Recent events in the national news, such as the toxic levels of lead found in Flint, Michigan tap water (2016) have given rise to a number of requests that I offer some clarification on how easy (but also important) it is to cure lead poisoning.
If this applies to you (or if you’re concerned that it may apply to you) you should know that there are 3 major problems surrounding lead poisoning: 1. Most people are worried about the wrong things; 2. Most people are not worried about the right things; and 3. For most people, all they’re doing is worrying instead of taking the few simple actions necessary to A-get their lead out and B-avoid further lead toxicity.
The purpose of this article is to demystify lead poisoning, to outline the science of how lead detox works and to explain in simple language exactly what you need to do to A-get your lead out (if you have any) and B-avoid further lead toxicity (if this applies to you).
1. Worried about the wrong things
Let’s clear up a few common misconceptions about lead toxicity.
Misconception #1: Lead Poisoning is Permanent, once you have it
Fact: Its not, its only temporary. You can affect a course of complete lead detox in 2-4 weeks with simple, inexpensive supplements available at every health food store on the planet. In fact, a better term is lead toxicity, not lead poisoning because toxicity is temporary and poisoning sounds permanent. The body is in constant flux, absorbing and excreting toxins on a daily basis. You wouldn’t describe your kitchen garbage bin as having garbage poisoning when it was full, right? You’d just take out the garbage. It’s the same with lead: lead toxicity only becomes lead poisoning if you do nothing about it.
Misconception #2: There’s nothing you can do to avoid lead poisoning
Fact: You can easily avoid it. The main source of lead toxicity is drinking water and its simple to get lead out of drinking water: filter all your water through a thick charcoal filter. Water jug filters typically only work for 3-4 weeks before they’re exhausted, so if that’s your only line of defence, replace such a filter monthly. Counter top filters need to be replaced every 2-3 months and under-the sink filters every 6 months. The ones you screw on a tap probably only last a week. Regardless of what town you’re in, this definitely applies to you as all municipal tap water in the world has lead in it (or worse). Let’s just call a spade a spade – we no longer live in an age where it’s safe to drink water out of the tap. And boiling doesn’t help…the boiling point of water is 100°C, the boiling point of lead is 1749°C. Your stove probably doesn’t go that high…
Misconception #3: Lead Poisoning itself may be temporary but it can do permanent damage to your body and brain
Fact: This is possible but highly unlikely. Most people aren’t susceptible lead poisoning even when they are exposed. Those who are susceptible will usually only absorb it in places it is unlikely to cause symptoms at low toxicity levels, and even when toxicity levels get to the point where they’re causing symptoms you’re aware of, your body has an almost unlimited capacity to heal. The real problem, at no matter what stage the lead toxicity is being treated (early, intermediate or chronic) is inaction.
2. Not worried about the right things
It has been a discovery of mine through extensive clinic assessment of lead toxicity that only about 15% of people are even capable of absorbing lead. This is a vital distinction because it contradicts the prevailing wisdom that 100% of people are susceptible to lead toxicity; in my experience, they simply aren’t. The rationale is that 100% of tap water has lead and when queried, 100% of the people being assessed confess to drinking or boiling unfiltered tap water in some form, yet out of 1000 people, only about 150 will typically have lead toxicity anywhere in their system. This means that even in a town like Flint, Michigan, which has been exposed to toxic levels of lead, only 15% of the population are going to be capable of absorbing it.
A further discovery is that within the 15% group who are susceptible to lead, genetic differences from one person to the next will result in lead being stored in each person in a different body part: in some cases, only the digestive tract and kidneys; or sometimes only in the pancreas; sometimes lead will only get stored in the optical cortex of the brain, causing eye strain and vision problems; or sometimes in the emotional cortex where the sufferer would experience mood swings and chronic anger issues. In a few rare cases its in every gland and organ but this is uncommon (1/1000) so there is a 0.001% chance that this is you and even for that 1/1000, you’re still unlikely to notice anything worse than low energy, periodic headaches (I call them lead-aches) and mild digestive symptoms.
This genetic differentiation explains why so many people who have lead toxicity experience such widely differing symptoms. What is happening in each case is that their unique autonomic nervous systems make the decision to store lead in a different place and wherever it ends up, it causes symptoms specific to that region.
Here are some interesting cases I’ve seen recently:
- Lead in the pancreas causing diabetes. We removed the lead and their blood sugar normalized, so I propose the question: was their diabetes a cause or an effect? Does diabetes even exist as its own cause?
- Lead in the bones causing arthritis. We removed the lead and their arthritis disappeared, so was their arthritis a cause or an effect? Does arthritis even exist as its own cause?
- Lead in the heart causing an irregular heart beat. We removed the lead and their heartbeat normalized.
