LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 10 no 2, June 2010, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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  Research article

Nutrition to Fight Lead Poisoning

By Robert J. Taylor, additional references sourced by
Elizabeth O’Brien, Edited by Anne Roberts,
Photos by Catherine Sweeny. 
A Fact Sheet version of this Research Article can be found at

Note that this article is compiled by a layman with no specialized medical training. It is not meant to be used in place of qualified medical or nutritional advice. Because of its general nature the author has not attempted a work with direct citations, instead providing reading lists on individual nutrients for those who wish to follow up on topics. The nature of addressing a general audience has meant that many elements have been simplified. Please consult a medical professional or nutritionist before implementing dietary changes.

Please note also that, given the recognized toxicity of lead, almost all articles quoted studies of humans involving individuals or groups where lead levels are falling, and results may not hold for ongoing lead exposure, acute lead poisoning or consistent low blood lead levels (<5 µl/dl, see Low Blood Lead Levels Do Not Appear to Be Further Reduced by Dietary Supplements EPH Vol  114 No8 Aug 2006 Brian L.Gulson, Karen J. Mizon, Michael J. Korsch, and Alan J. Taylor www.ehponline.org/members/2006/8605/8605.pdf ). Analysis of relationships between serum (blood) nutrient levels and lead levels must take into account the fact that lower serum nutrients may be influenced by lead toxicity, other toxin found with lead or lead related diseases. Animal studies must be treated with caution as by definition the human metabolism differs for that of animals used in these studies.

A good base source is the Medscape Lead Fact Sheet (highlighting nutrition) at
www.medscape.com/viewarticle/552359_2 . A useful overview of lead toxicity is Lead toxicity, a review of the literature Part 1, written by Lyn Patrick and accessible at www.thorne.com/media/Lead_2.pdf

The following provides a good nutritional overview for children exposed to Lead: Chapter 4. Nutritional Assessment and Interventions, from "Managing Elevated Blood Lead Levels Among Young Children: Recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention" by James Sargent,
MD, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), US Dept of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service (2002) at www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/CaseManagement/chap4.pdf

Individual Nutrients

The following is a list of individual nutrients and their relationship to lead levels in the body, with short lists of recommended reading. Additional material is available on iron, which, due to its complex metabolism has its own newsletter, which is “LEAD Action News vol 9 no 3 Lead Poisoning and Iron Nutrition”.

In the following paper, when a food type (eg. nuts) is followed by the names of particular foods in brackets eg (brazil, cashew, pecan) these foods are listed in declining order of relevant nutrient content.

A good source on the content of individual nutrients in different foods is the Danish Food Composition Data Base – Ed. 7 Technical University of Denmark www.foodcomp.dk/v7/fcdb_default.asp which ranks foods for individual nutrients per 100g. The USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21 US Department of Agriculture www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/ is more widely quoted but does not provide it’s per 100g data in easy to use charts. For a wider view of the value of individual nutrients, the Linus Pauling Institute website at http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/ can be a useful starting point. Another useful site is provided by the Feinberg School of Medicine Northwestern University www.feinberg.northwestern.edu/nutrition/fact-sheets.html . The US National Institute of Health (NIH) also provides useful factsheets on nutritional and dietary supplementation at http://ods.od.nih.gov/Health_Information/Information_About_Individual_Dietary_

It must be emphasized that there are massive differences between individual food samples, and different yet reputable websites can give very divergent values. Also the raw nutrient content does not reveal how much of a nutrient can be absorbed from it (bioavailability). Spinach is high in calcium and iron, yet humans can absorb less than 6% and 2% of these nutrients respectively, making it a poor source of these nutrients, though it is a good source of many others. For a more comprehensive view of the value of individual foods, the World’s Healthiest Foods website is a useful source (at www.whfoods.com/foodstoc.php ), though it does seem to accentuate positive aspects.

For those worried about the potential risks of vitamin or mineral supplementation, Safe Upper Levels for Vitamins and Minerals (May 2003) UK Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals www.food.gov.uk/multimedia/pdfs/vitmin2003.pdf is a good starting point, providing a good summary of research prior to its publication. Vitamins and minerals found in food are generally not sufficiently concentrated to cause problems, though there are exceptions. For example, large-scale consumption of Brazil nuts (>25 a day) can lead to selenium poisoning, while as few as 5 nuts could raise your selenium intake above recommended daily upper intake levels. However, the primary risk remains unsupervised vitamin and mineral supplementation. The same is true for much interference between nutrients during absorption. The ability of metals such as zinc to significantly interfere with the absorption of other metallic nutrients has been demonstrated at levels unlikely to be obtained from un-supplemented food consumption. Significant vitamin or mineral supplementation, even of non-toxic vitamins such as vitamin C, should only be undertaken with the advice of your physician or a qualified dietician. Recommended upper limits mentioned in this paper are for healthy young adults, and should be adjusted with qualified medical advice for children or older individuals. This paper avoids quoting recommended figures for children and older individuals (available from sites already mentioned), as, given possible variations for other conditions, this is best discussed with a medical professional.

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