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Other Names:
Lead Toxicity, Heavy Metal Poisoning, Painter's Colic, Plumbism

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Lead poisoning is caused by increased blood serum lead levels. Lead levels in the blood are categorized into Classes I through V. A person not suffering from lead poisoning should have less than less than 10 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) of lead serum level in their blood whilst a Class V is the most severe type of lead poisoning and constitutes a medical emergency. The classes are as follows:

  • Class I: less than 10 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL)
  • Class II-A: 10 to 14 mcg/dL
  • Class II-B: 15 to 19 mcg/dL
  • Class III: 20 to 44 mcg/dL
  • Class IV: 45 to 69 mcg/dL
  • Class V: 70 or greater mcg/dL

When zinc and iron, which are nutritionally necessary minerals, enters our bodies, they bind with proteins and molecules to deliver highly beneficial reactions in our biological system. When lead enters into our body, it behaves much the same way as those useful minerals and it binds with the same proteins and molecules but alters their functioning and prevents them from reacting in the body. Lead is toxic to many of your body's tissues and enzymes and it accumulates in our nervous system. Most symptoms of lead poisoning result from interference of lead with the essential enzyme delta-aminolevulinic acid dehyratase or ALAD. Lead replaces zinc within the protein interfering with the production of heme, a vital component of human blood.

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Lead poisoning may go undetected because frequently there are no obvious signs or symptoms. Symptoms that do appear may include any one or more of:

  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hypertension
  • Weight loss
  • Sluggishness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Pallor from anemia
  • Lower intelligence (or IQ)
  • General Pain
  • Numbness or tingling of the extremities
  • Muscular weakness or pain
  • Headache
  • Memory loss
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Inability to reproduce in men
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy or hyperactivity
  • Damage to nervous system or nerve disorders
  • Kidney damage
  • Learning disabilities
  • Speech or language difficulties
  • Poor coordination of the muscles
  • Reduction of muscle or bone growth
  • Loss of hearing
  • Digestion difficulties
  • Cataracts
  • Seizures and coma (in extreme cases of lead poisoning)

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Due to the young age of most victims of lead poisoning, there are often significant developmental disabilities attached to the condition. Seizures, unconsciousness and possibly death are sometimes caused by lead poisoning. The greatest impact of lead poisoning is found in brain development where irreversible damage can readily occur, with lifelong debilitating effects. Pregnant women must take extra precautions because lead poisoning of the mother can result in damage to the fetus.

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Possible Causes

  • Occupational hazards. Certain jobs expose the workers to high levels of lead in the environment or in chemicals and products handled daily by the staff. This causes the lead to build up in the body. Breathing in of lead dust while remodeling a home or repainting, an old house can lead to lead poisoning. Working on certain jobs such as electronic manufacturing can cause lead exposure.
  • Hobbies. Some hobbies such as making stained glass or refinishing furniture can cause lead poisoning.
  • Lead Piping and solder. Leading piping and solder from older plumbing may be a source of lead poisoning. Many of the water pipes in North America are the older types and contain lead. Lead pipes, brass pipes or plumbing fixtures, copper pipes soldered with lead can release lead particles into tap water.
  • Lead Content in kitchenware. The dangers of using lead in cookware and kitchenware is either not fully understood or simply ignored in countries such as India. Some cooking pots, metal cups, crystals, utensils, serving bowls and other kitchenware that are designed to carry food or drinks, are made with lead content. Glazes found on ceramics, china and porcelain may contain lead, as well
  • Soil. Since the late 1970s, the world has begun reducing the level of lead allowed in gasoline. This led to a large decline in the number of children with elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream. But lead particles that settle on the soil from gasoline or paint used years ago can remain there for many years. High concentrations of lead in soil can be found around major highways and old homes and in some urban settings. Ingestion of soil is also responsible for part of this problem.
  • Household dust. Household dust can contain lead from paint chips or soil brought in from outside. Since the late 1970s, Governments have begun banning the sale of lead-based paints but lead may be present in homes built before then.
  • Water. As was stated before, many of the water pipes in North America are the older type and contain lead. Only in the 1980s for example did the Congress in U.S. change the Safe Drinking Water Act to restrict the use of lead in pipes, solder and other components used in public water systems. Lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures and copper pipes soldered with lead can release lead particles into tap water. Some recommend that if you have such plumbing, you let the cold water run for two minutes before drinking it but there is no evidence to prove that such a practice works. Hot water tends to absorb more lead as compared to cold water. You are advised not to drink hot water from the hot water tap and not to make baby formula with it.
  • Lead paint. In 1978, the CPSC banned the sale of lead-based paints for use in residences, children's toys and household furniture. However, lead-based paint is still on walls and woodwork in many older homes and apartments.
  • Some imported canned food. In 1995, the United States banned the use of lead solder for sealing food cans, but some foods still are imported from other countries where lead solder may be used.
  • Traditional remedies. Ayurvedic traditional medicines from India have been known to cause high lead contents leading to lead poisoning. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that litargirio - a deodorant, foot fungicide and treatment for burns and wounds used in the Dominican Republic contains high levels of lead and should not be used.

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Treatment Options

The western medicine doctors suggest that main treatment of lead poisoning is to cease exposure to lead. This may require repainting homes or replacing plumbing. Naturopathic doctors readily recommend chelation therapy and that removes the lead and other heavy metals from the body. Medications are sometimes used to treat lead poisoning patients.

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Home Care & Natural Remedies

Some natural products remove lead from entering the body or prevent it from being deposited. Apple Pectin, alpha-lipoic acid, garlic, kelp, and zinc all are thought to detoxify the body of unwanted heavy metals. Calcium prevents lead from depositing in body tissues by blocking its absorption.

Removal of lead from the environment is the most effective way to stop the progression and mitigate the severity of lead poisoning. Lead paint should be entirely removed from houses and chips disposed of. In older homes, lead pipes or pipes sealed with lead solder are common. In houses such as these, it is important to leave water running for at least two or three minutes before using drinking or cooking but it is best that you replace the piping. Some countries have no restrictions on the use of lead solder on canned goods. These cans have tell tale indentations from the soldering process. Look for cans with no side seams; this is an indication that no lead was used in production. Many antique flatware sets and some modern kitchenware - particularly those made in India contain lead. Aged dishes are more likely to leach lead into food causing lead poisoning. Alcoholic beverages, vinegar or acidic fruits and their juices such as orange or tomato should never be stored in lead crystal containers for any length of time. The lead that gives the material its sparkle will be released into foods when these foodstuffs are used on them. Children and babies should never be fed from crystal dishes or glassware.

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Lead poisoning