I’m not suggesting that diabetes, arthritis and arrhythmia are only lead poisoning because I’ve seen other metals cause the same symptoms in other people. Instead, I’m suggesting that these conditions are all caused by some variation of metal toxicity, of which lead may be a culprit, or may not. The more we come to understand about metal toxicity, the more it becomes apparent that there is a whole different way of looking at medical conditions but that issue is outside the scope of this article. So, back to lead…
The thing most people are not worrying about that they should be worrying about is their tap water. All tap water has lead, and if you’re in the 15% who can absorb lead, this is where you’re getting it from but what you might not realize is that:
- We should assume that 100% of tap water has lead regardless of continent, country or city.
- Boiling tap water doesn’t remove lead, only filtering does
- Your water filter has to be a charcoal filter. Filters that are predominantly alkalizing don’t remove lead
- Jug-based filters need to be replaced monthly, under-the-sink filters 3 to 6-monthly depending on the quality. Tap filters (the kind you screw over the tap spout) need to be replaced almost weekly.
- Pre-bottled water is not guaranteed to be lead-free, the water bottle companies are not held to rigorous standards of quality control
- Mineral water is more likely to contain lead, you want DEmineralized water. Lead is not considered a mineral but the same filtration process that gets minerals out gets lead out, so if the minerals are still there, it hasn’t been filtered adequately and is more likely to have lead
- Keeping in mind that all tap water has lead:
- Almost all soda pops are made with tap water
- Most coffee & tea shops use tap water to make your daily brew
- Most commercial beers are made with tap water
- Most liquor has a tap water base (e.g. if its 40% alcohol, its 60% tap water). Liquor is a major source of lead for some people.
These are the sorts of water sources to bear in mind and if you want to worry, or phrased proactively, if you want to focus on something productive, these are what you should be avoiding.
Why is Lead in Tap Water to Begin With?
It’s almost never a failure of the water treatment plant to do their job, although there are exceptions. The problem in most cases is in your pipes: they’ve either been made with lead, or there are copper pipes that have been soldered together with a 50-50 tin/lead mixture, or there are lead pipes further back in the system, somewhere between your tap and the water plant. I’m not sure why this wasn’t made illegal hundreds of years ago. We’ve inherited this problem from ignorant plumbing practices in the 20th century and it needs to be addressed. The most immediate way is to filter your water but if you’re looking for some political action to take, here are a few suggestions:
- Pressure your local government to replace all lead pipes still in the system
- Vote someone in who will give you a tax break or rebate for replacing your home pipes (lead or copper-with-lead). Politicians take note, this could be a good campaign idea for your next election
- Lobby to have tin and lead-based solders made illegal
- Lobby to mandate that pop-bottling companies, breweries, liquor refineries, coffee shops, donut stores and for that matter restaurants filter their water with a charcoal filter that gets changed monthly or weekly, depending on volume.
- Lobby to have a working charcoal water filter be one of the checkpoints in a restaurant, coffee shop or brewery health inspection list.
- Take it direct to the seller: tell your local coffee shop, for example, that you won’t be able to patronize them until they have started filtering their tap water. Considering this problem affects 25% of all people, its reasonable that they should make the change across the board, and they’d only need to receive 5 or 10 phone calls before they saw how a simple filter could stop them from losing customers. For that matter, coffee shops ahead of the curve could start advertising that they use only filtered water and gain customers.
3. The few simple actions necessary to remove Lead Toxicity
A: Getting it out
Once you have retained lead toxicity, it can only be extracted via nutritional means. There are a number of supplements commercially available that work easily and quickly. Here’s a list of the top 3:
1. Activated Charcoal. This is a non-prescription supplement available at most health food stores and online retailers. Charcoal is pure carbon and works for the same reason that a charcoal filter cleans your tap water. The nutritional form of charcoal, called activated charcoal soaks through the entire body and facilitates the extraction of lead from every gland, organ and the brain. It is the best option for non-acute lead poisoning. Side effects are either diarrhea (which means its working) or constipation (which may mean it has yet to start working or may mean it is no longer working). As long as the lead is not being replaced, supplementation with nutritional charcoal can produce complete body-wide lead detox in 2-4 weeks.
Dosage: Can range from 250mg to 1250mg, depending on the severity of lead toxicity. This amount can be taken at your discretion, anywhere from 1x/day to 6x/day.
Cautions: Should not be taken for longer than 5 weeks. After that, it loses its effectiveness in most cases. Also, side effects will become more extreme post-week 4.
Side Effects: vary from person to person, most people experience none but when there are side effects they will include diarrhea or constipation and there may be headaches. Many side effects are related to the lead coming out – someone who took charcoal but didn’t need it would experience little else besides constipation. There is no harm in taking it when you don’t need it as long as it’s not taken in excess.
2. Chlorella. This is a nutritional form of green algae that has a similar electrochemical structure to charcoal. Note: Chlorophyll is not the same thing and does not work on lead, all it has in common with chlorella is that they’re both green and start with “chlor” which is Ancient Greek for green.
Dosage: range from 500mg to 5000mg. Powder or pill form are both fine, there’s no difference in bioavailability. Can be mixed with a smoothie, juice or water but it tastes quite pungent, many people don’t like the taste.
