The Dangers of Lead Exposure

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


The health effects of lead exposureIn 1996, lead was banned as an additive to gasoline and since then, the general public has been aware of the dangerous effects of lead exposure. Despite the fact that people have known how dangerous it is for so long, lead still presents a major health concern. In fact, according to a new study, deaths caused by lead exposure may be 10 times higher than we previously thought. Researchers have concluded that nearly 412 000 deaths in the US are likely caused by lead exposure each year. So, what does this mean for you?

Lead Exposure and Effects on the NEM

What is the NEM?

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response system is a delicate network of six interconnected circuits: inflammation, detoxification, metabolism, hormonal, cardionomic, and neuroaffect. Each circuit has a specific role to play in helping your body cope with stress. For example, certain foods can inflame your digestive tract and an inflammatory response is just your body’s way of saying it doesn’t like the way a certain food affects it. However, this is just a simplified example of how the NEM system responds to stress.

Lead and the NEM

Not surprisingly, lead exposure can have some devastating effects on your health.

Neuroaffect Circuit

The effects of lead on the neuroaffect circuit are perhaps the most well-known. Overexposure to lead can impact the neuroaffect circuit in several ways including learning disabilities in children, and headaches, memory, and mood issues in adults. Perhaps the most well-known effect of lead exposure is aggressive behavior, which is associated with both the hormonal and neuroaffect circuits.

Cardionomic Circuit

Lead exposure can also have profound effects on your cardionomic circuit, which is made up of the heart, veins, and arteries and is particularly affected by high levels of lead in the blood. For years, the link between lead exposure and high blood pressure has been known. However, the magnitude at which lead affects the cardionomic circuit of the NEM system is not well understood.

Since the 1970s, we have slowly become more aware of the fact that even a low level of lead in your blood can have a profound impact on your health and behavior. In the 1970s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believed that 40 milliliters of lead per deciliter of blood was an acceptable level, but that level has steadily dropped to 20 milliliters in the 1990’s and continues to drop. The CDC currently recommends taking immediate action once your blood lead level reaches 5 milliliters and a new study may suggest the need to re-evaluate this number once again.

New Insights into Lead Exposure

A new study published in The Lancet tracked over 14 000 individuals over the course of nearly 20 years. By monitoring the concentration of lead in the blood of patients, researchers were able investigate the link between increased lead levels and risk of certain diseases.

The 10th percentile corresponds to a blood lead concentration of 1 microgram per deciliter whereas the 90th percentile has a blood lead level of 6.7 micrograms per deciliter. It was found that individuals with a blood lead level in the 90th percentile had a 37% increased risk of all causes of mortality. In addition, a whopping 70% increase in risk of death from cardiovascular disease was reported compared to the 10th percentile or individuals with the lowest concentration of lead in their blood.

The 14 289 participants were selected from participants of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, held between 1988 and 1994. Of the initial group, 4 422 died by 2011 and it is estimated that 18% of deaths could have been prevented by simply reducing the blood lead level to 1.0 microgram per deciliter.

How Lead Exposure Occurs

Lead exposure used to be more common, however, the biggest risks of lead exposure have mostly been eliminated. Lead is no longer present in automobile gasoline, common household paints, and dishware. However, several ways still exist which could expose you to lead.

Lead Water Pipes

lead exposure around youBefore we knew any better, lead water pipes were commonly installed for transporting water throughout cities and houses. You may have heard of Flint, Michigan and the recent controversy over lead contamination of the water supply. The following cities still use lead pipes or have lead in their water supply that is higher than the CDC recommendation:

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Trenton, New Jersey
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

According to a report in the Guardian, Philadelphia deliberately uses water testing practices that mask the levels of lead in water. Worse still, at least 33 US cities are reported to use ‘cheats’ to mask lead levels in the water. Despite decades of being aware of the potential health risks posed by lead, many US cities still contain infrastructure that causes lead exposure.

Lead in Paint

Though lead has largely been removed from household paints, it is still present on the walls of many houses. In older buildings, it’s not uncommon to find lead paint on walls. One of the telltale characteristics is the way in which the paint chips off in flakes. Though many cities require lead paint to be removed from the walls of older homes, not all of it has been, therefore, many children and adults across the nation are at risk of exposure to lead through paint.

Other Sources of Lead

Other sources of lead to watch out for include:

  • Soil – Soil can contain high amounts of lead, especially near houses that once had lead paint on the outer walls.
  • Pottery – Some glazes on ceramics, china, and porcelain contain lead, which is a particular issue when used to serve food or eaten out of.
  • Toys – Though long banned in the US, many toys still contain lead.
  • Tamarind – Often found in Mexican candies, this fruit may contains lead.
  • Occupational Exposure – Working with lead pipes, removing lead paint, carrying out auto repairs, battery manufacturing, mining, and several other occupations increase your likelihood of lead exposure.
  • Lead Ammunition and Fishing Lures
  • Certain Cosmetics

Dealing with Lead in the Blood

If you have more than 5 millilitres per deciliter of lead in your blood or anywhere close to that, the CDC recommends doing something about it as soon as possible. If this applies to you, speak with your healthcare provider to figure out a solution. In the meantime, there are a few natural ways of stimulating your NEM detoxification circuit to remove lead from your blood.

Some of the most popular herbal remedies include:

lead exposure and solutions

  • Chlorella – About 1-4 g per day is recommended. This green alga (and several other algae) acts as a natural chelator to remove heavy metals from your body, especially lead and mercury.
  • Vitamin C – Acts as an antioxidant to support both detoxification and your immune system, and can mitigate some of the damage caused by lead exposure.
  • Cilantro – Preferably in a tincture. Much like chlorella cilantro appears to be able to chelate lead from blood.
  • Shilajit –100-500 mg per day. This apoptogenic plant has several things in common with activated charcoal since it contains a lot of carbon. This plant also contains fulvic and humic acid which are renowned chelating agents. Fulvic acid is the strongest organic chelating agent ever discovered.
  • Probiotics – 50 billion once a day. Known to aid in natural detoxification processes.

What’s the Bottom Line?

Lead exposure is serious business, affecting the cardionomic, neuraffect, and hormonal NEM circuits. High blood lead levels should be dealt with immediately. Fortunately, there are natural ways to stimulate and supplement your detoxification circuit. Although we haven’t covered them all in this article, there are many more natural remedies to remove lead from your body. Do your best to avoid all sources of lead and if in doubt, test your water and blood lead level. Your natural NEM circuitry can quickly become ravaged by lead resulting in disease and premature death. Do not take chances, take action.

© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.


Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The effects of lead exposure have long been known. We just didn’t know it was this bad. According to one breaking study, 10 times more people a year die from lead than we previously thought. How many is that? Around 400 000 deaths annually in the US alone!


lead exposure