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The Toxic Effects of Lead on Your Body and Brain

It is well understood that Alzheimer’s is a highly complex disease with various contributing factors. Both genetic and environmental variables are believed to play a role, including early life exposure to lead. Since exposure to lead in the general population has been high until recent years, it is believed that this heavy metal may influence the development of neurodegenerative diseases.

The Link Between Lead and Alzheimer’s

Since the early 70s, reducing our exposure to lead has been a great success. According to one study, between the years 1976 and 1991, the average blood lead levels in American citizens dropped 78 percent. The issue is, lead can be stored in the bones for decades. This means that those born prior to the phase-out may have accumulated lead that could become mobilized later in life.

Lead is a neurotoxicant and even low levels have been shown to affect children’s behavior and IQ. In adults, lead exposure is also a significant risk factor for accelerated rates of cognitive decline.

In 2008, a pharmacy professor, Nasser Zawia, found the first substantial evidence of an Alzheimer’s-like disease in monkeys. These primates had been exposed to lead as infants. This three-year study was very relevant because primates have identical genes to humans. His team was the first to establish an association between developmental exposure to lead and Alzheimer’s-like pathogenesis.

A separate study began in 1980, exposing infant monkeys to low levels of lead for 400 days. An additional control group was not given any lead in their formula. During the follow-up of this 23-year study, no health issues were recorded. There were also no detectable levels of lead in the monkeys’ tissue.

During Zawia’s research, his team discovered amyloid plaques and genes related to Alzheimer’s in the tissue of the monkeys given lead. Senile plaques were found in all of the adult monkeys. However, those that were given lead display levels that were more dense and numerous.

The Flint Water Crisis

In 2014, a serious public health issue made headlines when the city of Flint switched their water source to the Flint River. Half of the services lines to Flint homes were made of lead and since the water was not properly treated, lead began to leach into the residents’ drinking water.

Unfortunately, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children under six were significantly more likely to showcase elevated levels of lead in their blood following this incident. After testing more than 9,000 samples over the course of three years, it was found that children were 50 percent more likely to have elevated levels of lead after the Flint changed its water source.

The greatest concern here is that lead affects the developing brain. This means that the fetuses of pregnant women could also be affected. As stated in an article by Harvard Health Publications, “slowly and silently, it can change a child’s life forever.” Even in small doses, this heavy metal can wreak havoc on the intestines, heart, nervous system, and kidneys.

Lead, the Breakdown of Bones, and High Blood Pressure

It is estimated that nearly 40 percent of all Americans currently have blood levels of lead that are high enough to cause health complications. An interesting report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that high blood pressure among postmenopausal women is linked to levels of lead in the blood.

Since lead is stored in bones and bones break down faster during menopause, this is believed to injure blood vessels. In turn, this can lead to high blood pressure. Researchers concluded that lead acts at multiple sites within the cardiovascular system — which directly impacts the heart. Since heart health and brain health are so closely linked, this may also influence neurodegeneration.

Tips to Reduce Lead Levels

If you believe that you have been exposed to lead, here are some tips to help you reduce your exposure and begin the healing process.

  • First, seek a simple blood test. It is important that the lab testing your blood is able to detect very low levels of lead. If your results showcase anything higher than two micrograms/deciliter, you should be treated.

  • Lead is found in our air, the soil, and the water. Since you can track lead dust into your home from the soles of your shoes, it is recommended that you leave your shoes at the door in order to reduce contamination throughout your home.

  • Have your water tested and if you are concerned, purchase a reverse osmosis or carbon water filter. Not only do these filters filter out lead, but other toxic substances as well.

  • Increase your intake of vitamin C and vitamin D3 daily. Approximately 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C daily can help remove lead from your body. In addition, taking between 2,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 can help you prevent the release of lead into your blood. This list of foods can also help fight the effects of lead poisoning.

For more information, please refer to this article by the World Health Organization.

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