Note from Sue Gunderson, Executive Director of CLEARCorps (CCUSA): This Part 2 blog was written by our CCUSA resident researcher and writer, Alexis Acker-Halbur. This topic continues on the whole new topic of exploring adults who may have been lead poisoned as children. We appreciate you taking a moment to read this blog. Also, please look at Alexis’ organization and website, The Never Give Up Institute.
In Part 1 of my blog, Life-long Effects of Lead Poisoning on Adults, I explained the side effects I have due to lead poisoning as a child. I have many auto-immune diseases and I wondered if the lead affected my immune system. I’m a walking medical petri dish and I want to know if there’s a correlation between lead poisoning as a child and my ill health as an adult. I’m not looking for something or someone to blame – I just want answers to the cause of my many health conditions.
First, let me give you a list of all the health issues I have (no sympathy required): Type 1 diabetes, kidney infection, hypertension, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, Graves’ disease (overactive thyroid), clinical depression, cataracts, sleep apnea, and Stage 4 colon cancer – twice! When I asked my primary physician why I have so many health problems, he basically told me I had a bad gene pool. I accepted his answer with no further questions — until now!
Does lead poisoning in children cause damage to the immune system?
“The simple answer is yes,” says Elizabeth O’Brien from the Lead Education and Abatement Design Group in Australia. She adds, “but the problem is that many other things can cause problems with the immune system, so the only way to determine if lead is the cause is to ask the doctor to do a blood lead test.” She further states that, “Heavy metal exposure may develop autoimmunity as well as immunotoxicity. Autoimmune diseases are those in which an individual’s own immune system attacks one or more tissues or organs resulting in functional impairment, inflammation and sometimes-permanent tissue damage….” This is exactly how diabetes Type 1 is explained in medical journals.
In his work, K.P. Mishra, M.D. wrote an abstract on Lead exposure and its impact on the immune system: a review. He states:
Metal toxicants which affect the immune system may contribute to an increased incidence of autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and cancer. In the recent past, there has been a growing concern among health and environmental scientists on the impact of environmental exposure to heavy metal lead on human health. In some instances, the immune system appears to be exquisitely sensitive to the toxic heavy metal lead as compared to other toxicological parameters.
In their abstract, Lead and Immune Function, authors R.R. Dietert and M.S. Piepenbrink stated,
The heavy metal lead is a widely deposited environmental toxicant known to impact numerous physiological systems, including the reproductive, neurological, hepatic, renal, and immune systems. Studies illustrating the capacity of lead to impair immune function and/or host resistance to disease date back to at least the 1960s.
Dietert and Piepenbrink also found,
…lead exposure can produce a stark shift in immune functional capacity with a skewing predicted to elevate the risk of atopic and certain autoimmune diseases. Age-based exposure studies also suggest that levels of blood lead previously thought to be safe, that is, below 10 microg/dl, may be associated with later life immune alterations.
Hundreds of studies have found links between lead poisoning and: auditory and visual system alterations, behavioral impairment, renal function damage, Parkinson’s Disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, neurological disturbances, autism, osteoporosis, asthma, and peripheral artery disease.
What can we do?
The medical conditions above lead me to ask what can we do to prevent all of these health and behavioral effects. Here’s a list:
- Don’t panic!
- Prevent lead poisoning from happening in the first place.
- Check the windows and paint in your home for lead if it was built before 1978.
- Remediate all sources of lead in the environment and in your homes.
- Give immediate medical attention to children suspected of being lead poisoned.
- Require a lead blood test for all adults exhibiting the health problems listed in this blog.
- Recommend more research studies in repairing the immune system from lead poisoning.
- Provide federal grants to extend all researchers who have a vested interest in the correlation between lead poisoning and the immune system.
- Tell us your stories of how lead poisoning has impacted your health as an adult.
This is a HUGE task but a very crucial one. If we want to enhance the quality of life for children and adults with lead poisoning, lower medical costs, and expand current research, we must raise the awareness of life-long effects of lead and find solutions – today!
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do you have unexplained medical conditions? Do you currently live in a house built before 1978 or near industrial sites? If so, I recommend that you look deeper into lead poisoning and the effects it can have on your health. It could save your life.