Reading Between the Lines
Nutrition Updates by Merinda Teller, MPH, PhD
Historians may disagree about the extent to which the decline of the Roman Empire can be attributed to lead poisoning, but it is common knowledge that the empire used lead in many of the pipes that supplied Rome and provincial cities with water. As a result, Roman tap water contained up to one hundred times more lead than local spring water.1 Romans also had a variety of other favored uses for lead, including in cookware, drinking vessels, food and wine preservation, and cosmetics. Whether or not lead offers the sole explanation for the empire’s decline, it is certainly plausible that chronic lead poisoning contributed to the “creeping cretinism” and “conspicuous pattern of mental incompetence” that came to characterize the Roman elite.2
Fast forward two thousand years to Flint, Michigan, where the city’s one hundred thousand residents (including pregnant women and almost eighty-seven hundred children under the age of six) have been unwittingly exposed to dangerously high levels of lead in their drinking water for nearly two years.
In April of 2014, city officials made a cost-saving decision to obtain the city’s water from the polluted Flint River rather than continuing to purchase water from Detroit’s system (which draws from Lake Huron). This decision brought water that is nineteen times more corrosive than Lake Huron water3 into contact with Flint’s old pipes, prompting the release of lead into the tap water.4 Although citizen complaints about the water’s odor and appearance were initially stonewalled, the massive lead contamination eventually became impossible to ignore. Flint belatedly returned to the Detroit water system in late 2015, but the corroded water pipes continue to leach lead. Experts agree that there is no “safe” level of lead exposure.5
On January 16, 2016, officials declared a federal state of emergency for Flint, and Michigan’s chief medical executive acknowledged that, from a public health perspective, the entire cohort of children drinking Flint water since April 2014 should be considered as lead-exposed.4,6 A study conducted at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, which compared blood lead levels before and after the changeover in water supply, confirmed this population-level exposure, finding a statistically significant increase (nearly double) in the percent of Flint children with elevated blood lead levels.7 These stark results likely underestimate the actual risk, because infants were not screened for lead, and the blood lead levels may have peaked prior to the researchers’ measurements.7 (Lead initially circulates in the blood but then is stored in the bones and major organs.) To add insult to injury, Flint residents are stuck paying water bills for water they cannot drink—failure to pay the bills threatens them with charges of child endangerment because Michigan law considers parents neglectful in the absence of running water!8
ONGOING PUBLIC HEALTH HAZARD
Lead from all sources—past and present—never goes away; it lingers in soil, the food chain, and house dust without ever breaking down. As the National Research Council noted over twenty years ago, “Most of the three hundred million metric tons of lead ever produced remains in the environment.”9 This persistence of lead is cause for concern because lead is a powerful toxin that can affect nearly every system in the body, often without recognizable symptoms.5,10 Acute lead toxicity attracts the most attention, but chronic low-level lead exposure is also extremely damaging, causing long-lasting effects that are especially troublesome for neurodevelopment.9 Comparing the fondness of both ancient Romans and modern Americans for lead, one author observed:
Romans of yesteryear, like Americans of today, equated limited exposure to lead with limited risk. What they did not realize was that their everyday low-level exposure to the metal rendered them vulnerable to chronic lead poisoning, even while it spared them the full horrors of acute lead poisoning.2
In 1978, residential use of lead-based paints was banned, and in 1996, the Clean Air Act ended the sale of leaded fuel. Both prohibitions were justifiably celebrated as public health victories. Moreover, the phasing out of leaded gasoline had immediate salutary effects, as Americans’ mean blood lead levels dropped by over 75 percent after the ban.11 However, even with the elimination of lead paint and leaded gasoline, the “lead menace”11 unfortunately lives on—particularly in aging municipal water systems.
