The recent publicity over Flint, Michigan’s water contamination has lead to an increased awareness of lead toxicity. In April 2014, the City of Flint switched its water supply from Detroit-supplied Lake Huron to the Flint River. The lead levels increased from 2.4 percent to up to 6.6 percent in certain areas (1). Along with dietary recommendations from the state of Michigan, naturopathic medicine is ideal in helping with this crisis (2).
Lead is a potent neurotoxin and children are more susceptible to its absorption, almost 40% more than an adult (3). The reason for this is unknown, but may be related to dietary insufficiencies (3).
Toxicity symptoms vary in children based on at what point in their lives they are exposed to it, but the most common symptoms are developmental and neurobehavioral issues that can persist into adulthood (3). If exposure occurs during infancy or early childhood, these symptoms can include anemia, or other disorders of the synthesis of the iron-containing portion of hemoglobin known as heme by the inhibition of zinc-dependent enzymes (3). Neurological impairment like encephalopathy, renal alterations, colic and vitamin D metabolism impairment can also occur (3). In addition to those symptoms, children exposed during that time or while in utero can experience IQ deficits, low birth weight, growth retardation and a delay in sexual maturation in females (3).
Lead Toxicity Testing
Heavy metal testing of hair samples has become more popular in the past few decades. But a study done in Russia in 1998, showed the accuracy of measuring lead in hair to be only 57 percent (4). However, an article from 2001, showed that the advancement in technology has improved the accuracy and precision of testing trace elements in hair samples (5).
As for analysis via blood, plasma or urine, there was a study done on 145 Scandinavian men, 112 of which worked with lead, that showed that lead plasma had better precision and a lower detection limit compared to urine and whole blood (6). Plasma testing was also shown to be more sensitive than whole blood testing (6). That being said, this researcher only found one lab that ran plasma lead, NMS labs. The well-known laboratory testing company, Quest Diagnostics, only provides whole blood and urine lead testing. With inorganic lead having an affinity to bind to red blood cells, whole blood testing would be the best option (6).
The State of Michigan’s recommendations of a healthy diet as a preventative measure for lead toxicity concurs with the research. Calcium and iron deficiencies have been shown to increase absorption rates of lead in children (3). The highest sources of heme iron, or the more bioavailable form of iron, are found in liver and shellfish (7). Sources with slightly less heme iron, but more popular in taste, are beef and turkey (7). While green leafy vegetables are also high in iron, they are high in non-heme iron which is harder for bodies to absorb (7). Iron supplementation may need to be provided to vegetarians in areas where the water is contaminated with lead. As for calcium, collard greens actually have a higher concentration of calcium than milk (8). Sardines are also higher in calcium than cow’s milk and a good source of iron as well (7,8).
Herbs can also be used in the prevention and detoxification of lead toxicity. Chinese parsley or cilantro, latin name Coriandrum Sativum, was shown to prevent lead deposition in bones and kidneys (9). Zingiber officinale, or ginger, was shown to prevent against lead tissue damage by subduing T-Cell immune reactions (10).
The algae Chlorella vulgaris was shown in animal studies to increase elimination of heavy metals, like lead, through either blocking absorption or stimulating excretion via the digestive tract (10). According to the Natural Integrated Health Association, a dosage of 18 to 27 grams of Chlorella is required for chelating effects (11). They recommend taking it before bed or 40 minutes before eating and not at the same time of day as taking cilantro (11).
The NIHA also recommend having the person who is detoxing from heavy metals to do detox spa procedures like colonics, InfraRed sauna or lymphatic massage while using chelating agents such as Chlorella (11). The addition of infraRed sauna in the treatment protocol is correlated with research done in 1988 which showed that lead can be excreted through the skin via sweating (12).
Another popular Naturopathic method of heavy metal detox is homeopathy. A study in the Journal of Biomedical Therapy showed that Plumbum aceticum, or homeopathic lead acetate, lowered blood lead levels (13). The use of the remedy Plumbum aceticum is indicated in cases of chronic lead poisoning with the symptoms of arteriosclerosis, neuralgia, progressive muscular atrophy, parotitis, spastic constipation, gastrointestinal colic, nephrosclerosis and nephritis, angiospasms and endarteritis (13).
With this growing, and somewhat neglected, crisis in Flint, Naturopathic Medicine could be the key to preventing lead toxicity damage in the children in this city. My intention in writing this, and to posting it on my website, is to promote the notion that Naturopaths can contribute to the prevention and treatment of lead toxicity in Flint, Michigan and in the almost 2,000 water systems across the United States shown to have elevated lead levels (14).
- Hanna-Attisha M & et al. Elevated Blood Lead Levels in Children Associated With the Flint Drinking Water Crisis: A Spatial Analysis of Risk and Public Health Response. AJPH 2016 Feb; 106(2): 283-290.
- “Lead and Nutrition” Michigan.gov. State of Michigan, 2016. Web. April 2016.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing lead poisoning in young children. 2005.
- Estaban E & et. al. Hair and Blood as Substrates for Screening Children for Lead Poisoning. Archives of Environmental Health: An International Journal 1999; 54(6): 436-440.
- Bass DA, Hickock D, Quig D, Urek K. Trace element analysis in hair: factors determining accuracy, precision, and reliability. Altern Med Rev. 2001 Oct; 6(5): 472-81.
- Bergdahl IA & et. al. Lead Concentrations in Human Plasma, Urine and Whole Blood. Scand J Work Environ Health 1997; 23: 359-363.
- “Top Iron-Rich Foods” WebMD.com. WebMD, 2014 Oct. Web. April 2016.
- “A Guide to Calcium-Rich Food” nof.org. National Osteoporosis Foundation, nd. Web. April 2016.
- Aga M & et. al. Preventive effect of Coriandrum sativum (Chinese parsley) on localized lead deposition in ICR mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2001 Oct; 77(2-3): 203-208.
- Mustafa HN. Potential Alleviation of Chlorella vulgaris and Zingiber officinale on Lead-Induced Testicular Toxicity: an Ultrastructural Study. Folia Biologica 2015 Oct; 63(4): 269-278.
- “Dosing with Chlorella/Cilantro for Neurotoxin Elimination” nihadc.com. NIHA, nd. Web. April 2016.
- Lilley SG, Florence T, Stauber JL. The use of sweat to monitor lead absorption through the skin. Science of The Total Environment 1998 Oct; 76(2–3): 267-278.
- Fink-Gremmels J, Schurz F. Position Paper on the Toxicity of Plumbum metallicum, Plumbum aceticum, and Plumbum iodatum as used in Homeopathy. Journal of Biomedical Therapy. 1999 Jun; 17(3): 99-103.
- Young A, Nichols M. Beyond Flint: Excessive Lead Levels Found in Almost 2,000 Water Systems Across All 50 States. USA Today 2016: Web.