Lead - nutritional considerations

Definition

Nutritional considerations to reduce the risk of lead poisoning.

Alternative Names

Lead poisoning - nutritional considerations; Toxic metal - nutritional considerations

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:

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Lead. www.cdc.gov/nceh/lead/default.htm. Updated June 15, 2021. Accessed June 18, 2021.

Markowitz M. Lead poisoning. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 739.

Theobald JL, Mycyk MB. Iron and heavy metals. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 151.


Review Date: 2/12/2021
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update June 18, 2021.
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