Recognizing the problems associated with aging lead pipes, the federal Lead and Copper Rule of 1991 requires public water systems to implement corrosion control measures, primarily through the addition of orthophosphates as a corrosion inhibitor. The egregious water crisis in Flint appears to have arisen, in part, because “reckless” and unaccountable officials decided not to treat the Flint River water with orthophosphates.12 (It should be noted that these anti-corrosion chemicals have their own set of problems, including causing longer-term harm to surface water quality and uninvestigated effects on human health.) Nonetheless, the lead-damaged children and adults in Flint are far from the only Americans confronting the enduring problem of water-system-related lead toxicity. Lead components of water delivery systems are a potential problem for millions of U.S. homes.13 Even the seemingly obvious (though costly) solution of replacing lead pipes can cause myriad unintended consequences because any physical disturbance of lead lines can release lead particles into the water.13 It is not surprising, then, that a leading expert at Virginia Tech terms “the widespread risk posed by lead pipes and the astronomical cost to replace them” as “one of the biggest environmental disasters in U.S. history.”13
LEAD, CHILDREN, AND POVERTY
Public health officials long ago admitted that their understanding of the health effects of lead is “evolving” and continues to undergo scrutiny as scientists develop more sensitive measures of “biochemical, psychological, and electro-physiological changes associated with relatively low levels of lead exposure.”14 Nonetheless, all are in agreement that because of their physical immaturity, infants and children are “the first and worst victims” of low-level lead exposure—vulnerable to “systemic and neurological injury, including lowered IQs, reading and learning disabilities, impaired hearing, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, behavioral problems and interference with growth.”11 The relationship between lead exposure and IQ deficits has been particularly well studied, and lead-induced IQ losses may be permanent. 15 Studies also suggest that because 90 to 95 percent of the total body burden of lead is stored in bone, childhood exposure to lead may be associated with osteoporosis later in adulthood.16
According to conservative estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least four million U.S. households are home to children who are being exposed to high levels of lead, and at least half a million U.S. children ages one to five (representing 2.6 percent of all U.S. children in this age group) have blood lead levels exceeding the threshold intended to trigger initiation of “public health actions.”10 In addition to children’s direct exposure to environmental sources of lead, exposure can occur in utero (lead circulating in maternal blood “readily” crosses the placenta) and through breast milk.17 Where tap water is concerned, a 2014 study that reevaluated past models suggesting that lead in tap water was not “a primary health risk for a typical child” found that, on the contrary, even low water lead levels pose health concerns, particularly for young children and formula-fed infants.18
The CDC neutrally notes that children who are living at or below the poverty line in older housing are at greatest risk of harm from chronic lead exposure.10 The mayor of Flint, who apparently recognizes environmental racism when she sees it, has suggested in interviews that officials were slow to respond to the water crisis because the city’s population was primarily African-American and poor.19 The ugly association between poverty and lead exposure also was brought to light recently in news accounts of Freddie Gray, the African-American man whose death while in police custody sparked riots in Baltimore in 2015. According to an account in The Washington Post, Gray grew up in old housing in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, surrounded by peeling paint, and was reported to have damaging lead levels in his blood in a lead-poisoning lawsuit that Gray and his siblings filed and subsequently settled.20
Clearly, the best course of action is to prevent lead exposure before harm ensues. One can take steps to mitigate lead hazards in the environment—if one knows about them. However, for Flint citizens who already have been poisoned by lead-contaminated water, incurring possibly irreversible damage, this type of advice offers little consolation.
AFTERMATH OF LEAD EXPOSURE
In this age of rampant exposure to multiple sources of toxic metals—including lead, mercury and aluminum—alert health practitioners increasingly recognize the fact that heavy metal toxicity plays a key role in many chronic health conditions:
Almost all chronically sick patients, regardless of their specific symptoms or diagnoses, have sustained significant exposure to toxic metals. Dose, duration, manner of exposure, biochemical individuality, genetic propensity, diet quality and stress levels combine to determine the degree of ill effects. Good nutrition is key [emphasis added] because a deficiency of vital metals will lead to their replacement by toxic metals in enzyme binding sites. […] These substitutions…in time lead to physiological dysfunction.21
For those suffering from lead or other heavy metal poisoning, a protective diet that avoids processed foods and emphasizes the central components of a nutrient-dense and antioxidant-rich WAPF-style diet is essential (see sidebar).21 Nutritional status shapes susceptibility to lead toxicity in important ways, affecting lead’s intestinal absorption; its mobilization, distribution and retention in the body; and excretion.22 Because oxidative stress is a likely mechanism explaining some of lead’s toxic actions, some investigators have begun to explore whether natural antioxidants and trace minerals may help mitigate lead-induced cell damage.17 Specifically, researchers in Spain found that administration of vitamins A, B6, C and E along with zinc modulated some of the negative effects of lead exposure in rat pups, confirming the influence of nutritional factors on health outcomes following lead exposure.17 Vitamin D also should be a major component of a protective diet. A study of bone lead levels in middle-aged to elderly men concluded that low dietary intake of vitamin D may increase lead accumulation in bones.22 Consuming key micronutrients through a traditionally prepared whole-foods diet (rather than in synthetic form) is, of course, vital. (On other healing fronts, informed use of homeopathic remedies such as Alumina, Causticum, and Plumbum may help antidote exposure to heavy metals, including lead.23)
Admittedly, the embattled and impoverished citizens of Flint will likely need help to mobilize the high-quality nutritional resources that they and their children desperately need. (Attention, WAPF members in Michigan!) Although Flint citizens’ most immediate requirement is clean water, surely it would behoove anyone interested in helping to direct resources toward the nutritional support that stands the greatest chance of improving Flint children’s chances for a more resilient future.
