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Lead - nutritional considerations

Definition

Nutritional considerations to reduce the risk of lead poisoning.

Alternative Names

Lead poisoning - nutritional considerations; Toxic metal - nutritional considerations

Function

Lead is a natural element with thousands of uses. Because it is widespread (and often hidden), lead can easily contaminate food and water without being seen or tasted. In 2014 health organizations estimated that nearly a quarter billion people had toxic (poisonous) blood lead levels.

Food Sources

Lead can be found in canned goods if there is lead solder in the cans. Lead may also be found in some containers (metal, glass, and ceramic or glazed clay) and cooking utensils.

Old paint poses the greatest danger for lead poisoning, especially in young children. Tap water from lead pipes or pipes with lead solder is also a source of hidden lead.

Side Effects

High doses of lead can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and blood system and can even lead to death. 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.

Recommendations

To reduce the risk for lead poisoning:

  • Run tap water for a minute before drinking or cooking with it.
  • If your water has tested high in lead, consider installing a filtering device or switching 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.
  • DO NOT 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.

Other important recommendations:

  • Paint over old leaded paint if it is in good condition, or remove the old paint and repaint with lead-free paint. If the paint needs to be sanded or removed because it is chipping or peeling, get advice on safe removal from the National Lead Information Center (800-LEAD-FYI).
  • Keep your home as dust-free as possible and have everyone wash their hands before eating.
  • Dispose of old painted toys if you do not know whether they have lead-free paint.

References

Markowitz M. Lead poisoning. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 721.

Theobald JL, Mycyk MB. Iron and heavy metals. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 151.

Review Date:1/31/2017
Reviewed By:Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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