Like most people, you probably were appalled a few years ago when you heard about the lead contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan. The reports of thousands of children suffering permanent brain damage were horrific.
You were no doubt thankful that such a disaster was not happening in your town.
But what you may not know is that lead poisoning is surprisingly common even in people who don’t live in a city with contaminated water. And adults, as well as children, can suffer.
Symptoms include nausea, depression, fatigue, memory difficulties, moodiness, constipation, and headaches. These are the sorts of common, nagging health issues many of us face every day. And we may chalk them up to old age.  
But a major study shows that people with unexplained health problems like these actually may be suffering from lead contamination.
Research in the journal Circulation measured the lead levels in the blood of 13,946 adults and tracked their health for 12 years.
It found something shocking: Nearly 40% had lead levels high enough to cause health problems.
Some experts say the figure is even higher. Dr. David Brownstein is a family physician in West Bloomfield, Mich. His practice is less than an hour’s drive from Flint. He routinely tests his patients for lead. And he started doing it long before the water contamination crisis.
“In my practice, we’ve tested thousands of people over 20 years,” he said. “Over 80% of them tested high for lead.”
Dr. Brownstein said the most common symptoms he sees in adults with high lead levels are fatigue, brain fog, irritability, and insomnia.
You’re probably wondering where all this lead comes from.
Many Americans were exposed to lead in their younger years. That’s because the U.S. government didn’t ban lead from house paint until 1978 and from gasoline until 1986. Before that time, people were exposed by inhaling car exhaust. They were also poisoned from lead-contaminated dust that settled on indoor surfaces from paint chips.
A study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed that banning lead in paint and gas made a huge difference.
Lead in the blood of American children dropped by 80%. And these children had IQs that were almost 5 points higher than kids growing up in the 1970s before the bans.
But the problem was not solved entirely. That’s because when you are exposed to lead, it is absorbed by your bones. And it takes decades to leave your system.
As we get older, our bones naturally begin to break down. This is especially true in post-menopausal women. It’s why they are at higher risk for osteoporosis. As bones get thinner, they release lead into the bloodstream that was absorbed years earlier.
One study found that blood lead levels in women jump 25% in the five years after menopause.
Dr. Brian Schwartz is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He says that when lead is leached from bones, it contributes to cognitive decline in both men and women. Men with higher bone lead levels have lower scores in manual dexterity, decision-making, and verbal skills than men with lower levels, Dr. Schwartz found.
How Lead Gets into Your Body
Studies have found that lead can get into your body in a variety of ways:
- The paint in older homes: If your house was built before 1978, chances are it has lead paint on the walls. Even it has been painted over with non-lead paint, chipping can produce lead-contaminated dust in your house.
- The plumbing in newer homes: You may have heard that older homes have plumbing that can contain lead. And it’s true that some homes built before the 1930s have lead pipes. But an Environmental Protection Agency study found that it is actually brand-new homes that pose the greatest risk.
Many plumbers use lead solder to join copper pipes. In homes less than five years old, large amounts of lead leach from the solder into drinking water. After five years or so, mineral deposits build up in the pipes and insulate the water from the lead in the solder.
- Vegetables grown near busy roads: The soil next to highways is often contaminated with lead. It was deposited there from car exhaust in the days before lead was banned from gasoline. Crops grown near busy roads absorb the toxin. Leafy and root vegetables tend to absorb the most lead, according to the EPA.
- Cosmetics: Lipstick, eye shadow, and blush often contain lead. Imported brands are more likely to have high levels.
- Cheap jewelry: Costume pieces made of inexpensive metal often test positive for lead. If you wear the jewelry regularly next to your skin, it can leach lead into your body.
- Indoor gun ranges: A 2014 investigative series by The Seattle Times newspaper showed that indoor shooting ranges are a surprisingly common source of lead poisoning. When guns are fired, lead is released into the air. Ranges often have inadequate ventilation, the investigation found. Avid shooters and police officers often suffer from exposure.
5 Ways to Protect Yourself from Lead Poisoning
It makes sense to stay away from obvious sources of lead. But lead is so pervasive in our environment that it’s impossible to avoid it entirely.
That’s why it makes sense to get tested to determine your risk. Your doctor can do it. It’s a simple blood draw. Most insurance plans cover it.
There is no safe minimum blood level of lead. A reading of zero is best. But with so much lead all around us, few people can achieve that.
Renowned integrative physician Dr. Mark Hyman says you should be concerned if your readings are above 2 mcg/dL.
He recommends the following steps to reduce your lead levels:
- Set a “no-shoes-in-the-house” policy. A great deal of lead can be tracked into your home in the dust on the soles of shoes. Leaving shoes at the door helps reduce contamination in your home.
- Test your water. Order a home test kit. They are widely available online. Some hardware and home improvement stores also carry them.
- Get a water filter. If your water tests higher than 15 parts per billion of lead, it’s crucial you get a filtration system. A carbon or reverse osmosis system will get rid of lead.
- Take vitamin C. It helps remove lead from your body. Dr. Hyman recommends 1,000 mg a day of a buffered supplement.
- Take vitamin D. It helps preserve bone mass, preventing lead from releasing into your bloodstream. Dr. Hyman recommends 3,000 IU a day. Be sure to take the D3 form of the vitamin, which is better absorbed.
Lead poisoning is far more common than most of us—or our doctors—would ever suspect. Make sure it’s not damaging your health. Take these commonsense steps to get the lead out of your life.
Editor’s Note: If you’re concerned about exposure to the toxic chemicals that are all around us, you need the Toxin Flush Protocol. It’s a detailed plan to help remove toxins from your system. You can get it in our monthly journal, Independent Healing. It’s your best source for evidence-based health advice. Go HERE to subscribe.