A DIET PROTECTIVE AGAINST LEAD POISONING
• Good-quality (e.g., organic, pastured) animal proteins, including organ meats, which are rich in:
Sulfur-containing amino acids necessary for detoxification;
Zinc (protective against cadmium);
Taurine (needed to excrete toxic metals via the bile);
Vitamin B5, a key detoxification nutrient.
• Good-quality animal fats, which promote ongoing detoxification.
• Coconut oil (monolaurin is a fat-soluble chelating agent).
• Vitamins A and D (in proper balance with vitamin K2)—perhaps some of the most important micronutrients for healing and detoxification.
• Cultured and fermented foods to promote the healthy gut flora that strengthen the body’s ability to withstand exposure to toxic metals.
• Bone broth to ensure a strong gut lining and provide amino acids that help form glutathione, the body’s top antioxidant.
CILANTRO AND HEAVY METALS
Dr. Yoshiaki Omura, MD, ScD. is an adjunct professor of the New York Medical College, director of medical research at the Heart Disease Research Foundation and president of the International College of Acupuncture and Electrotherapeutics. Omura has devoted his career to identifying safe and effective treatments for intractable medical problems such as cancer, heart disease and the side effects of electromagnetic field exposure. Omura agrees that heavy metal toxicity often plays a central role in chronic ill health. In the course of his work, Omura discovered that consumption of cilantro accelerates excretion of toxic metals such as lead, mercury and aluminum.1-4 Many natural health practitioners have embraced Omura’s findings and use cilantro as a natural chelator, sometimes in tandem with bentonite clay.5
However, Omura currently urges caution with both dosing and the form of cilantro used, stating that raw cilantro and alcohol-extracted cilantro tinctures are counterproductive because they concentrate cilantro’s toxic properties. He recommends that cilantro be boiled and administered in an individually determined “optimal dose” for each person, with the “optimal dose” typically being far lower than one might expect. Omura also testifies to achieving remarkable clinical results with “optimal doses” of vitamin D3 (on average, 400 IU, one to three times a day, compared with widely used doses of 2000 to 5000 IU) and taurine (175 mg, one to three times a day, compared with 500 mg doses). According to Omura, optimal doses of cilantro, vitamin D3, and taurine all contribute not only to toxic metal excretion, but also to significant excretion of bacteria, viruses and fungi into urine; improved function of the heart, brain, kidneys and pancreas; and reductions in pain, memory problems, high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels, obesity and cancer activity by increasing markedly reduced acetylcholine and DHEA levels.6-8
1. Omura Y, Lorberboym M, Beckman S. Radiation injury and mercury deposits in internal organs as a result of thallium-201 chloride intravenous injection for SPECT imaging; additional biochemical information obtained in the images of organs from SPECT or PET scans; and potential injury due to radiation exposure during long-distance flights. Acupunct Electrother Res 1995;20(2):133-148.
2. Omura Y, Beckman SL. Role of mercury (Hg) in resistant infections and effective treatment of Chlamydia trachomatis and Herpes family viral infections (and potential treatment for cancer) by removing localized Hg deposits with Chinese parsley and delivering effective antibiotics using various drug uptake enhancement methods. Acupunct Electrother Res 1995;20(3-4):195-229.
