The Metal and The Damage Done: Lead

Lead is quite possibly the most dangerous of all the heavy metals because of the damage it can wreak on our bodies. This member of the Fearsome Four is a potent neurotoxin that affects brain development and the nervous system. Too much of it can be deadly.

Originally discovered as a by-product of smelting silver, this metal has been used by humans since the beginning of civilization. Until the 1970s, gasoline was single-handedly responsible for most of America’s lead emissions, and lead-based paint was the second biggest contributor to lead pollution. Before 1955 much of the white colored house paint used nationwide contained up to 50% lead. It wasn’t until the 1970s that government started lowering the allowable levels in paint to < 1%. As much as 86% of homes built before 1978 still contain lead-based paint!

Today one of the main sources of lead exposure in adults is drinking water contaminated from old lead pipes and faucets. Other common but not so obvious sources of lead exposure come through burning candles with lead-based wicks, and for women, using lipstick –many of which have been found to contain alarming levels of lead. In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics released it’s report called ‘A Poison Kiss: The Problem of Lead in Lipstick.’ For more information or to download a copy of this report click here or read their Lead in Lipstick FAQs.

It’s estimated that people have anywhere from 125 to 200 mg of lead in their bodies –nearly 1000 times more than or ancestors! High lead levels can damage arteries, cause irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and hypertension. Unfortunately, there is no known level of lead that is safe for humans.

To reduce your exposure to this metal, avoid burning candles made with lead wicks and find natural alternatives to commercial lipsticks. If you drink tap water, run the tap for a few minutes to flush out any standing water from the pipes that may have been contaminated, or install a water-filtration system. And use low or no VOC paints, especially inside your home.

As an extra protective measure, up your intake of both Vitamin C and Calcium (the latter competes for space with the metal and keeps it from entering bone cells!).