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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)
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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 www.lead.org.au/fs/Fact_sheet-Nutrients_that_reduce_lead_poisoning_June_2010.pdf

Magnesium is an essential mineral for bone health. Magnesium intake should be more than half your calcium intake to maximize bone formation. Magnesium absorption (close to 50%) from diets is normally considerably higher than calcium absorption (roughly 10-30%). Low levels of magnesium are linked to higher bone resorption, potentially releasing more lead from the bone to the blood, and higher lead in body organs. Higher blood lead has been linked to lower levels of blood magnesium, though it must be noted blood magnesium may not be an accurate gauge of magnesium status other than deficiency. There is limited evidence from animal studies that suggest magnesium may reduce lead retention in blood and tissues. Good levels of magnesium in blood cells may ameliorate lead-induced hypertension. While the evidence is scant, and complicated by the fact that blood magnesium levels are not necessarily directly related to tissue or dietary magnesium levels, it is probably wise to maintain good levels of magnesium consumption if your blood lead is elevated.

Magnesium absorption is inhibited by oxalates and phytates (to lesser degree than iron, zinc or calcium) while vitamin D, pectin and protein may enhance absorption. Phytates inhibit magnesium absorption but most high phytate foods such as seeds or nuts are very high in magnesium, so it is unlikely to be a cause of concern. Magnesium is significantly removed by boiling, de-husking (in the case of grain, predominantly for flour manufacture) and a range of other processing. White or wholemeal bread has much less magnesium than whole grain bread. Alcohol, particularly in conjunction with lead, appears to deplete magnesium in animal studies. Magnesium has low toxicity and the UK Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals recommends that supplementing your diet with 400mg a day should be safe for almost all individuals, with the primary concern being for individuals with impaired renal (kidney) function, which can be lead-induced. For that reason lower levels of supplementation are recommended for older individuals even though they are more likely to be magnesium deficient due to declining absorption. Magnesium is readily available and found in high quantities in coriander, cocoa, wheat bran or germ, dill, seeds (fennel, linseed, sesame, poppy and coriander), nuts (brazil, almond, pine and cashew), curry powder, oats, rose hip, soy beans or flour, tea and coffee.

  1. Magnesium Jane Higdon The Linus Pauling Institute  http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/minerals/magnesium/ [a good basic outline of the role of magnesium]

  2. Do You Have Strong Bones Or Are You At Risk For Osteoporosis? Priscilla Slagle M.D. The Way Up Newsletter 12/01/08 Volume 40 www.thewayup.com/newsletters/120108.htm [provides a short layman’s summary of the role of magnesium in bone health.]

  3. The modification of blood calcium and blood magnesium in the professional exposure to lead Ligia Fat and Victoria Coldea Toxicology Letters  Vol. 95, Sup 1, July 1998, p 128 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0378-4274(98)80508-0 [finds that lead exposure is associated with low levels of magnesium in the blood]

  4. Low Blood Lead Levels Do Not Appear to Be Further Reduced by Dietary Supplements Brian L. Gulson, Karen J. Mizon, Michael J. Korsch, and Alan J. Taylor Environ Health Perspect Vol 114, No 8,  August 2006 www.ehponline.org/members/2006/8605/8605.pdf  [provides a very brief overview of animal research on magnesium in the conclusion]

  5. Blood cell lead, calcium, and magnesium levels associated with pregnancy-induced hypertension and preeclampsia Earl B. Dawson, D. R. Evans, R. Kelly and J. W. Van Hook Biological Trace Element Research Vol 74, No 2 May 2000 www.springerlink.com/content/d681155v71707317/  [Indicates that blood magnesium levels can influence the impact of lead on hypertension]

  6. Combined exposure to lead and ethanol on tissue concentration of essential metals and some biochemical indices in rats S. J. S. Flora , Deo Kumar, S. R. S. Sachan and S. Das Gupta Biological Trace Element Research Vol 28 No 2 February 1991 www.springerlink.com/content/e114062566104376/  [Found that lead and ethanol (alcohol) reduced concentrations of calcium and magnesium in the liver and blood, increased lead concentrations in the blood, liver and brain, magnified liver damage and increased blood zinc protoporphyrin (a sign of hypochromic anemia).]

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