3. Omura Y. Abnormal deposits of Al, Pb, and Hg in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus, as one of the main causes of decreased cerebral acetylcholine, electromagnetic field hypersensitivity, pre-Alzheimer’s disease, and autism in children and their new effective treatment by removing these metal deposits using cilantro and the selective drug uptake enhancement method (Part I). Presented at the 4th International Symposium on the Bi-Digital O-Ring Test, Waseda University, Tokyo, July 21-23, 2000, p. 34. bdort.kenkyuukai.jp/images/sys%5Cinformation%5C20111018182214-9797E30182AD2F165710097D719D830E4DDAC95272045AD1BD9B998044B6D069.pdf
4. Institute for Natural Healing. Doctor accidentally discovers natural chelation therapy in Vietnamese soup. June 3, 2011. institutefornaturalhealing.com/2011/06/doctor-accidentally-discovers-natural-chelation-therapy-in-vietnamese-soup/
5. Williams D. Detox naturally with cilantro and clay. Dr. David Williams, last updated August 5, 2015. drdavidwilliams.com/cilantro-clay-fordetoxification/
6. Omura Y, Jones MK, Duvvi H, Shimotsuura Y, Ohki M, Rodrigues A. Non-invasive quick diagnosis of cardiovascular problems from visible and invisible abnormal changes with increased cardiac troponin I appearing on cardiovascular representation areas of the eyebrows, left upper lip, etc. of the face & hands: beneficial manual stimulation of hands for acute anginal chest pain, and important factors in safe, effective treatment. Acupunct Electrother Res 2014;39 (2):135-167.
7. Omura Y. Non-invasive, quick, safe, accurate, economical diagnostic methods & safe effective treatment of various cancers with elimination of contributing factors for cancers including use of optimal average dose of 400 I.U. of vitamin D3 instead of harmful 2000 I.U. or higher dose & proper use of electromagnetic field (EMF) neutralizer to protect EMF from cellular phones etc. and control of severe pain with strong (+) solar energy stored paper. Presented at 7th European Congress for Integrative Medicine, Belgrade, Serbia, October 11-14, 2014.
8. Omura Y. Optimal dose of vitamin D3 400 I.U. has a significant anti-cancer effect, while widely used 2000 I.U. or higher promotes cancer: marked reduction of taurine was found in various cancer tissues and oral intake of optimal dose of taurine with omega 3 fish oil & cilantro as a new potentially safe and more effective method of cancer treatment. To be presented at the International Cancer Study & Therapy Conference (Cancer-2016), Baltimore, MD, April 4-6, 2016.
LEAD, AGGRESSION AND HEAVY METALS
In this era of mass shootings, often instigated by young people, many explanations have been put forth to explain
the surge in violence. Could lead be part of the problem? In his wide-ranging book, The Truth about Children’s Health,1
Robert Bernardini starts out with a chapter on the “hazards our children face” and begins that chapter with a discussion
of lead. The author devotes particular attention to the link between lead, aggressive behavior and violent crime,
citing an interesting array of research findings assembled in a 1997 issue of Rachel’s Environment and Health News.2 For
• In a study of 301 boys in public schools in Pittsburgh, boys with more lead in their bones “consistently had more
reports of aggressive and delinquent behavior and problems paying attention,” and their behavior got worse as
they got older.3
• A Virginia study of lead-exposed and unexposed children found that lead-exposed children had more problems
with “lying, stealing, running away, and setting fires.”4
• A Boston study found an association between lead levels in teeth and “problem behaviors.”5
• Increased concentrations of lead in children were associated with a greater incidence of violent crimes 20 years
Bernardini also cites the research of Roger Masters,7 whose “neurotoxicity hypothesis of violent crimes” posits that
“the toxic metals lead and manganese cause learning disabilities and increases in aggressive behavior and the loss of
control over impulsive behavior,” and that these interact with poverty, stress, substance abuse, and other social factors
to produce violent crimes. According to Masters, neurotoxicity helps explain the variation in violent crime rates by
geographic area and ethnic group. As summarized by Bernardini, “When our brain chemistry is altered by exposure to
toxins…we lose the natural restraint that holds our violent tendencies in check.”1
1. Bernardini R. The Truth about Children’s Health: The Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Preventing, and Reversing Disease. Clifford, VA: PRI Publishing, 2003, pp. 9-18.
2. Montague P. Toxics affect behavior. Rachel’s Environment & Health News, #529, January 15, 1997.
3. Needleman HL, Riess JA, Tobin MJ, Biesecker GE, Greenhouse JB. Bone lead levels and delinquent behavior. JAMA 1996;275(5):363-369.
