Most people are aware that lead
is a poison. It's also a very useful metal. People have been using lead in their
daily lives for a long time. The Romans made pewter dishes and pipes for water
from lead. The effects of poisoning from lead leaching into liquids (water)
probably contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. Lead exposure didn't end
when lead-based paint and leaded gasoline were phased out.
Greek physician Pedanius Dioscorides noted in the first century AD: “Lead makes
the mind give way”.
To quote the Occupation Safety and Health Research Institute: “Lead poisoning is
one of the earliest identified and most known occupational disease. Its acute
effects have been recognized from antiquity.”
Lead is found in the insulation coating electronics, leaded crystal, storage
batteries, to coat the wicks of some candles, to stabilize certain plastics, and
in solder. You are exposed to trace amounts of lead every day.
Lead is a poisonous metal that our bodies cannot utilize. In fact, lead prevents
the body from using good minerals like iron and calcium the way it should.
You know lead is toxic, but do you know what makes it poisonous? In a nutshell,
it's toxic mainly because it preferentially replaces other metals (e.g., zinc,
calcium and iron) in biochemical reactions. Lead interferes with the proteins
that cause certain genes to turn on and off by displacing other metals in the
molecules. This changes the shape of the protein molecule such that it can't
perform its function.
Research is ongoing to identify which molecules bind with lead. Some of the
proteins that are known to be affected by lead regulate blood pressure (which
can cause development delays in children and high blood pressure in adults),
heme production (which can lead to anemia), and sperm production (possibly
implicating lead in infertility). It can cause everything from constipation to
permanent reduction in your IQ and mental capacity.
Lead displaces calcium in the reactions that transmit electrical impulses in the
brain, which is another way of saying it diminishes your ability to think or
recall information, or makes you stupid. It also can potentially fundamentally
change a given person’s personality, causing them to be irritable and suffer
from erratic mood-swings and fatigue without warning; stunted growth (in
children); miscarriages; and a whole slew of other terrifying symptoms.
The main concern is lead exposure with small children because lead can cause
developmental problems, plus kids engage in activities that increase their
exposure to the metal (e.g., putting things in their mouths, not washing their
hands as Dust/ Soil can be contaminated with lead, Drinking water may be lead
Lead poisoning occurs when an individual, swallows, absorbs, or inhales lead in
any form. The result can be damaging; to the brain, nerves, and many other parts
of the body.
Acute lead poisoning, which is somewhat rare, occurs when a relatively large
amount of lead is taken into the body over a short period of time.
Chronic lead poisoning — a common problem in children — occurs when small
amounts of lead are taken in over a longer period.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines childhood lead
poisoning as a whole-blood lead concentration equal to or greater than 10
Bonus Facts: For reference, about 94% of lead absorbed into the adult body and
70% in children gets stored in the bones and teeth. This actually turns out to
be a potentially good thing, as its ability to do damage is significantly
greater in your blood and soft tissues than in bone. This is one of the reasons
kids are so much more susceptible to the negative effects of lead poisoning.
Iron, on the other hand, is a key nutrient. It is part of the oxygen- bearing
component of red blood cells (haemoglobin), and the prevention of haemoglobin
formation by the presence of lead is the primary cause of lead-induced anaemia (hypochromic
Hypochromic anaemia is produced by significant iron deficiency even if no lead
is present. Iron also plays a significant role in brain activity and a wide
range of other bodily functions.
Iron competes with lead for absorption in the gut and uptake within the body,
and vitamin C can enhance its ability to displace lead. It has been linked to
blood and organ lead levels and may protect the blood/brain barrier from lead
impacts as well as reducing lead induced apoptosis (cellular suicide) within the
Iron aids in protection of the body from the harmful effects of lead. Iron
deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies. Pre-menopausal
women, pregnant women and infants are at higher risk of iron deficiency. Iron
deficiency, particularly in children, has independent impacts on the brain that
can exacerbate lead impacts.
It is important for all children, but especially children with elevated blood
lead levels, to eat a well-balanced and age-appropriate diet. It is also
important for children to be evaluated for iron-deficiency anemia and to eat
food rich in iron, vitamin C, and calcium.
So, the crux can be stated as; You need iron to transport oxygen in your red
blood cells, yet too much iron can kill you. You breathe oxygen, yet again, too
much is lethal. Lead isn't like those elements. It's simply poisonous.
Paracelsus' idea that the dose makes the poison doesn't really apply with lead.
Many substances are non-toxic or even essential in trace amounts, yet poisonous
There is no minimum safe exposure limit, in part because lead accumulates in the
body. There are government regulations regarding 'acceptable' limits for
products and pollution because lead is useful and necessary, but the reality is,
any lead is too much lead.