Toxic metal - nutritional considerations

Alternative names 
Lead poisoning - nutritional considerations; Lead - nutritional considerations

Nutritional considerations to reduce the risk of lead poisoning.

Lead is a natural element with thousands of uses. Because it is widespread (and often hidden) lead can easily contaminate food and water where it is undetectable to the eye or taste.

Food Sources
Food sources include hidden sources such as tap water (lead pipes, or lead solder used to hold pipes together, is fairly common in older plumbing), canned goods (if there is lead solder in the cans), and other “container related” exposures. (See cooking utensils and nutrition).

Paint is still the greatest danger for exposure to lead, especially in children. If you live in a home painted before the ban on lead in paint (1978) or plumbing (1988) took effect, call your local health department to find out how to get your paint tested or your water checked for lead content.

Side Effects
High doses of lead can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and blood system and can even be lethal. Continuous low-level exposure causes lead to accumulate in the body and cause damage. It is particularly dangerous for babies, before and after birth, and for small children because their bodies and brains are growing rapidly.

Many federal agencies study and monitor lead exposure. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors lead in food, beverages, food containers, and tableware. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors lead levels in drinking water.

Blood lead levels in Americans have been dropping steadily because of measures that have been taken in the U.S., including:

  • Elimination of leaded gasoline in the 1970’s  
  • Banning of lead in house paints, 1978  
  • Banning of lead plumbing pipes and solder, 1988  
  • Elimination of lead solder from cans  
  • Elimination of lead foil on bottled wine, 1992

To reduce your exposure to lead:

  • Paint over old leaded paint if in good condition, or remove the old paint and repaint with lead-free paint. If it needs to be sanded or removed because it is chipping or pealing, get advice on safe removal from the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) hotline (800-RID-LEAD) or the National Lead Information Center (800-LEAD-FYI)  
  • Keep your home as dust free as possible and everyone should wash their hands before eating.  
  • Dispose of old painted toys if you do not know whether they have lead-free paint.  
  • Let tap water run for a minute before drinking or cooking with it.  
  • If your water has been tested high in lead, consider installing an effective filtering device or switch to bottled water for drinking and cooking.  
  • Avoid canned goods from foreign countries until the ban on lead soldered cans goes into effect.  
  • If imported wine containers have a lead foil wrapper, wipe the rim and neck of the bottle with a towel moistened with lemon juice, vinegar, or wine before using.  
  • Don’t store wine, spirits, or vinegar-based salad dressings in lead crystal decanters for long periods of time, as lead can leach out into the liquid.


Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 5, 2012
by David A. Scott, M.D.

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