Written and originally posted on August 22, 2013
(Note: post may need updating).
Depending on a child’s blood lead level, different interventions are recommended (or required.)
1. Chemical Chelation: Chemical Chelation is an extreme medical intervention that is generally only done on heavily poisoned adults [and in some severe cases (non-infant) children—if there’s a risk that the child might die as a result of their lead exposure], because Chemical Chelation is in itself, dangerous and risky. It pulls the lead from the blood and body (soft tissue, bones, etc.) and by the same mechanism can also pull out/ remove calcium and other important necessary minerals as well. As a general rule, Chemical Chelation is not done unless a child’s blood lead level (BLL) is 40 micrograms per deciliter or higher. Even with a BLL of 40, a doctor might choose to wait to decide if Chemical Chelation is appropriate, depending on the age, weight and medical fragility of the child.
2. Natural Chelation: Natural chlelation is an alternative to chemical chelation and includes options that can be safely used for children of all ages with any blood lead level (BLL.) We always recommend that parents do their own research into natural chelation methods and follow the advice of their doctor before undertaking any regimen. Natural chelation generally involves the use of plants, herbs and other natural materials that have been shown to bond to lead in the blood stream (at a molecular level) to expedite the excretion of lead from the body (through the urine.) Some consider chelation (both natural and chemical) to be controversial for a couple of reasons:
- It is possible that the damage has already been done to a child’s brain and removing lead from their system (naturally or otherwise) may not reduce the impact of the child’s lead exposure.
- It is possible that the chelating agent (natural or chemical) may – in the process of activating the lead for elimination also make it possible for the lead to be bio-available in the blood-stream and possibly be reabsorbed by fragile soft tissue – specifically the brain.
As a parent, with my son Avi first testing with a BLL of 16 micrograms per deciliter – I did a lot of research and chose a natural chelation method as I personally came to the decision that the potential benefits outweighed the risk and the potential of removing as much lead as quickly as possible from his blood was a good thing as it would likely reduce the total damage to his body. Natural chelation seemed to me – better than doing nothing. Prior to starting with the natural chelation, his blood lead level was dropping by approximately 1 BLL point per month. Once we started with natural chelation I saw his BLL drop 4 points in just three weeks, so for us it seemed like a good personal choice (that could potential limit the impact on his brain.)
Natural chelation agents (that have been studied to some degree and are often used by non-western medical providers) include:
- modified citrus pectin and
3. Dietary Changes: Dietary Changes are said to impact the child on many different levels. There is the possibility that fortifying a child’s diet in a certain way may prevent their body from absorbing more lead. There is also the possibility that fortifying a child’s body in a certain way might prevent their body from being impacted by the lead they do absorb OR that Dietary Changes may help them to eliminate the lead more quickly. As parents we chose not to change our children’s diet but to continue the practices we had been doing for years emphasizing the following important elements:
- Emphasize Organic Food whenever possible as non-organic farms may now (or have previously) use/d pesticides that actually contain lead. The lead-burden in the soil from previous heavy use of leaded pesticides can last for decades.
- No Artificial Dyes or Flavors
- No Hydrogenated Oils
- No Sugar (refined cane sugar or unrefined variations)
- Emphasis on “good” fats: Cashews & Avocados seem to actually calm our boys down! Coconut oil has also been claimed by many medical researchers to be healthier than other oils and to offer many nutritional benefits.
- Limited consumption of high calcium foods for which we cannot confirm the source…specifically sunflowers and spinach have been studied and shown to effectively remove lead from contaminated soil. As a result, even some “organically-grown” foods, that are naturally high in calcium can contain high levels of lead if grown on a farm where the soil contains high amounts of lead [one common source of such contamination is the use of tractors and other farm equipment that still run on leaded gasoline (an “exemption” that is still – rather shockingly – perfectly legal in many countries, including The United States)].
- Limit consumption of foods that may be high in lead – specifically highly processed food that may have originated in third world countries where leaded gasoline is still used. Chocolate is one of the food items with the highest lead-content and good one to start your “avoid” list with.
4. Supplements: To help get your child’s BLL down (or to help limit the impact of their exposure) your doctor may recommend supplements ranging from iron drops (many children with high lead-levels are found to be anemic) to calcium supplements. We encourage parents to do their research on these things to make sure they understand the reason for the recommended supplement and also to know the quality, source and other specifics of the particular supplement they choose to use. As parents we chose to ONLY give our children supplements that were guaranteed to be “lead-free.” The only two supplements we found that were guaranteed to be lead-free (from companies that did regular testing and quality control) were NDF by BioRay and a natural fish-oil supplement. Since we could not find a calcium supplement that was guaranteed to be lead-free (and since by virtue of the mechanism where lead biologically mimics calcium and can readily be absorbed by organisms in the place of calcium – calcium supplements may actually contain high levels of lead) we chose not to give our children supplemental calcium (beyond what their diet provides.)
While all of these options are worth exploring it is important to note that nothing is as effective as “primary prevention”: preventing children from being exposed to lead in the first place. There is no defensible reason that lead should be as prevalent as it is in our homes and environment. Steps you take to protect your children should start with making your home lead-safe and then expand to making your yard, childcare center/ school, and parks and playgrounds lead-safe. Once those things are a “known quantity” in the area of lead, you can expand your “lead-safe” world to include the homes of your child’s friends, neighbors, grandparents and other significant people in their life – anywhere they might spend a significant amount of time.
– Tamara (& Leonard) Rubin
Parents of Cole, A.J., Avi and Charlie