By David Humphrey
President & CEO
Kirkman Group, Inc.
What Happened in Flint – Not An Aberration
Flint, Michigan, burst into the world spotlight after its children were exposed to lead in drinking water and some were poisoned. In the year after Flint switched to corrosive river water that leached lead from old pipes, five percent of the children screened there had high blood lead levels.
What happened in Flint is not an aberration. In fact, Flint doesn’t even rank among the most dangerous lead hotspots in America.
In all, Reuters reported that approximately 3,000 areas in the U.S. have recorded lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. And more than 1,100 of these communities had a rate of elevated blood tests for lead that were at least four times higher than normal1.
Lead remains a serious problem in the U.S. with legacy problems that include crumbling paint, lead soldering in household plumbing and lead in industrial wastes. In addition, food, toys and medicines, industries with notorious incidences of high lead content in certain products, still make it into retail distribution and on to consumers.
The severity of the problem varies widely by communities but there is no area of the country safe for children from one or more serious exposures.
How Much Lead Is Too Much?
As more research on the effects of lead is completed, there is a building consensus among researchers and healthcare practitioners that no levels of lead in a child are safe and even low levels will cause developmental delays. The effects on unborn children are less studied but are perhaps the greatest concern. Most expectant mothers are unaware of their lead levels during the pregnancy period.
In an August 2017 report by the World Health Organization entitled, Lead Poisoning and Health, the authors stated: “Lead can have serious consequences for the health of children. At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system to cause coma, convulsions and even death2.”
According to the report, at lower levels of exposure that cause no obvious symptoms and that previously were considered safe, lead is now known to produce a spectrum of injury across multiple body systems.
In particular, lead can affect children’s brain development resulting in reduced intelligence quotient (IQ), behavioral changes such as reduced attention span and increased antisocial behavior, and reduced educational attainment. Lead exposure also causes other serious health problems including immunotoxicity and reproductive toxicity. The neurological and behavioral effects of lead are believed to be irreversible3.
In 2012, the CDC became the first government agency to declare that no amount of lead in a body is safe. Even blood lead concentrations as low as 5 µg/dL, once thought to be a “safe level”, may be associated with decreased intelligence in children, behavioral difficulties, and learning problems4.
Even in some of the highest risk areas around the country, most children go untested for lead. The gaps in testing make tracking poisoned children more daunting.
How Do Parents Test Their Children for Lead?
Consult your physician. Lead can be tested in blood, hair samples, urine or saliva. Blood testing is the most common way to test for lead, however, lead doesn’t stay in the blood for long before it is absorbed by tissues.
There are two main methods for collecting blood samples for lead screening. They are commonly referred to as capillary test, finger-stick or heel-stick. For this method, a medical professional pricks a child’s finger or heel to collect a few drops of blood.
The second method is a venous blood draw. This method requires a doctor, nurse or phlebotomist to use a needle to draw blood from a vein.
One concern with the finger prick test if done “at home” is that care must be taken not to have the blood contaminated with dirty hands. However a prick to the finger is much quicker and easier than a venous blood draw.
Additionally, the finger-stick test may be used outside of a doctor’s office. “It can be done in the field, whereas the venous test cannot,” explains neurotoxicologist Deborah Cory-Slechta of the University of Rochester Medical Center. Using the finger-stick test affords healthcare professionals the ability to test children in schools and homes, reaching children who may not make regular doctor visits5.
When Should a Child be Tested for Lead?
All children suspected of lead exposure should have their blood lead level analyzed. But state laws and medical associations differ on whether or how often children with no obvious risk factors or symptoms of lead poisoning should be tested.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors speak with parents about potential risk factors such as lead paint in the home during regular visits, and then only test blood lead levels if there is reason to believe a child may be at risk. Some states have guidelines or laws that require pediatricians to test all infants and children for lead at specific ages6.
The bottom line, advises Dr. Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, is that parents who are worried should request that their kids be tested even if there is no obvious risk of lead poisoning7.
CDC Sets Lead Guidelines
Sandel and Cory-Slechta were both on the 2012 CDC Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention that determined that no level of lead, however low, is safe in children8.
Prior to 2012, the CDC considered blood lead levels of 10 micrograms per deciliter or higher the trigger for follow-up screening and discussions of how to remove lead from a child’s environment. After the report, that level dropped to 5 micrograms per deciliter or greater9.
Can Lead Be Safely Removed?
Good levels of nutrients can improve well-being and resistance to toxins. Deficiencies can render an individual more vulnerable to toxins because other chemicals replace nutrients. Many studies have shown that there exists a relationship between our dietary intake and our blood lead level.
Vitamin C, thiamine, taurine (a vitamin B6/cysteine derivative), folate, vitamin B12, garlic and the amino acids methionine and glycine may offer significant advantages to lead exposed individuals with few risks.
Vitamin C in particular has been consistently linked to lower blood lead levels and reduced organ damage. It may inhibit lead uptake at a cellular level, thereby reducing lead’s toxicity to some organs. It prolongs the useful functioning of vitamin C. Vitamin C has been used in chelation therapy, though experimental results on vitamin C’ s ability to increase lead excretion have not been consistent10.
Calcium, iron, zinc, and selenium along with vitamins B-6, D and E offer large advantages along with significant offsetting risks at high doses11.
The replacement of calcium by lead in both the brain and nervous system is one of the primary paths of lead toxicity, so good levels of calcium reduce the capacity of lead to impair these functions. High calcium levels, when combined with adequate levels of nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin D, can potentially reduce the release of lead from the bone to the bloodstream and hence to organs of the body12.
There is research leading to the use of calcium supplements to reduce levels of lead in the blood during pregnancy, thereby reducing lead concentrations in the newborn. The continuous maintenance of calcium levels is important for individuals with high lead exposures, to reduce brain and organ toxicity caused by the ongoing release of lead from the bone. However, calcium does not work in isolation, and good levels of phosphorus and magnesium may have supplementary effects on lead absorption, toxicity and bone stability. Due to increased bone turnover during pregnancy, lactation and menopause, this is of particular importance to women13.
Glutathione May Have a Role in DetoxificationResearch suggests that the nutrient, glutathione, can assist in the detoxification process.
Glutathione is a major antioxidant that undertakes key functions within the body, particularly in the brain and liver, where it plays a major role in detoxifying xenobiotics (foreign compounds) and toxins. The depletion of glutathione in these two organs is a major impact of lead toxicity, with glutathione deficiencies being linked to brain cell death14.
Glutathione is poorly absorbed, at least from supplements, but it is manufactured within the body, so the optimum way to maximize levels is through maintaining good levels of the precursor molecules: cysteine, glutamic acid (glutamate as a salt) and glycine. Cysteine is the rarest of these in western diets, and is found in red peppers, garlic, onions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, oats and wheat germ. It is readily destroyed by heat and processing, so little survives in cooked eggs or pasteurized milk, though significant amounts are found in undenatured (processed at low temperature) whey protein; and whey has been consistently linked with higher glutathione levels.
However, should cysteine be unavailable, new cystine (the stable form of cysteine) can be formed by breaking down methionine. Glutamate is more common and is found in food flavorings such as MSG and a variety of protein-rich foods, including meat, fish and beans. It can also be manufactured inside the liver from other amino acids.
Glutathione also requires vitamin B-6 for its manufacture but, in a demonstration of the complexities involved, the lack of vitamin B-6 can actually increase glutathione levels. Given that glutathione is made and is regulated inside the body, it cannot be automatically assumed that consumption of glutathione precursors, or glutathione itself, will directly relate to glutathione levels within the body, though it may maximize possible production15.
Kirkman® Offers Nutrients to Aid Detox
Kirkman® offers several formulations that combine a variety of ingredients into specialty blends, formulated with known supporters of the body’s natural detoxification processes.
These include the following:
Detox-Aid Advanced Formula (#0475-100)
Kirkman’s “advanced” formulation is a proprietary blend of ingredients that aid the body’s natural detoxification process. This updated version contains alpha ketoglutaric acid as a replacement for n-acetyl cysteine (NAC), which may have side effects in a subset of individuals.
Ingredients include: Calcium D-Glucarate, Di-Calcium Phosphate, Reduced L-Glutathione, Turmeric, Olive Leaf Extract, Milk Thistle Seed Extract, L-Taurine, Alpha Ketoglutaric Acid, Selenium Chelate, Magnesium Stearate (Vegetable), Plant Cellulose Capsule.
Kirkman’s Special Toxicity Control Blends
Kirkman’s offers three unique toxicity control formulations. They are Toxicity Control (#0538-120), P2i Toxicity Control (#2518-120) and Microbiome Balance Toxicity Control (#4538-120).
Kirkman’s toxicity control products support the body’s natural detoxifying pathways. These natural pathways are mechanisms for removing environmental contaminants, which can invade the body through air, water, contaminated food, contaminated dietary supplements or contaminated garments or jewelry.
