If there was one health issue I could focus on and potentially save thousands of lives, it would be cardiovascular disease. Are you aware that one in three Americans die from heart attack or strokes? That is almost 34% of all deaths! It far outranks cancer, kidney disease, infections, and accidental deaths!
Some of the top risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease include: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, elevated blood sugar, sleep apnea/chronic lack of sleep, and obesity. What I want to discuss today is a silent killer that many Americans are unaware of – lead.
The presence of lead in the body is associated with SIX times more deaths from heart disease and strokes as compared to those who don’t have lead in their body.
Six times! That means for every person who dies of a heart attack, there are six more that die of a heart attack who have lead in their body. Why is this significant? Because lead can be removed from the body, thus saving lives!
What is lead and where does it come from? Lead is a naturally occurring metal that has been mined for thousands of years and is still used widely in commercial products. Lead is a stable metal and accumulates in our tissues (liver, kidneys, muscle, ovaries, prostate, brain, fat) and bones over time and repeated exposure. Most of us are aware of lead-based paints and water pipes as a source of getting lead in our bodies. Leaded gasoline is still used by farmers, boaters, and race car drivers. Lead is in the air we breathe, in our water from brass fixtures (5-7% lead), lead-glazed dishware and crystal, and is in foods and spices from Mexico and China.
The reason lead toxicity is a silent killer is that almost 40% of Americans have lead in their bodies and do not know it. We know that blood lead concentrations as low at 2 mcg/dl is a public health hazard and causes a significant increased risk of dying from heart attack or stroke. Levels as low at 4 mcg/dl can cause high blood pressure. Both the CDC and EPA agree that there is no measurable level of lead in the body which does not cause harm.
Who is at risk for lead toxicity? We are aware of children’s risk from ingestion/inhalation of above mentioned sources. Occupations at higher risk of lead exposure include: electricians, plumbers, painters, ceramicists, ammunition specialists, and paint and ink manufacturers. Workers may not only get lead poisoning on the job but may also bring the lead home to their families. Other populations at risk for lead toxicity include menopausal women/andropausal men, hyperthyroidism, cisplatin chemotherapy, osteoporosis or osteopenia, and vitamin D deficiency. This is because in these conditions, bone is being turned over, releasing their stores of lead accumulated over the years.
The symptoms of lead (and other metal) toxicity is long. The checklist we use at our clinic includes: irritability, excessive itching, depression, rashes, numbness/tingling, metallic taste, cold hands/feet, jittery/nervous, memory problems, frequent insomnia, high blood pressure, chest pain, constipation, constant pain in joints, elevated heart rate, diminished libido, twitching muscles, burning tongue, tremors/shakes, headaches after eating, leg cramps, ringing ears, frequent diarrhea, chronic anemia, frequent heartburn, and nerve pain.
Now that you know this, what can you do? A blood level of lead is easy to test at any lab and most insurance companies will pay for it. We recommend this to be done yearly in people over the age of 50 and in people with symptoms. You will need to ask your primary care provider to order this as most health care providers haven’t learned about this silent killer (despite the release of information in our medical literature). At our clinic, if we are suspicious of your body having lead toxicity, we will give you medicine to pull the lead (and other metals) from your tissues and then test you – this is actually the most accurate way to test. If you do have lead toxicity, we encourage you to seek care from a health care provider (such as Sonas) who has had training and expertise in the safe removal of lead from your body. A website that can provide you more information is http://www.acamnet.org.
(This has been a repeat article, but so worth repeating!)
Renae Blanton, MSN, ANP is a Family Nurse Practitioner at Sonas Integrative Medical Center in Durango. She specializes in integrative family medicine with a focus on environmental issues such as lead toxicity, hormone therapy for men and women, and chronic disease and illness. She can be reached at 970-247-2500 or www.sonasimc.com.