Low level lead exposure killing over 400,000 Americans a year, study reveals
(NaturalHealth365) Heart disease, the number one cause of mortality in the United States, is currently responsible for over 800,000 deaths a year. The primary risk factors for this potentially deadly condition are thought to include high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, cigarette smoking and diabetes. But, with the results of a shocking study published in The Lancet, researchers are now pointing to another likely culprit – lead exposure.
Natural health experts have long warned that lead is a dangerous neurotoxin – for which there is no safe level of exposure. The startling study shows that lead exposure is not only associated with cardiovascular disease – but is responsible for the premature deaths of 412,000 (close to half a million!) Americans every year.
Even more troubling, the deaths were not linked to acute exposures, but to relatively low blood levels of lead.
Lead exposure is grossly ignored as a cause of heart disease and premature death
To conduct the large-scale, long-term population study, researchers examined the connection between lead concentrations, heart disease and all-cause mortality in over 14,000 adults.
The study was the first to examine the link between low-level lead exposure (characterized as under 5 micrograms per deciliter of blood) and cardiovascular disease. Keep in mind, according to Harvard Medical School, average levels for Americans currently hover around 1 ug/dL.
When the team specifically examined results for participants with blood lead levels between 1 ug/dL (the threshold of detection) and 5 ug/dL, they discovered that the risk of premature death increased substantially.
In addition, the team found that people with higher lead levels (6.7 ug/dL) had a 70 percent greater risk of death from heart disease – when compared to those at the low end of the scale.
But that wasn’t all.
The researchers calculated that exposure to lead caused an 18 percent higher risk of dying from any cause, which translates to 412,000 deaths a year. Around 256,000 of those deaths occurred from heart disease, the team reported.
The researchers called low-level lead exposure an “important, but overlooked” risk factor for premature death in the U.S. – particularly for death from heart disease. The team stressed the importance of continuing efforts to reduce environmental lead exposure.
Additional studies support evidence of harm from lead exposure
Animal studies have shown that chronic, low-level lead exposure not only causes high blood pressure (a contributor to heart disease) but – by inactivating the body’s stores of beneficial nitric oxide – can also trigger atherosclerosis.
Lead exposure also contributes to atherosclerosis by inhibiting the repair of fragile, easily-damaged arterial linings. In addition, low-level lead exposure promoted the formation of blood clots – thereby directly raising risk of stroke and heart attack.
Not surprisingly, additional studies have reflected the findings of the Lancet study, linking higher concentrations of lead with high blood pressure, peripheral arterial disease and heart disease deaths.
Significantly, these findings directly contradict the prevailing wisdom concerning levels of lead at which harm can occur.
New research is causing experts to revamp views on low level exposure
Levels of 10 ug/dL to 25 ug/dL are considered proof positive that lead exposure is occurring – with levels of 25 ug/dL to 40 ug/dL considered “elevated.”
And, levels are considered “seriously elevated” between 40 ug/dL and 80 ug/dL, while levels over 80 ug/dL are “dangerously elevated” – with irreversible damage to health likely to occur.
As recently as 2013, only lead levels of 10 ug/dL, and above, were considered cause for concern. In fact, the National Toxicology Report previously described evidence linking blood lead levels under 10 ug/dL with heart disease-related mortality as “limited.”
Yet, participants in the recent study only had to average a modest 2.7 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to see their heart health and mortality affected – in a negative way.
Warning: Children are much more susceptible to damage
With smaller, still-developing systems, children under age six are much more susceptible than adults to the physical and mental effects of lead poisoning. Sadly, symptoms may not appear – in children and adults alike – until dangerous and damaging amounts of lead have already accumulated in the body.
Signs of lead exposure in children include learning difficulties, irritability, fatigue, weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea. Pica – a craving for non-edible substances, such as paint chips or dirt – can also indicate lead poisoning in children.
Lead exposure in newborns is manifested by premature birth, lower birth weight and slow growth.
Adults exposed to lead may experience high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, headaches, impaired concentration and memory loss – along with reproductive problems such as reduced sperm count in men and miscarriage and premature birth in women.
Of course, very high levels of exposure to lead can cause seizures, unconsciousness and premature death.
Deteriorating lead paint in older homes threatens children’s health
While lead-based paints for homes, toys and furniture have been banned since 1978, lead exposure can still occur in older homes. The most common sources of lead poisoning in children are flakes of deteriorating lead-based paint – especially if the children nibble on them. Contaminated dust can also be released during home renovations in older buildings.
In addition, lead can persist in soil in the yards of older homes.
According to the New York State Department of Health, lead may still be found in batteries, solder pipes, pottery, bullets, roofing materials and various imported cosmetics and candies. Adults who perform renovations on older houses – particularly involving plumbing, roofing and painting – are at greater risk for exposure, as are those who work in auto shops and with batteries.
Worth noting: If lead exposure from an older home is a concern, the Harvard School of Public Health advises employing an EPA-certified lead abatement professional to replace lead plumbing pipes. You may also want to look into hiring a building biologist to ensure you’re living in a healthy home.
Vitamin C can effectively help to remove heavy metals from the body
Chelation, a protocol for treating lead exposure, features the use of edetate calcium disodium, or EDTA. This compound binds with and removes heavy metals, including lead, iron and copper.
There is now clinical evidence that vitamin C, a potent antioxidant, can potentiate and enhance the detoxifying effect of chelating agents.
In a recent study published in Life Sciences, researchers found that EDTA and vitamin C together are more than twice as effective as either substance given alone. The team noted that the combination is particularly effective in removing lead from the central nervous system.
And, optimal levels of vitamin C can protect against high lead levels.
In a study conducted by University of California at San Francisco and published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, the researchers found a direct association between high levels of vitamin C and lower blood levels of lead.
Adults had blood levels reduced by 68 percent with higher vitamin C intake, while children with higher vitamin C intake fared even better. Researchers found that those in the top one-third of vitamin C levels displayed an 89 percent lowered incidence of lead toxicity.
It is important to consume enough vitamin C to protect against the effects of lead exposure – whether through vitamin C-rich foods (such as citrus fruits, bell peppers and Brussels sprouts) or supplements.
Natural health experts note that at least 1,000 mg of vitamin C a day is required to reduce lead levels and enjoy other benefits – including stronger overall immune function.
Sources for this article include: