lead and your health, Lead and Your Health, Dr. Nicolle

The Flint water crisis is one of the worst examples of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history. Since the early days of the Environmental Justice Movement in the 1980s, many studies have revealed a pattern across the country: certain communities are excessively burdened by environmental pollution and health risks. Like Flint, those places tend to be locations where poor people and people of color are concentrated.

The Flint water crisis began in 2014, when the city switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River, which contains high amounts of lead and other toxins, to save money. The water was not tested and treated adequately, which caused major water quality and health issues for Flint residents. These issues were chronically ignored, overlooked, and discounted by government officials, even as there were numerous reports that there was a major change to the water’s color, smell and taste, which was causing skin rashes, hair loss, itchy skin, behavior problems, etc.

What is lead? 

It is a naturally occurring heavy metal that has been taken out of the earth and used in brass, water pipes and solder that comes in contact with water. Lead can still be found in lead-based paint used in older homes, contaminated soil, household dust, large water sources such as rivers and lakes, drinking water pumped through leaded pipes, ammunition, lead crystal, lead-glazed pottery, airplane fuel, some toys, and some inexpensive metal jewelry. 

How does lead get into the body? 

Lead can get into your body in two ways — through breathing it in or by ingesting it. A small amount of lead will pass through your skin and enter your blood if it is not washed off. For example, lead can enter the body through eating or inhaling paint dust or chips. The soil around your home can pick up lead from sources such as exterior paint. Lead can also enter your drinking water through your plumbing and/or local water sources. 


lead and your health, Lead and Your Health, Dr. Nicolle

How is lead harmful in your indoor water?

Lead acts like a poison when it gets inside your body. It does not allow calcium to work as it should in your body. 

What happens if someone drinks water that contains lead? 

It can cause damage to the brain, red blood cells, kidneys, and even the liver. Infants and young children are more at risk of having Elevated Blood Lead levels (above 10μg/dL). The National Primary Drinking Water Regulations set an upper limit of 15ppm (parts per billion) for lead in drinking water. Some health effects are found even at low blood lead levels less than 5 μg/dL, including lower IQ scores, decreased academic achievement, and increases in both behavioral problems and attention-related behaviors. There is a wide range of lead-associated behavioral effects in the area of attention. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one example on the more severe end of the spectrum. 

In adults, some health effects include decreased kidney function and increases in blood pressure, fertility problems, including delayed conception and adverse effects on sperm and semen, such as lower sperm counts and motility, and nerve disorders such as tremors, cataracts, and reduced fetal growth during pregnancy.

How can lead get into my water?

Through lead pipes in your home, Brass faucets, Lead solder used to join copper pipes. 

What can you do to keep your indoor water lead free? 

  • Cook with and drink only cold water from your faucet 
  • Don’t drink the first water out of your tap in the morning. Let it run at least two minutes. 
  • Water filters can get rid of lead, but they need to be changed as recommended to work well. 

How can I protect my family from being exposed to lead? 

Prevention is the best way to protect your family.You and your health care provider are in an excellent position to prevent and detect lead exposure and the associated health effects. Depending on your level of exposure, medications given intravenously under medical supervision can remove these toxins. These medications bind to the metals, a process called chelation. You doctor will test your blood, urine, and hair to measure metals toxicity. The source of most lead in children is drinking water and dust and chips from deteriorating lead paint on interior surfaces. 

  • If you live in an older home, check with your local health department about any lead that may be in the paint, dust, or drinking water. Professional cleaning, painting over old paint to stabilize it, and removal of hazardous building components, such as old pipes, can prevent lead exposure. All of these should be done by trained professionals and contractors certified by the EPA.
  • Cook with and drink only cold water from your faucet. 
  • Don’t drink the first water out of your tap in the morning. Let it run at least two minutes. 
  • Water filters can get rid of lead, but they need to be changed as recommended to work well. 
  • Avoid storing food in imported pottery and dishware, as it may contain lead.
  • Monitor recalled toys and jewelry by visiting the Consumer Product Safety Commission website, and remove recalled items from your home.
  • If a household member works in a lead-related occupation, they should change work clothes and shoes before entering the home, and their work clothes should be washed separately. 
  • ***Please note*** If you live in an area like Flint, where the water quality is very poor, please use bottled water until clean water is restored.

Your Heavy Metal Detox Diet should include:


lead and your health, Lead and Your Health, Dr. Nicolle


  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B6 (pyridoxine) deficiencies enhance sensitivity towards lead and cadmium toxicity. Vitamin B1 and B6 supplementation has proven to be effective against lead and cadmium toxicity.
  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and it helps remove lead from the body, with a similar potency to that of EDTA. Vitamin C deficiency is also known to enhance sensitivity towards lead and cadmium toxicity.
  • Vitamin D3 prevents your bones from releasing lead into your bloodstream.
  • Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and protects the kidney from oxidative stress of heavy metal toxicity.
  • Glutathione protects the liver and may protect cells from the oxidative damage that heavy metals can cause.


lead and your health, Lead and Your Health, Dr. Nicolle


  • Deficiencies in zinc, calcium, or iron can lead to greater absorption and toxicity of lead and cadmium. Zinc, calcium, and iron supplementation has proven to be effective against lead and cadmium toxicity.


lead and your health, Lead and Your Health, Dr. Nicolle

Plants and Algae

  • Spirulina and Chlorella can bind to heavy metals and attenuate lead or cadmium toxicity in the liver, kidneys and brain. These algae contain many powerful antioxidants and anti-Inflammatory properties, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, phycocyanobilin and carotenes, which enables them to alleviate toxic metal-induced oxidative stress.
  • Tomatoes are rich in iron, calcium, selenium, zinc, vitamins B and C, quercetin and naringenin.
  • Berries contain essential elements, vitamin C, anthocyanin and catechin. 
  • Onions are rich in selenium, quercetin and vitamins B and C. 
  • Garlics are rich in sulphur-containing compounds, essential elements and vitamins C and E.
  • Grapes are rich in vitamins, essential elements and anthocyanin. 
  • Curry leaves decrease cardiac lead and cadmium levels and increase the activity of cardiac antioxidant enzymes.
  • Cilantro can bind heavy metals and remove other toxic agents from the body.
  • Green tea has high antioxidant activity and repairs the liver. 
  • Ginger has high antioxidant activity and protects the kidneys. 

These plant sources are natural antagonists to lead and cadmium toxicity and should be consumed on a regular basis. 


lead and your health, Lead and Your Health, Dr. Nicolle


Some species of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) including Lactobacillus rhamnosusL. plantarum, and Bifidobacterium longum are capable of binding heavy metals. LAB are also known to have antioxidative properties.

Take charge of your health—talk with your health care providers about any integrative and complementary health approaches you use, including any “detoxes” or “cleanses.” Together, you and your health care providers can make shared, well-informed decisions. 

The environment in which we live is a major determinant of our health and wellbeing. Clean air, water, soil, plants, food supplies, and even our community environment which includes the Social Determinants of Health, are essential for our personal health. In my blog’s Environmental Health Series, we will continue to talk about the environment and try to answer the question, “What is an unhealthy environment and how does it get under the skin?” The environment’s effect on our health is complicated, but there are ways that we can prevent and reduce toxic exposure. 

Stay healthy,

Dr. Nicolle

P.S. Need to detox? It’s recommended to take a good multivitamin and minerals every day if you are not able to consume a healthy, balanced diet. 



JonesRL,HomaDM,MeyerPA,BrodyDJ,CaldwellKL,PirkleJL,BrownMJ.2009.TrendsinbloodleadlevelsandbloodleadtestingamongUS children aged 1 to 5 years, 1988-2004. Pediatrics 123(3):e376-385. 

SchaumbergDA,MendesF,BalaramM,DanaMR,SparrowD,HuH.2004.Accumulatedleadexposureandriskofage-relatedcataractinmen. JAMA 292(22):2750-2754. 



DietrichKN,WareJH,SalganikM,RadcliffeJ,RoganWJ,RhoadsGG,FayME,DavoliCT,DencklaMB,BornscheinRL,SchwarzD,DockeryDW, Adubato S, Jones RL. 2004. Effect of chelation therapy on the neuropsychological and behavioral development of lead-exposed children after school entry. Pediatrics 114(1):19-26. 

Zhai, Q., Narbad, A., & Chen, W. (2015). Dietary strategies for the treatment of cadmium and lead toxicity. Nutrients7(1), 552–571.




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