“Even if diet manipulation has been shown to be effective in lowering blood lead levels, reliance on such an intervention puts most of the prevention burden on those most affected and least responsible for the underlying environmental causes of lead toxicity. Nutritional interventions must therefore never replace efforts to reduce lead exposure to safe levels. On the other hand, some dietary changes may prove beneficial as a complement to environmental measures that go beyond the lead toxicity effects. For example, consuming foods rich in vitamin C may help with “blood pressure, blood lipid profiles and respiratory symptoms” and possibly also “lead toxicity by influencing the absorption of lead, the elimination of lead and its transport in the body, tissue binding or secondary toxicity mechanisms “, that is to say even only to alleviate part of the damage. But what is that based on?
In 1939 a notable study entitled “Treatment of Vitamin C for Lead Poisoning” was published in which 17 workers in the lead industry were given 100 mg of vitamin C per day, the amount found in an or two or two, and ” with practically all of them there was a marked increase in strength, skin color, happiness, blood count, appetite and ability to sleep well. ”The 17 workers were selected because they appeared to be in fairly poor condition and possibly even had scurvy. No wonder a little bit of vitamin C helped, but vitamin C is an antioxidant, and oxidation is “an important mechanism underlying lead toxicity.” So it is possible that it caused some of the damage however, not only to reduce the damage caused by the lead, but also the lead itself. As you can see from 1:43 in my video Can Vitamin C Help With Lead Poisoning?, tThe amount of lead in a painter’s urine for a month after starting 200 mg of vitamin C per day showed a five-fold decrease, suggesting that he absorbed less lead into his body. He was one of three painter researchers who tried this on, and apparently all three painter levels went down. The researchers concluded that those “exposed to lead …… should be directed to many sources of vitamin C as rich as tomatoes (fresh or canned), raw cabbage, oranges or grapefruit, raw spinach (or even cooked.” ) Include little water in their diet), raw beets, green peppers, melons, etc. “
This decrease in urine lead levels in the subjects’ urine was only seen in three painters, and there was no control group of painters who did not take vitamin C in the study. Maybe everyone’s lead would have dropped for some other reason, or maybe it was just a coincidence. You don’t know … until you put it to the test.
This original data was so compelling that others were inspired to try to replicate it. I mean, if it had actually worked, if vitamin C could help with lead poisoning, grapefruit could be handed out at the factory door! The earlier study didn’t have a good control group, but the researchers wouldn’t make the same mistake this time around. In this study, half of the group received 100 mg of vitamin C per day – not just for a month, but for a year – and the other group received nothing. The result? “A careful examination of a large group of lead workers found no effect of ascorbic acid-vitamin C … on the concentration of lead in the blood … or in the urine” (emphasis added). There was no difference in her physical condition and no change in her blood test. “No reason was found to recommend the use of ascorbic acid vitamin C to minimize the effects of lead absorption.” What a disappointment. It looked so promising!
Whenever I study a subject, I try to read the research chronologically so I can relive the discoveries that they have made throughout history. However, at this point I was so tempted to jump over to a recent review to see what had happened over the last 74 years since that first study was published, but I didn’t want to set off a spoiler alert! I myself read the newspapers one by one. There have been in vitro studies where researchers dripped antioxidants on lead-exposed cells and it seemed to help, so they hopped on the cantaloupe cart too, but these were test-tube studies.
The first population study was published in 1999, and as you can see in my video at 4:02 a.m., researchers found that those with high levels of vitamin C in their blood tended to have lower levels of lead. Adolescents with the highest vitamin C levels had an almost 90 percent lower prevalence of elevated blood lead levels than adolescents with the lowest vitamin C levels. This was a cross-sectional study, just a snapshot of time. So we don’t know if the vitamin C caused the lead to drop, or whether the lead might have caused the vitamin C to drop. Lead is a pro-oxidant. Maybe it ate up the vitamin C. And who has higher vitamin C levels? Those who can afford to have higher levels of vitamin C and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. “It is also possible that higher ascorbic acid levels mean a healthier lifestyle or higher socio-economic status.” In fact, lower vitamin C levels may just be an indication that they are poor, and that is the real reason behind higher levels of lead.
There are many good reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables, and we should still be eating more spinach, but it would be nice to know if vitamin C actually helps with lead poisoning. And to know that, we have to put it to the test.
Unfortunately, most published interventions are not very helpful, with titles like “Effects of Vitamin C Supplements on Lead-Treated Sea Cucumbers, …”. And there are a surprising number of articles on the effects of vitamin C supplementation on mouse testes. Why? Because lead can affect male fertility. Indeed, executives seem to be less likely to father children, but this may be due in part to oxidative stress. In that case, how about giving an antioxidant like vitamin C and putting it to the test? No, I’m not talking about rat testicles or frog testicles. I also don’t suggest crab testicles. (I didn’t even know crabs had testicles!) Finally, one more thing: “Clinical relevance of vitamin C in lead-exposed infertile men.” A study of human men that I will discuss Yellow peppers for male infertility and lead poisoning?.
I’ve always gotten into conflict when it comes to writing blogs and producing videos like this Can Vitamin C Help With Lead Poisoning?. I can imagine some just want “the answer,” but those with legitimate and commercial interests often take advantage of this natural impulse. This is a problem with science in general, but perhaps nutrition particularly. When it comes to something as important to life or death as what we and our families are supposed to support, we shouldn’t just follow someone’s opinions or beliefs on the matter. We should ask to see the science. This is what I try to do: present the available data as fair and evenly as possible and let yourself get an idea. You can imagine how easily someone could pick just one or two studies and present a biased but compelling case for or against vitamin C supplements in that case. That is why I think it is important to present each study in its historical context. Look forward to the exciting conclusion in Yellow peppers against male infertility and lead poisoning ?.
For those of you who are thinking, why should I care about lead? I don’t eat colored chips or use leaded gasoline. Anyway what’s the big deal? Check out my full set of lead videos for information on how we got into this mess and how to dig our way:
- How the lead paint industry got away with it
- Lead in drinking water
- How the leading gas industry got away with it
- “Normal” blood lead levels can be toxic
- The effects of low lead exposure in adults
- How to lower lead levels with diet: thiamine, fiber, iron, fat, fasting?
- How to lower lead levels with diet: breakfast, whole grains, milk, tofu?
- Best foods for lead poisoning: chlorella, coriander, tomatoes, moringa?
- Best food for lead poisoning: garlic
- Is lipstick safe in the face of lead contamination?
- Can saunas detoxify lead from the body?
- How much lead does organic chicken soup (bone broth) contain?
- Lead in calcium supplements
- Should Pregnant Women Take Calcium Supplements to Lower Lead Levels?
- The rise in blood lead levels during pregnancy and menopause
- Lead contamination in fish and game
- Lead contamination in hot sauces
Michael Greger, MD
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