What do batteries, an old can of paint, and a box of firearm ammunition all have in common? All of these things could potentially be harboring a dangerous toxin – a heavy metal known as lead.
But these aren’t the only places this malevolent metal might be lurking. Today we’re going to dive into exactly what lead is, where it might be hiding, and why it’s so hazardous to your health. And most importantly, we’ll cover some practical ways to protect yourself from this toxic element.
What Is Lead?
Lead is a heavy, grayish-blue metal that’s found abundantly in nature – particularly in the earth’s crust. Because this element is soft and malleable, has low thermal conductivity, and is resistant to corrosion, it’s been used extensively in a variety of man-made products including:1
- Leaded paints and pigments
- Leaded gasoline and aviation fuel
- Pipes and plumbing materials
- Some cosmetics
While some industries and countries continue to use lead in their products, many areas – including the United States – have been phasing out and even banning the use of lead. This phasing out of lead-based products began once we started connecting the dots and realizing just how toxic this element really is.
How Much Lead Exposure Is Toxic?
This question is tricky to answer. You see, exposure to a large concentrated dose of lead can send you into an acute toxic reaction – causing serious, and potentially permanent, and/or life-threatening effects. While acute lead poisoning is certainly a concern and can very well occur – particularly in occupations that deal extensively with this metal – the bigger threat is actually long-term, chronic exposure to lead.
This long-term exposure is particularly troublesome because your body is only capable of processing and excreting so much lead at once. And anything it can’t process out begins to accumulate in your body.
The lead that starts building up in your body binds to your red blood cells where it’s then distributed and deposited into your soft tissues and eventually your bones.2
And this is problematic because most of us are exposed to elevated levels of lead on a daily basis. Before we dive into the specifics of exactly what lead does to your body, let’s take a look at exactly how you might be exposed to such high levels of lead.
How Do You Get Lead Poisoning?
Lead can be found just about everywhere in our environment. Because lead has been used so extensively, and because it can bind to other elements and be spread far and wide, you can potentially come into contact with lead almost anywhere you turn.
For example, lead can often be found in:3,4
- Homes and buildings: Despite the fact that lead paint has been banned, many older homes and buildings may still contain traces of lead-based paints. This can chip off and turn to dust which can be inhaled, ingested, or even absorbed through your skin.
- The air: Lead can be emitted into the air from industrial sites, mining locations, and through burning lead-based fuel. These lead particles can float around in the air and make their way directly into your lungs.
- Contaminated soil: Lead can sneak its way into the environment and bind to other elements in the soil. From there, it can be spread far and wide – making its way into agricultural sites where crops are grown, and eventually, onto our plates.
- Contaminated water sources: Our food isn’t the only place lead can be hiding out. Contaminated soil can sometimes cause contaminated water. But the bigger problem comes from distribution or plumbing lines that contain lead that can leach out into our drinking water.
With so many potential sources of exposure, you’re probably curious exactly what the signs of lead toxicity are.
Signs of Mild Lead Toxicity
While it makes sense to think that there are different levels of lead toxicity that occur on a spectrum of severity, the truth is, lead poisoning is not so straightforward.
You see, lead toxicity levels can vary greatly from person to person and can be influenced by a number of factors (like age, total toxic burden, and gut health). This is further complicated by the fact that lead can be damaging to just about every organ system in your entire body.
That’s because lead wreaks havoc on a cellular level, causing:5
- A spike in damaging free radicals that cause oxidative stress and injury to cellular structures
- An interruption in the production and utilization of critical enzymes that maintain the integrity of cell membranes
- Impairment of DNA transcription
- An alteration in the permeability of blood vessels while disrupting collagen synthesis
- Disruption and suppression of immune cells and immune activity
This damage to your cells can lead to a wide array of serious symptoms and health concerns.
Lead Poisoning Symptoms
Because lead poisonous and toxic effects can be insidious – slowly chipping away at your health on a microscopic level – lead poisoning symptoms are often vague and difficult to trace back to this calamitous compound.
Possible effects of lead toxicity include:6,7,8
- Gastrointestinal effects: Lead toxicity can cause chronic digestive issues like constipation, abdominal pain and bloating, and nausea and/or vomiting. It can also cause damage to the integrity of your intestinal lining and disrupt the homeostasis of your gut microbiome.
- Renal effects: Lead toxicity can impair and slow down the function of your kidneys, hindering their ability to properly filter your blood. Increased lead levels can also accelerate the progression of renal insufficiency and contribute to the rapid deterioration of kidney function.
- Neurological effects: Your brain and nervous system are the most vulnerable to lead’s effects thanks to its ability to pass through the blood-brain barrier. Lead can damage neurons and interfere with neurotransmission, leading to a significant decrease in important cognitive functions like memory, learning, and visual/motor performance. Lead can also increase the risk of developing psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, ADHD, and aggression.
- Reproductive effects: Elevated lead levels can cause reproductive issues in both men and women including reduced sperm count, and an increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weights, and premature births. Lead can also be dangerous to fetal development – increasing the risk of developmental disabilities.