4. De la Burdé B, Choate ML. Early asymptomatic lead exposure and development at school age. J Pediatr 1975;87:638-642.
5. Bellinger D, Leviton A, Allred E, Rabinowitz M. Pre- and postnatal lead exposure and behavior problems in school-aged children. Environ Res 1994;66(1):12-30.
6. Weiss B. Intersections of psychiatry and toxicology. Int J Ment Health 1985;14(3):7-25.
7. Masters RD, Hone B, Doshi A. Environmental pollution, neurotoxicity, and criminal violence. In Environmental Toxicology, J Rose (Ed.). New York: Gordon and Breach Publishers, 1997.
1. Delile H, Blichert-Toft J, Goiran J-P, Keay S, Albarède F. Lead in ancient Rome’s city waters. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2014;111(18): 6594-6599.
2. Lewis J. Lead poisoning: a historical perspective. EPA Journal, May 1985.
3. Ganim S, Tran L. How tap water became toxic in Flint, Michigan. CNN.com, January 13, 2016.
4. Associated Press. Federal emergency is declared in Flint over contaminated water. New York Times, January 16, 2016.
5. World Health Organization. Lead poisoning and health. Fact sheet No. 379, reviewed August 2015.
6. Tanner K. All Flint’s children must be treated as exposed to lead. Detroit Free Press, January 16, 2016.
7. Hurley Medical Center. Pediatric lead exposure in Flint, MI: concerns from the medical community. http://flintwaterstudy.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Pediatric-Lead-Exposure-Flint-Water-092415.pdf
8. Vibes J. Flint residents told that their children could be taken away if they don’t pay for city’s poison water. The Free Thought Project, January 24, 2016. http://thefreethoughtproject.com/flint-residents-told-children-pay-citys-poison-water/
9. National Research Council. Measuring Lead Exposure in Infants, Children, and Other Sensitive Populations. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 1993.
10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lead. Last updated January 29, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/
11. Kitman JL. The secret history of lead. The Nation, March 2, 2000.
12. Shaw H. Detroit collapsing into third world status as water supply becomes too toxic to drink… America’s infrastructure imploding. Natural News, January 24, 2016.
13. Schmidt S, Hall DJ, Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Lead pipes, antiquated law threaten Wisconsin’s drinking water quality. WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio, February 1, 2016. http://wuwm.com/post/lead-pipes-antiquated-law-threaten-wisconsin-s-drinking-water-quality#stream/0
14. Understanding Lead Pigment Litigation. The history of the use of lead-based paint. http://www.leadlawsuits.com/history/history-of-the-use-of-lead-paint/
15. Bernardini R. The Truth about Children’s Health: The Comprehensive Guide to Understanding, Preventing, and Reversing Disease. Clifford, VA: PRI Publishing, 2003.
16. Campbell JR, Auinger P. The association between blood lead levels and osteoporosis among adults—results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III). Environ Health Perspect 2007;115(7):1018-1022.
17. Massó-González EL, Antonio-García MT. Natural antioxidants protect against lead-induced damage during pregnancy and lactation in rat’s pups. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf 2009;72(8):2137-2142.
18. Triantafyllidou S, Gallagher D, Edwards M. Assessing risk with increasingly stringent public health goals: the case of water lead and blood lead in children. J Water Health 2014;12(1):57-68.
19. Seifert S. Flint water crisis: what you should know and what you can do. The Alternative Daily, January 23, 2016. http://www.thealternativedaily.com/flint-water-crisis/
20. McCoy T. Freddie Gray’s life a study on the effects of lead paint on poor blacks. The Washington Post, April 29, 2015.
21. Daniel, KT, Knight GD. Mad as a hatter: how to avoid toxic metals and clear them from the body. The Weston A. Price Foundation, posted April 2, 2009. www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/mad-as-a-hatter/
22. Cheng Y, Willett WC, Schwartz J, Sparrow D, Weiss S, Hu H. Relation of nutrition to bone lead and blood lead levels in middle-aged to elderly men: the Normative Aging Study. Am J Epidemiol 1998;147(12):1162-1174.
23. Calabrese J. Lead poisoning and two homeopathic antidotes: what I would do if I lived in Flint, Michigan. Homeopathy Works, February 1, 2016. http://joettecalabrese.com/blog/lead-poisoning-and-two-homeopathic-antidotes-what-i-would-do-if-i-lived-in-flint-michigan/.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2016🖨️ Print post