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)
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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

Folate (Vitamin M) and Folic Acid (Vitamin B9), different forms of the same substance (folic acid is the supplementary form), increase lead absorption in the gut but improve lead excretion and may make it harder for lead to bind to blood elements. Recent studies indicate it is associated with lower blood lead, and more importantly, may protect to some degree from the intellectual impairment associated with even moderate blood lead levels in children - though the mechanisms are not yet understood. Folate deficiency can exacerbate lead-induced anemia by adding megaloblastic anemia (depressed red blood cell production) to hypochromic (caused by oxygen deficient red blood cells) and microcytic (due to small short lived red blood cells) anaemia.

Folate is found in good quantities in green leafy vegetables, fortified breakfast cereals, legumes, some seeds or fruit, liver and baker’s yeast. Australia began compulsory fortification of bread with B9 in mid September 2009, as have other countries including the USA, but organic bread is not fortified. Pasteurized cow’s milk contains reasonable levels, while some fermented products (some yogurts and soft cheeses) have higher levels. Equally importantly, cow’s milk may enhance the body’s ability to utilize folate. Prolonged cooking can destroy most folate from vegetable sources but has little impact on folate from animal sources. Alcohol, smoking, and to a lesser extent coffee consumption can reduce serum (blood) folates, while deficiencies in thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2). niacin (B3) and cobalamin (B12) can interfere with folate use within the body. It is generally recommended that folate/folic acid intake not exceed 1mg a day, as higher amounts may conceal vitamin B12 deficiency, which can lead to neurological and nerve damage. High levels of serum folate have been partially linked to mental decline in the elderly and tentatively, at least in its supplemental form (folic acid), some cancers.

Folate or folic acid (vitamin B9)

Folate or folic acid (vitamin B9): Found predominantly in vegetables. Significant quantities are obtained from breakfast cereal [cornflakes, pictured] while the cow’s milk (rear row) consumed with these products can enhance folate use inside the body. Yeast abstract [vegemite, pictured] is extremely high in folate as is liver (chicken, ox, calf, pig, goose) (centre, second row). Other good sources include wheat germ, some cheeses (left centre row) particularly soft cheeses and some yogurt (not pictured), beans (mung, soy, white [pictured]), chickpeas (right, centre row), parsley root, kale, chervil, spinach, and broccoli (front row). All non-organic bread in Australia by law must be made with folic acid enhanced flour (centre left).

  1. Folic Acid Jane Higdon The Linus Pauling Institute http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/vitamins/fa/ [A good introduction but not as comprehensive of recent research as the wikipedia entry. Has a good, brief easy to understand explanation of interactions between B9, B6 and B12 to produce methionine (mentioned later in this article) and cysteine (used to manufacture glutathione).]
  2. Folic Acid Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folic_acid [Not as easy to read as the Linus Pauling Institute article but is more comprehensive of recent developments. It is recommended that you read this article after the Linus Pauling article for a rounded general introduction to the role of folate.]
  3. Determinants of the Blood Lead Level of US Women of Reproductive Age Lee, Mi-Gyung; Chun, Ock Kyoung; Sung, Wan O. J Am College of Nutr, Vol. 24, No. 1, 1–9 (2005) www.jacn.org/cgi/reprint/24/1/1 [Finds that low folate levels are associated with higher blood lead levels. Makes the point of the different effects of folate on lead absorption and excretion.]
  4. Associations between Cognitive Function, Blood Lead Concentration, and Nutrition among Children in the Central Philippines Solon, Orville; Ridell, TJ;  Qumbo,SA;  Butrick, E;  Aylward, GP; Bacate,ML & Peabody, JW The Journal of Pediatrics, Volume 152, Issue 2, Pages 237-243. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0022347607008530 [Finds that not only is folate associated with lower blood lead but that it is linked with lower lead-induced IQ damage in children. Further research would be needed to confirm this link.]
  5. Effect of cow’s milk on food folate bioavailability in young women Mary Frances Picciano, Sheila G West, Amanda L Ruch, Penny M Kris-Etherton, Guixiang Zhao, Kelley E Johnston Deborah H Maddox, Valerie K Fishell, Douglas B Dirienzo, and Tsunenobu Tamura Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80:1565-9. Dec 2004 www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/80/6/1565 [Indicates that some folate indicators are improved by consuming folate with dairy products, even when serum folate is unaffected]
  6. Plasma Folate, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and Homocysteine and Pancreatic Cancer Risk in Four Large Cohorts Eva Schernhammer, Brian Wolpin, Nader Rifai, Barbara Cochrane, Jo Ann Manson, Jing Ma, Ed Giovannucci, Cynthia Thomson, Meir J. Stampfer, and Charles Fuchs Cancer Res 2007; 67: (11). June 1, 2007 http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/cgi/reprint/67/11/5553 [Found that while folate in food slightly reduced the risk of pancreatic cancer taking multi-vitamins (which use folic acid) may increase the risk. This is one of a number of studies that indicates that in its supplemental form, folic acid, it may increase cancer risks, notably among smokers, though the evidence about folate or folic acid in food is less clear.]

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