminated soil or in areas where environmental lead may deposit on crops. Lead can also be leached into food from containers and utensils containing lead, such as lead crystal glassware or ceramics with lead based glaze. Lead may also be intentionally used as a food additive, most notably lime-preserved century eggs, a delicacy in China.

The fact is that plants are quite effective at absorbing metals, including lead, from the soil in which they are grown. Some research shows plant foods absorb as much as 7% of the lead found in the soil, though too much lead in the soil will kill the plant. Lead in the environment tends to settle on crops and on soil, staying in about the top inch of soil. Because of this, plants with deeper roots will absorb less lead. Grains are one of the biggest culprits, storing minerals from the soil in the seed and husk.


In most cases, lead contaminated water comes from lead pipes, pipe connections, and solder. With lead having been banned from use in paint and gasoline almost forty years ago, it would seem that it would have been removed from plumbing in that time as well, but it hasn’t. There have been some attempts to replace lead pipes with other materials, but in some cases, the health risks of heavy metal poisoning have actually increased.

Water from municipal treatment plants is distributed throughout the district via water mains, large pipes made of concrete or cast iron. The water gets from the water main to your home through service lines, which may be made of lead, especially if you live in an older neighborhood in the Northeast or Midwest. It’s unknown how many service lines are made of lead and how many can cause heavy metal poisoning, but it’s estimated at somewhere between 3.3 and 6.4 million. Many more service lines may have lead solder in the joints. As the pipes age, they begin to corrode and deposit particles into the water that flows through them. Your water may also carry lead from brass or bronze fixtures. Even those fixtures labeled ‘lead-free’ may contain up to 8% lead, if they were manufactured prior to 2014.

In 1991, the EPA passed the Lead and Copper Rule, which would require water companies to test customer’s homes for lead contamination in the water, and gradually replace service lines until lead levels were reduced. Water companies balked at this and lobbied until the plan was discarded. The EPA responded by amending the plan to require water companies to replace service lines as needed just to the property line, leaving property owners responsible for replacing service lines from the property line to their homes.

In the past several years, thousands of partial pipe replacements have been completed, affecting over a million people, with more replacements having been carried out during routine maintenance and emergency repairs. The problem with these partial pipe replacements is that doing so disturbs the pipes, dislodging lead particles and increasing the amount of lead in the water and the chances of someone getting heavy metal poisoning, at least for a time. Old lead piping can cause heavy metal poisoning.A 2010 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control found that children living in homes where partial pipe replacements had been completed were three times more like to have elevated blood levels as those in homes that had still had lead pipes that hadn’t been replaced.

An investigation carried out by a civil and engineering professor at Virginia Tech found that some water companies have gotten around the EPA requirements by selectively testing homes in order to hide potential problems. Other companies have “gifted” the service lines to the homeowners, absolving themselves from responsibility.

You have no control over your water company, and may not even be notified if the pipes leading to your property are made of lead, or if pipe replacement is being done in your area. Well water is the most reliable way to avoid lead contaminated water, but is not an option for many.

The next best option is to use both a whole house water filter along with filters on the taps. Whole house water filters remove hundreds of contaminants, including leads and by-products of the water treatment process before the water even enters your home. However, your home could have lead in the pipes, the pipe connections, or other plumbing components. Tap filters can remove contaminants that get by the whole house filter as well as contaminants that could be in your home’s plumbing. Look for a filter certified by NSF International to remove lead.

A few other precautions can help you minimize your exposure to lead heavy metal poisoning in your water supply. Never use hot water from the tap for drinking, cooking, brushing teeth, etc. Toxic metals in the plumbing are more easily leached by hot water. Use cold water from the tap and run it for a few minutes to clear the water that has been sitting in the pipes, especially first thing in the morning or if you otherwise haven’t run any water through the tap in several hours. If you need hot water, heat it on the stove or in your coffee maker.


Another surprisingly common source of lead heavy metal poisoning comes from natural and folk remedies. Several people have become deathly ill or died in the past several years after taking remedies contaminated with lead. In most cases, the remedies were manufactured and purchased in other countries and brought back. In some cases, lead is added intentionally because it is thought to have beneficial properties, though there are no proven benefits. In other cases, the remedies are made with ingredients grown in contaminated soil or are contaminated during manufacturing.

Some of the remedies most likely to contain lead include Mexican remedies used to relieve constipation in children, some of which can contain 90% lead. Also avoid litargirio, a remedy used by Dominican immigrants to address a variety of issues, containing nearly 80% lead, and some ayurvedic remedies.

That’s not to say you should completely avoid supplements or natural medicine; some of these products have their place and can be incredibly helpful. However, it’s important to be aware that not all manufacturers follow best practices to create high quality supplements. If you take supplements or natural remedies, buy only from reputable vendors and be sure to do your research on the remedy, the vendor, and the manufacturer. Especially be wary of imported remedies, as U.S. manufacturers are strictly regulated.

Heavy metal poisoning herbal remedies.After warnings in the 1990’s about potential toxic metals in Chinese herbal remedies, the California Department of Health Services, Food and Drug branch analyzed no less than 260 Chinese herbal products sold in California stores. The U.S. Pharmacopoeia has set limits for lead in medicinal botanical products at 10 ppm. It was found that more than 90% of the Chinese products tested well below this limit, most at no more than 2-3 ppm.

There are multiple reasons why herbal remedies might contain excessive levels of lead, starting with the growth medium. As we’ve mentioned, plants are highly efficient at absorbing minerals from the soil. If the herbs are grown in soil containing lead, the plant will contain lead. As the plant grows, the area where it is grown may be saturated with pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or other chemicals that may contain lead, which will also be absorbed by the plant. If the remedy is manufactured in a facility that has lead based components, or that uses water contaminated with lead, the finished product may have high levels of the metal. Finally, as mentioned, some cultures believe lead to have curative properties, and remedies produced in these regions may have lead intentionally added. In the U.S., stringent manufacturing regulations exist to minimize the possibility of lead contamination in supplements and remedies.

While herbs and supplements are generally safer and less expensive than pharmaceutical options, they should only be used as an addition to healthy lifestyle changes and good nutrition to support good health. Without good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, supplements can only act as a band-aid, easing symptoms but not improving health. Supplement clinics only stock supplements from manufacturers with the strictest quality standards.

Read Part 1 | Part 3

© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Heavy metal poisoning