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Lead - The Invisible Poison

You can find additional nformation avaiable under the Lead Facts & Information links above.  Please browse through those areas to learn more.


One of the questions I get asked most is this: What does lead do once it gets into someone's body?  Lead is a neurotoxin; a poisonous substance that affects the nervous system of people and animals.  Children are more susceptible to the effects of lead as their bodies are likely to absorb lead more easily than adults.

How does lead get in?  Why does the body keep it?

Lead is a toxic heavy metal.  There are some metals that bodies need - Zinc, Calcium, and Iron, for example - and others that do not belong in a body, for example, Lead and Mercury.  When lead enters a body, the body mistakes it for calcium, so the body takes the lead and does one of two things: It either stores it along with its other calcium stores and saves it for use at a later time, or it tries to use it right away.  No matter when the body tries to use it, the result is the same, it will malfunction becuase lead does not function the way calcium does.  Think about what would happen if you put water in the gas tank of your car.  The tank would accept it easily becuase it is made to be filled with a liquid, but once the car tried to run using water instead of gas, it wouldn't work.  The same things happens when a body tries to use lead instead of calcium.

The tricky part is that the body does not realize it is trying to use lead until it is too late.  It freely accepts the lead in to the body, but many things can go wrong once it realizes it is using lead instead of calcium.

When does the body try to use the lead?  How do things go wrong?

Exposure to lead can cause irreversible health effects and there is no cure for lead poisoning. 

The Brain: One of the most important parts of the nervous system, the brain uses calcium to create neural connections.  The brain is made up of millions of neurons.  Calcium is stored in brain cells.  Brain cells use calcium to build and strengthen synaptic connections to other neurons.  When lead is stored, instead of calicum, and the brain tries to make neural connections, the system malfunctions because lead will not do what calcium is supposed to do.

Bones: Bones need calcium to grow.  Calcium is stored in bones and saved for later use, not only to grow bones, but also to do other things (such as make neural connections as we saw the in the previous section).  From birth to about age 18 bones are forming and growing.  When a bones needs to grow, it looks for calcium in the body and uses it to help form new and stronger bones.  When there is not enough calcium to use, or when the body finds lead instead of calcium, the new bone can be weak or it may not grow at all.  A lack of ability for the bone to grow due to lead can sometimes be seen on an x-ray as what is referred to as "lead lines".  Children who have been poisoned by lead can be 1 - 2 inches shorter than they might have been depending on the amount of lead, and age and duration of exposure. 

The Heart, Kidneys, and Blood Pressure: Calcium helps regualte the hearts rhythm. People with low calicum intake are at higher risk for high blood pressure.  

Kidneys: A study at Johns Hopkins Medical Center showed that low levels of lead can cause the filtration capacity of kidneys to drop.  In a 2010 report Dr. Fadrowski, a pediatric nephrologist, stated taht "chronic exposure to high lead levels is a well-known cause of chronic kidney disease in adults. (Source: Johns Hopkins Children's Center: Keeping the Lead Out of Children"

Exposure to lead can also cause: readuced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia, anemia, high blood pressure,bone illnesses, and a range of other health, intellectual, and behavioral problems.  At low levels lead poisoning may not present identifiable symptoms.  A blood test is the only way to know if a child is poisoned.  At very high levels of exposrue lead poisoning can cause mental retardation, coma,convulsions, and even death.

Lead is most harmful to children under age six because it is easily absorbed into their growing bodies and interferes with the developing brain and other organs and systems.  Preganant women and women of child-bearing age are also at increased risk becuase lead ingested by the mother can cross the placent and affect the unborn fetus.

A Few Words About Calcium

"Calcium is an essential nutrient our body needs every day. You may already know that it helps build and maintain healthy teeth and bones. But that’s not all. Calcium also keeps your heart beating steadily, your blood, nerves and muscles working correctly.

Calcium is a key factor to keeping your body running smoothly. Because your bones contain calcium, if you do not get enough from your daily diet, your body will "steal" the calcium from your bones to use for other functions. Over the long run this can reduce your bone strength and lead to osteoporosis, a potentially crippling disease of thin and fragile bones.

(Source: Questions"

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    Site created and maintained by Michele Gaffney.  Last updated on 12/4/2012

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