Lead - nutritional considerations

Definition

Nutritional considerations to reduce the risk of lead poisoning.

Function

Lead is a natural element with thousands of uses. Because it is widespread (and often hidden), lead can easily contaminate food and water without being seen or tasted. In the United States, it is estimated that half a million children ages 1 through 5 have unhealthy levels of lead in their bloodstream.

Food Sources

Lead can be found in canned goods if there is lead solder in the cans. Lead may also be found in some containers (metal, glass, and ceramic or glazed clay) and cooking utensils.

Old paint poses the greatest danger for lead poisoning, especially in young children. Tap water from lead pipes or pipes with lead solder is also a source of hidden lead.

Immigrant and refugee children are at much greater risk for lead poisoning than children born in the United States because of diet and other exposure risks before arriving in the US.

Side Effects

High doses of lead can damage the gastrointestinal system, nervous system, kidneys, and blood system and can even lead to death. Continuous low-level exposure causes lead to accumulate in the body and cause damage. It is particularly dangerous for babies, before and after birth, and for small children, because their bodies and brains are growing rapidly.

Many federal agencies study and monitor lead exposure. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) monitors lead in food, beverages, food containers, and tableware. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors lead levels in drinking water.

Recommendations

To reduce the risk for lead poisoning:

Other important recommendations:


Review Date: 12/27/2018
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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