- Effects on children: Children are at an increased risk of harm from elevated lead levels due to their developing tissues. Studies have found that children exposed to elevated levels of lead are at an increased risk of behavioral issues, decreased cognitive performance, delayed puberty, and obesity.
With such consequential and widespread effects, you’re probably wondering exactly how lead poisoning is treated.
Lead Toxicity Treatment
In acute and/or severe cases of lead poisoning, the primary method of treatment is something called chelation therapy. In chelation therapy, chemical compounds known as chelating agents are administered via intravenous (IV) tube or an oral pill.
Once administered, these chelating agents make their way throughout your body – binding to lead and other heavy metals. Once attached to the cheating agent, the lead is filtered through your kidneys and excreted out of your body through your urine.9
But the good news is, you don’t need chelation therapy to start detoxing from lead. There are some simple and powerfully effective steps you can start today to support your body in detoxing lead, while also preventing unnecessary exposure.
How Can I Protect Myself From Lead?
Protecting yourself from the toxic effects of lead requires a big-picture approach built on two primary pillars: Preventing exposure and amplifying your natural detoxification abilities. Let’s look a little deeper at each of these:
Preventing Lead Exposure
While it’s impossible to entirely avoid exposure to some levels of lead, some simple steps can go a long way in drastically decreasing the amount you’re exposed to on a regular basis. Here’s what you can do:
- Keep your home and work area as dust-free as possible: This is particularly important if you live and/or work in an older building that might have traces of lead paint. Simply vacuuming regularly and using a damp sponge to clean up any high friction areas (like windows and door jams) can prevent the spread of lead-filled dust.
- Clean your air: The air inside your home can actually be significantly polluted with lead and other airborne toxins – even more so than outside air. So investing in a high-quality air filter (like Austin Air Systems or Air Doctor Filters), can significantly improve the quality of your indoor air and decrease the amount of toxins you’re inhaling.
- Purify your water: Lead and other hidden toxins can sneak their way into your drinking water. So it’s crucial to ensure that your water is as pure as possible. Opt for filters that have studies proving they remove contaminants like lead. I personally love and recommend both Berkey Water Filters and Clearly Filtered Water Filters.
- Always wash your produce and hands before eating: Lead and other toxins can cling to not only the fresh produce you eat, but also your hands after touching potentially contaminated objects. So always be sure to rinse any produce before consuming it and always wash your hands with soap and water before eating.
Prevention is key, but it’s only part of the puzzle.
Amplifying Your Natural Detoxification Abilities:
We’re bombarded with a barrage of toxins on a daily basis. This is not necessarily a problem – as long as our natural detoxification pathways can keep up and process out these toxins quicker than they’re coming in. So boosting your body’s ability to detox is one of the most powerful things you can do to protect yourself from lead and other hazardous compounds.
Here’s what I recommend:
- Minimize your overall toxic burden: EMFs, indoor air pollution, toxic cleaning and beauty products, and other harmful compounds you may encounter on a daily basis bog down your ability to detox. Reducing your overall toxic burden can prevent your body from “burning out” and keep your detox capabilities running at full capacity. Click here to learn more about the exact steps to take to reduce your toxic burden.
- Naturally support your detoxification pathways: There are some simple ways to naturally support and enhance your body’s own natural detoxification processes. Integrating modalities like PEMF therapy, infrared saunas, and detox binders can boost your ability to effectively eliminate lead and other toxins.
- Load up on nutrients: Your body needs lots of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to run and detox smoothly. Give your body the fuel and building blocks it needs by eating a healthy well-rounded diet full of fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. And be sure to incorporate immune-boosting supplements like glutathione, Vitamin C, and Vitamin D to fill in any nutritional gaps.
These simple steps can skyrocket your body’s ability to quickly and effectively eradicate harmful toxins like lead.
So, How Worried Should I Be When It Comes to Lead?
Lead toxicity is insidious and can have serious consequences for your health, and the health of your family. The thought of lead and other dangerous toxins lurking just about everywhere you go can feel overwhelming and scary.
But the good news is, you are not powerless when it comes to your environment. You have so much power over your health and well-being through the small cumulative choices you make on a daily basis. And taking steps to shield yourself from the harmful effects of lead and other toxic compounds is one of the most critical components of protecting and preserving your health.
That’s why I’m dedicated to empowering you with easy-to-understand and easy to implement resources – to arm you with the tools you need to take control and experience the vibrant health we all deserve.
So if you enjoyed this article and are looking for more ways to prioritize your health, I encourage you to head over to my blog – it’s full of helpful resources just like this. And if you’re ready to take it to the next level, you can sign up for my newsletter by entering your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn about the ways chronic lead exposure can harm your health? What steps are you implementing to safeguard yourself and your loved ones from our increasingly toxic environment? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- LeadInfo.pdf (ncdhhs.gov)
- Pb Neurotoxicity: Neuropsychological Effects of Lead Toxicity (hindawi.com)
- Lead (nih.gov)
- Lead poisoning and health (who.int)
- Lead toxicity: a review (nih.gov)
- Lead toxicity: a review (nih.gov)
- kqh019.pdf (silverchair.com)
- Lead (nih.gov)
- Lead Poisoning: Common Symptoms & How You Get Lead Poisoning (webmd.com)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.