Ingredients for Toxicity Control (#0538-120): Vitamin C, Calcium D-Glucarate, Di-Calcium Phosphate Di-Hydrate, Milk Thistle Seed Extract, Turmeric Root Extract, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Setria® L-Glutathione (reduced form), L-Taurine, dl- Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate, Silicon Dioxide, Selenium Chelate, Plant Cellulose Capsule. *Setria® is a trademark of KYOWA HAKKO BIO Co. Ltd.
Ingredients for P2i Toxicity Control (#2518-120): Vitamin C, Di-Calcium Phosphate Di-Hydrate, Modified Citrus Pectin, Calcium D-Glucarate, Milk Thistle Seed Extract, Turmeric Root Extract, L-Taurine, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Setria® L-Glutathione (reduced form)*, Vitamin E (dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate), Silicon Dioxide, Selenium Chelate, Plant Cellulose Capsule. *Setria® is a trademark of KYOWA HAKKO BIO Co. Ltd.
Ingredients for Microbiome Toxicity Control (#4538-120): Vitamin C, Calcium D-Glucarate, Di-Calcium Phosphate, Milk Thistle Seed Extract, Turmeric Root Extract, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Setria® L-Glutathione (reduced form)*, L-Taurine, Vitamin E (dl-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate), Silicon Dioxide, Selenium Chelate, Plant Cellulose Capsule. *Setria® is a trademark of KYOWA HAKKO BIO Co. Ltd.
What is Chelation Therapy?
Chelation therapy is a treatment used in conventional medicine for removing heavy metals (including mercury) from the blood. This procedure, since invasive, carries risk and only should be done for difficult cases under the guidance of your medical physician.
It involves intravenous injections of a chelating agent, EDTA (ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid), a synthetic amino acid. EDTA binds to heavy metals and minerals in the blood so that they can be excreted in the urine. Another intravenous agent used by some physicians for mercury detoxification is called DMPS (2,3-Dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid).
An oral chelating agent called Succimer (Dimercaptosuccinic acid, also known as DMSA) is FDA-approved for treatment of lead poisoning and is used by some physicians to remove mercury from the body. The drug combines with metals in the bloodstream and then both the metals and the drug are removed from the body by the kidneys and then excreted. Common side effects include diarrhea, loose stools, nausea and vomiting, poor appetite and skin rash16.
DMSA can also lead to neutropenia, a reduction in a certain type of white blood cell that wards off infection. Untreated, neutropenia induced infections can be fatal, which limits DMSA use only to physician supervised use.
The information on lower lead levels does not include information on the use of nutritional supplements in conjunction with non-nutritional chelation medications (metal binders), which is a field we recommend you discuss with your medical advisor.
1. M.B. Pell and Joshua Schneyer of Reuters published their special report, “Off the Charts,” in December 2016
2. Lead poisoning and health. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs379/en/
3. Abby Goodnough and Diantha Parker. (2016, January 29). The Facts About Lead Exposure and Its Irreversible Damage. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/30/us/lead-poisoning.html
4,9. CDC Updates Guidelines for Children?s Lead Exposure. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404672/
5.,7.,8. Has My Child Been Exposed To Lead? When And How To Test. (2016, August 4). Retrieved fromhttp://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/08/04/488579315/has-my-child-been-exposed-to-lead-when-and-how-to-test
6. Steven J. Stanek. (2016, October 13). Saving Your Child from Lead Poisoning ? Steven J. Stanek ? Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@stevenjstanek/saving-your-child-from-lead-poisoning-1ce74713df3c
9. Lead Exposure in Children. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/lead-exposure/Pages/Lead-Exposure-in-Children.aspx
11. Lead toxicity and nutritional deficiencies. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1637366/
12. David J. Ratcliffe. (n.d.). Vitamin D, calciferol and lead levels. Retrieved from http://www.lead.org.au/lanv10n2/lanv10n2-10.html
13. Dietary Calcium Supplementation to Lower Blood Lead Levels in Pregnancy and Lactation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566736/
14. Lead-Induced Cell Death Of Human Neuroblastoma Cells Involves GSH Deprivation Chellu S. Chetty, Mohan C. Vemuri, Khamisi Campbell And Challa Suresh Cellular & Molecular Biology Letters Volume 10, (2005) pp 413 – 423
15. David J. Ratcliffe. (n.d.). Glutathione, cysteine and lead levels. Retrieved from http://www.lead.org.au/lanv10n2/lanv10n2-20.html
16. Succimer (Oral Route) Description and Brand Names – Mayo Clinic. (2017, March 7). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/succimer-oral-route/description/drg-20066140