There are so-called chelating drugs that can be taken against acute, life-threatening lead poisoning – for example, if your two-year-old has swallowed one of the small lead weights that her grandmother used to sew curtains and the doctor happened to miss it on an X-ray, so it got stuck in her until she died with a blood lead level of 283 mcg / dcl, a case I discuss in my video Best foods for lead poisoning: chlorella, coriander, tomatoes, moringa?.
In the case of chronic lead poisoning at a lower level, for example at concentrations below 45 μg / dl, there was no clear indication of whether these chelating agents were effective. When put to the test, the drugs failed to lower lead levels in the long term. Even when working dose-by-dose initially, the lead apparently continued to seep out of the patients’ bones, and by the end of the year, as you can see, they had the same lead levels as the placebo group of sugar pills see at 0:50 in mine Video. It came as no surprise, then, that even though blood lead levels initially fell, the researchers found no improvements in cognitive function or development.
Since much of lead poisoning is preventable and the drugs are in most cases ineffective, this only underscores the need to “protect children from lead exposure”. Despite the “medical profession’s best intentions to do something to help these children … drug therapy is not the answer.” Yes, we need to redouble our efforts to prevent lead poisoning. But what can we do for the children who have already been exposed?
The currently approved method, these chelating agents that bind and remove lead from our tissues, “is missing[s]… safety and effectiveness when using conventional chelating agents. “So what about nutritional approaches? Plants produce phytochelatins. All higher plants have the ability to synthesize compounds that bind heavy metals to protect themselves from the harmful effects. So what if we eat the plants? “In contrast to other forms of treatment (e.g. pharmacotherapy with drugs), nutritional strategies promise a natural form of therapy that would presumably be cheap and with few or no side effects.” Yes, but would it work if the drugs didn’t?
We had learned that a meal can significantly reduce lead absorption, but “the specific components of food intake that so dramatically reduce lead absorption” were uncertain at the time. Although the calcium content of the meal appeared to be part of it, milk didn’t seem to help and actually made the situation worse. What about calcium supplements? Some claim that calcium supplements can help reduce lead absorption in children, but “Recommendations … must be based on evidence rather than belief.” Additionally, these claims are based in part on studies in rodents, and differences in calcium absorption and balance between Rats and humans make extrapolation difficult. What you have to do is put it to the test. The researchers found that even an extra 1,800 mg of calcium per day had no effect on the level of lead in the blood. Therefore, the evidence does not support the conclusions that calcium supplements help.
What about whole foods? Reviews of nutritional strategies for treating lead toxicity state that many tomatoes, berries, onions, garlic, and grapes must be eaten because they are natural lead toxicity antagonists and should therefore be consumed regularly. Do you remember this phytochelatine? Perhaps eating plants will help detoxify the lead in our own bodies or in the bodies of those we eat.
These natural phytochelatin compounds work so well that we can use them to clean up pollution. For example, the green algae chlorella can absorb and hold onto lead. What if we eat it? If it can cleanse polluted waters, could it cleanse our own polluted bodies? We don’t know because we only have studies on mice, not on men and women.
So when you hear how chlorella detoxes, they’re talking about rat testicle detoxification. Yes, a little chlorella could help your pet rat, or you could give them black cumin seeds or a sprig of coriander, but when you hear how coriander detoxifies heavy metals, you probably don’t expect researchers to talk about rodent studies. If we’re interested in the science that protects our children, not just their pets, we’re out of luck.
The same goes for moringa, tomatoes, flaxseed oil and sesame oil as well as black grapes and black, white, green and red tea. There are simply no human studies to guide us.
Dietary strategies for treating lead toxicity are often based on rodent studies, but for tofu at least there was a human population study that showed lower lead levels in men and women who ate more tofu. The researchers controlled a whole bunch of factors so it’s not like tofu lovers are protected just because they smoked less or ate less meat, but you can’t control everything.
Ideally, we would have a randomized, placebo-controlled study. The researchers took a group of people who had been exposed to lead and divided them into two groups, half fed and the other half fed an identical placebo feed, and saw what happens. It’s easy to do this with drugs because you are only using sugar pills as placebos so people don’t know what group they are in, but how do you make placebo food? One way to conduct food interventions in disguise is to use foods that are potent enough to be stuffed into a pill, like garlic. There have been several studies measuring the effects of garlic in rats and examining garlic as a potential antidote to lead poisoning that was spread across various mouse organs. But who eats mouse organs? However, an animal study had direct relevance to humans as it examined the effect of garlic on lead levels in chicken tissues. The aim was to “investigate the possible use of garlic to cleanse the lead content of chickens which – like all of us on planet earth – have been exposed to lead contamination and thus help to minimize the risk of lead-contaminated chicken meat”.
And it worked! As you can see at 1:59 in my video Best food for lead poisoning: garlicBy feeding chickens with garlic, the lead content in the “edible chicken mass” was reduced by up to 75 percent or more. Because we live in a polluted world, even if you don’t give them lead and raise them in distilled water, the chickens still have some lead in their meat and innards. However, if you actively lead them for a week, the levels will get very high. However, if you give them the same amount of lead with a little garlic, a lot less lead will build up in their body.
More amazingly, it worked even better when researchers gave them the same amount of lead – but this time a week before they gave them the garlic. “The value of garlic in reducing lead levels … was more pronounced than when garlic was given as post-treatment after the lead was stopped” – that is, after the lead was stopped and had already accumulated in their tissues. We used to think that “the beneficial effects of garlic against lead toxicity are mainly due to a reaction between lead and sulfur compounds in garlic,” which would cause lead to remain in the intestinal tract and be flushed out of the body. However, the study has shown that garlic appears to contain compounds that lead can draw not only from intestinal contents but also from tissues in the body. So the “results show that garlic contains chelate compounds that can improve lead elimination” and “the garlic diet can be used to protect human consumers by minimizing lead concentrations in meat …”.
If garlic is so effective at drawing lead from the body of chickens, why not take advantage of the “garlic feeding” more directly by eating it himself? Well, until … in 2012 there was never a study of garlic’s ability to help people exposed to lead? (Actually, I’m embarrassed to say I missed it when the study was first published. Back then I was just getting NutritionFacts.org up and running. Now that we have the staff and a whole research team, hopefully important studies like this will not slip through the cracks in the future.)
The study was a head-to-head comparison of the therapeutic effects of garlic with a chelation therapy drug called D-penicillamine. One hundred and seventeen workers exposed to lead in the auto battery industry were randomly assigned to one of two groups and were given either the drug or an eighth of a teaspoon of garlic powder compressed into a tablet three times a day for a month, the equivalent of about two fresh cloves of garlic a day. As expected, the chelating drug reduced the level of lead in the blood by about 20 percent – but so did the garlic. The garlic worked just as well as the drug and, of course, had fewer side effects. “So garlic seems to be clinically safer and just as effective,” but saying something is just as effective as chelation therapy doesn’t say much. Remember how chelating drugs can lower blood levels in chronic lead poisoning but not improve neurological function?
Well, significant clinical improvements were seen after treatment with garlic, including less irritability, less headache, and improvements in reflexes and blood pressure, but these improvements were not seen in the drug group. They were not seen after being treated with the chelation therapy drug. So garlic was safer and more effective. “Garlic can therefore be recommended for the treatment of mild to moderate lead poisoning.
There are also some human studies on vitamin C. Check out Can Vitamin C Help With Lead Poisoning?.
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Michael Greger, MD
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