Cautions: Should not be taken for longer than 5 weeks at high doses. After that, like charcoal it loses its effectiveness. Also like charcoal, side effects can become more extreme post-week 4.
Side Effects: vary from person to person, most people experience none but when there is a side effect it will be constipation. There is no harm in taking it when you don’t need it as long as it’s not taken in excess.
3. DMSA. This is usually only available by prescription and shouldn’t be used as a preventative measure, only once you have confirmed there is acute lead poisoning. It was developed during World War 1 as an antidote for extreme lead poisoning after exposure to lead-based gases in the trenches. There are concerns that it may also extract biological minerals we actually need (such as zinc or strontium), causing short-term deficiency in those minerals but these concerns are overrated. The main issue with DMSA is that it pulls lead out so fast that it will make the detox process physically difficult (nausea, vomiting, migraines). It is the best option for lead poisoning that needs immediate treatment but not for chronic lead poisoning, which can afford a lower, more manageable treatment timeline.
Dosage: 500mg once/day for 7-14 days.
Cautions: Should not be taken for longer than 2 weeks without medical supervision. Never take more than 500mg/day.
Side Effects: possible migraines, nausea and even vomiting, all of which will indicate the rapid passage of lead out of the system.
If you’re concerned about whether you are one of the 25% of people who are susceptible to lead, either request a blood, urine or hair metal analysis through your doctor or naturopath, or where possible find a muscle testing practitioner who knows how to test for lead toxicity (by using an actual pure-element lead sample, not by their simply thinking about it and muscle testing you, as that won’t be accurate).
B: Avoiding it
Only drink filtered water, and only boil with filtered water. It’s that simple. Also, change your filter regularly and be mindful of other liquid sources (coffee, tea, alcohol, juice, pop, beer) that are also made with tap water. Also, where this applies, don’t use lead-based solder in your plumbing and/or replace pipes that were fitted together with lead based solder.
Why do these supplements work? The Science of Eliminating Lead Toxicity
If you’re not a self-described science geek, you may not want to read any further as the rest of this article gets into advanced organic chemistry and what you’ve read up till now is sufficient to end your misconceptions about lead poisoning, get you focused on the right things and steer you onto the necessary path to get your lead out, if you’re in the 15% to whom that applies.
However, I wish to be inclusive of anyone who genuinely wants to understand the science, so here it is: To understand how lead detox works, we need to take a closer look at valence electrons. Each element has a certain number of electrons on its outer shell called valence electrons. To oversimplify things, all elements on the periodic table can be grouped into 8 patterns based on the number of valence electrons they have.
Lead has 82 electrons, but only 4 electrons on its outer shell, so it is said to have 4 valence electrons and is in group 4. This makes it possible for lead to bind to other elements with 4 valence electrons.
To eliminate lead we need to provide our bodies with a supplement that is capable of binding to lead in the same way the lipophilic end of a soap molecule binds to grease. The supplement is absorbed through the digestive tract, into the blood stream and from there moves to all parts of the body including the brain. When it arrives at a place where there is something for it to bind to (e.g. Lead), the binding between the supplement and the lead converts the stored lead molecule into a mobile form [Lead+supplement] that can be excreting through the body’s usual detox pathways (circulatory, lymphatic, digestive, etc).
The three supplements listed above are capable of doing this because of their close electro-chemical relationship with lead itself. They all have a 4-valence electron structure that makes them able to fit into lead like a key into a lock. This is because they are all predominantly carbon molecules. In fact charcoal is pure carbon, which is why it is the best and safest method of lead detox.
Note: looked at in the reverse, charcoal and chlorella bind to other heavy metals besides lead, but this is not the place to publish a complete list of them, as my intention is to provide an analysis of lead, not of charcoal or chlorella.
Lead and carbon have such a strong affinity to bind to one another because they both have 4 valance electrons. Carbon can be thought of as a lead magnet.
Muscle Testing Metal Analysis
A muscle testing analysis provides the most accurate kind of metal toxicity evaluation because it enables us to find out specifically which organs the lead is in, where traditional urine and hair analysis only see the lead as a fact, but can’t see where it is. Without knowing whether you have lead or where it is you won’t understand whether your symptoms are from lead toxicity or from something else. There’s a more detailed write-up on muscle testing metal toxicity on this page.
The End of Lead
If you think you have lead toxicity, and if you don’t have access to a medical urine metal analysis or a muscle testing metal analysis, you could always proactively supplement with charcoal and/or chlorella.
As long as your water sources (for drinking and boiling) are filtered through a charcoal filter that has been replaced recently, you’re unlikely to be exposing yourself further. Then all that’s needed is to get out the existing lead. If you didn’t have any lead to begin with, the most you will have done is consume a couple bottles of charcoal or chlorella without cause. If you did have lead in you, you will have taken a few simple, painless steps to cleanse your system of it. There are simple things you can do to protect yourself. Your body will be cleansed of lead easily if you follow the protocols listed above.