Heavy Metal Series: Get the Lead Out!
As we head into Breast Cancer Awareness month, Elevate Functional Medicine providers are focused on helping our patient community to strengthen their immune systems and improve their detox pathways.
The obvious reason is the ongoing Covid pandemic combined with the approaching flu season but supporting your immune system is also key to cancer prevention and treatment.
In the course of our daily lives, our bodies are making cancer cells nearly every day and one of the immune system's roles is to detect these abnormal cells and kill them.
You may be wondering why your body might make a cancer cell and that is a good question to ask!
Remember Erin Brockovich? (worth watching or rewatching)
Exposure to environmental toxins in our water and air is one reason our bodies may have cells transforming into cancer cells. DNA damage and dysregulated cell signaling are pathways to cancer for a cell. It is toxins that put us at risk and they can be eliminated naturally if our detox mechanisms are working properly.
Erin B. was dealing with hexavalent chromium in ground water. Hopefully none of you readers live on ground contaminated with industrial waste! Incidentally, according to data cited in the 2019 Clinical Environmental Medicine textbook (Crinnion & Pizzorno), over 4400 public water systems in the U.S. have hexavalent chromium levels above the EPA recommended minimum reportable level.
If you would like to get your water tested, I like Doctor's Data. I also use them for heavy metal testing.
You may need to email or call them to get the kit for testing your household water.
But today, I am continuing my series on heavy metal toxins with my fourth and last installment - lead. There are more than 20 possible toxic heavy metals that can cause illness in humans and I've tried to cover the ones I see most often. That is why we're covering lead to round out the series.
Also, fall is a good time to try a detox program, fresh produce is in abundance and the holidays haven't begun yet!
So 50% of our population have blood lead levels associated with disease, according to Crinnion and Pizzorno's textbook. Exposure to lead is associated with cognitive decline, mood disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, respiratory problems and reproductive problems.
One big problem with lead is that up to 80% or more of the lead gets stored in our bones and remains there because it has a half-life of 30 years or more in bone. The half-life is the amount of time (with no new exposure) to get rid of half of the element/chemical.
So where does the exposure come from?
The two biggest non-occupational sources of exposure are leaded gasoline (banned in the 70s but still used by private planes) and lead in house paint (used until 1978).
Lead may also be in our water (from house pipes), painted ceramic dishes, cigarette smoke, and particles attached to dust in the home. PVC contains some lead, so vinyl mini-blinds, power cords, artificial Christmas trees, lunchboxes and toys may all contain lead.
Another concern is bone broth, popular component of the Paleo diet. There is evidence that bone broth has lead levels associated with disease.(1)
There are a few other common exposures - persons who make lead bullets, fishing weights and toy soldiers have higher lead levels. Also, shooting lead bullets in an indoor shooting range will result in higher blood lead levels.
So what do we see when children (and adults) are exposed to lead? I think of Flint, MI, where the entire population has been exposed to high lead levels in their water. Truly a tragedy and failure of government.
In children exposed to lead, we see lower IQs, higher risk of ADHD, ODD and CD. Adults have higher risks of Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease. There is also an increased risk of heart attack and kidney damage (especially in diabetics) with lead exposure.
We also see increased risk of male infertility with lead exposure and if there is lead in seminal fluid then there may be an increased risk of failed infertility treatments (artificial insemination and IVF).
I will also point out that as women go through peri-menopause and menopause, their estrogen levels decline and they can have significantly increased bone loss with the leaching of lead at the same time.
So what to do to actively get the lead out?
I start with testing to get an idea of the body burden (amount not just in blood but in the body). Then I make sure there is not ongoing exposure. If there is recent exposure, we work to figure out where the exposure originated and on avoiding additional exposures. Then we do metabolic testing and decide the safest way to chelate the lead while supporting the elimination pathways.
Removing the lead and lowering the body burden will gradually allow the return of normal function and lowering of the disease states (if any are already present). I most frequently have seen brain fog but there are many other potential disorders that could be corrected with careful chelation.
Metals can also be assisted out of the body, along with other toxins, with a detox program.
The chelation of lead should be done under the guidance of a knowledgeable functional medicine provider. That being said, my top 3 favorite supplements to help with metal detox are N-acetyl cysteine, Alpha Lipoic Acid and Vitamin C.
These also happen to be very helpful for bolstering the immune system.
Also, we have a very basic detox program available. It includes dietary support, daily cues, recipes, menus and recommended detox supplements. If you are in fairly good health then you may attempt a basic detox. For those of you with multiple chronic issues, please contact us for a consult before doing the program.
So does lead have anything to do with breast cancer?
A recent study from China showed a significant elevation in Cadmium levels in breast cancer patients (15 fold) and also noted elevated levels of chromium, arsenic and lead.(2).
So it is highly likely that testing and removing heavy metals can help to restore better metabolic function and lower the risk of damage to cell function that leads to cancer.
If you'd like to find out whether heavy metals are an issue impacting your health, give us a call at Elevate: 470-266-1380 or contact us through the website.
For supporting your immune system in a fundamental way, you can now sign up for our Immune Boost Program.
Karen Miller, MD is an OB/GYN and Certified Functional Medicine provider who specializes in integrative women's health and complex medical illness. She is medical director and co-owner of Elevate Functional Medicine.
1.Clinical Environmental Medicine. Crinnion, Pizzorno. 2019. p.162.
2. Oncol Lett. 2020 Apr; 19(4): 2925–2933. Heavy metals interfere with plasma metabolites, including lipids and amino acids, in patients with breast cancer. Ling, Meihua, Yuhao, Wei, Weidong. Published online 2020 Feb 17. doi: 10.3892/ol.2020.11402