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U.S. News & World Report: Could Changing Your Child’s Diet Help Prevent Lead Poisoning?

Dr Jennifer Lowry provides expert commentary as chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Council on Environmental Health

Lead, a naturally occurring element, is potentially toxic, particularly for young, developing children. Exposure to lead-based paint in older homes – built before consumer uses of lead-based paint were banned by the federal government in 1978 – and lead in soil are often to blame for higher blood lead levels in children.

One way kids absorb lead is by literally consuming it. Little kids, after all, like to touch walls, play in the dirt and put anything and everything in their mouths, from soil to paint chips. And lead dust and other fine, minute sources can be hazardous. “If it’s not lead in paint or lead in the soil, it could be lead pipes in your home or it could be the pottery that you drink your orange juice out of,” says Dr. Jennifer Lowry, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, and section chief for toxicology and environmental health at Children’s Mercy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that there’s no known safe blood lead level in children, and even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, kids’ ability to pay attention and academic achievement. Parents who have any concerns should talk to their child’s doctor immediately about whether to get his or her blood lead level tested. According to the CDC, virtually all children should be screened for lead poisoning, and special attention is paid to testing kids who are at higher risk for exposure, like those living in communities with older housing.

Eating Well to Reduce Lead Absorption

So it's critically important for parents to address any sources of lead in the home – by paying careful attention to what kids ingest, and especially having water tested if there’s any concerns about lead – but experts say what children eat can help protect their bodies from lead absorption as well. One thing parents and caregivers can do to help lower a child’s blood lead level is to feed their child healthy foods that have calcium, iron and vitamin C, according to the CDC’s Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. “These foods may help keep lead out of the body,” the agency notes.

If a child gets enough iron and calcium, he or she may not absorb as much lead after being exposed to it, experts say. Though diet is, of course, not a substitute for remediating any lead exposure source, eating well can help in lowering lead levels and preventing the body from absorbing lead, even before lead concerns become known. That’s one more reason nutrition and medical experts say ensuring a child is eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is key. “So if you have good calcium and iron stores, you’re less likely to have that absorption,” Lowry says. Along with lean meats and poultry, good plant-based sources of iron include leafy greens like spinach. For calcium, in addition to dairy, dark leafy greens are a good source.

What’s in the Water?

As a means of primary prevention to protect kids from ingesting lead, experts say parents should pay special attention to the water kids are drinking.

Testing the water is the only way to determine if it contains lead, according to the EPA. Lead testing kits can be purchased from a home improvement store, and the agency recommends sending samples to a certified laboratory for analysis.

If a home tests positive for lead, the agency recommends taking additional steps to protect those who might be drinking water. That includes flushing the pipes until water becomes cold (the EPA advises contacting the local water utility to verify flushing times for your area) and only using cold water for cooking or drinking (since warm water can leach lead from pipes), as well as considering replacing plumbing fixtures that contain lead.


Read the full article via U.S. News & World Report.

Learn more about The Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Toxicology and Therapeutic Innovation at Children's Mercy.