Possible Plant-Based Solutions For Lead Exposure

By Peter Bianco

Lead exposure in Utica is a longstanding unresolved problem. Oneida County has one of the highest rates in the state for childhood lead poisoning. Lead exposure has been linked to many health problems, including the impairment of children’s IQ (even with low-level exposure), increased risk for antisocial and delinquent behavior, intellectual and academic performance deficits, ADHD, and an increased amount of tooth decay. In adolescents and adults increased blood lead levels are related to high blood pressure. These studies come from the Journal of the American Medical Association and the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Some pipes that carry drinking water to homes in Utica are still made of lead. Even those that are not may have lead solder or brass fittings containing a mix of lead. This problem is amplified by the fluoride added to our drinking water by the Mohawk Valley Water Authority. The Journal of NeuroToxicology showed that fluoride is a good solvent for lead causing it to be pulled from leaded-brass parts. They also noted other studies showing chemicals commonly used to fluoridate water have been associated with elevated blood lead levels in children.

Here are some ideas of inexpensive natural ways to assist someone who is exposed to lead. A diet high in Calcium, Iron, and Vitamin C prevents the absorption of lead. These nutrients will absorb and excrete lead that has been ingested before it enters the bloodstream. Good plant-based food sources for calcium are Collards, Kale, & Turnip Greens, for iron Swiss Chard, Spinach, & Turnip Greens. If you save the pot liquor (the water you cooked the greens in) you are not losing any of these precious minerals. You can drink it or add it to soups and other dishes. Many foods are high Vitamin C including Bell Peppers, Parsley & Sweet Potatoes.

Some people believe once damage is done to the brain by lead there is no way to repair it. However some parents of autistic children see a link between heavy metals (such as lead) and autism. And getting the metals out of the children leads to an improvement in behavior. There are various plants that pull heavy metals out of storage places in the body so a person can excrete them.

However, some people see removing lead as dangerous. In one theory, the body is keeping lead in a “safe” place such as the bones and if lead is moved out of the bone, but is not excreted in the urine or feces, the body may redeposit it in a more sensitive tissue, like the brain. Chlorella (a plant powder sold in health food stores) binds to metals in the digestive tract so that when they are released they are not reabsorbed.

In one study, children hospitalized with toxic blood lead levels were given 5 grams, three times a day, of Modified Citrus Pectin (a supplement sold in stores). All children eliminated significant amounts of lead through their urine and the lead in their blood significantly decreased. No negative side effects were seen in the children treated. In France Purified pectin is also used for the treatment of lead poisoning.

Three plants that grow locally and are reported to help remove lead from the body are Cilantro, Ground Ivy, and Self Heal. The first is used in food, and the second two can be made into a tea. In the 1800’s Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea ) was used to treat painters who were sickened from exposure to lead paint. Self Heal (Prunella vulgaris) is shown to help the body reuse one of its own detox chemicals called glutathione.

Perhaps for those suffering from mental impairment due to lead exposure, we should look to plants traditionally used to enhance brain function. In India Brahmi (also called Bacopa) is given to kids to enhance their learning and performance in school. In a study children were given 50 mg of Bacopa twice daily. After 12 weeks of treatment, the children showed significant improvement in the areas of sentence repetition, logical memory and matching things that go together. Up to 12 grams a day were well tolerated in studies with adults. The least expensive way to use this herb is to buy the powder in bulk. It is about $2 an ounce. I like Jean’s Greens or Mountain Rose Herbs for quality. Both are online.

I do not have experience using these plants for lead exposure. The ideas offered here are a starting point for those with a loved one affected by lead. But the best scenario of all is for the community to stop lead exposure in the first place.

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