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If your child has had a sudden regression in development or a reduction in cognitive skills then it is important to establish whether this could be due to the environment. Lead toxicity is one of the key causes of poor performance and learning difficulties, and is more common than you might think. It is important to find out whether there’s any risk that your children might be exposed to lead, especially if you live in an older home.

There isn’t much data for the UK for lead toxicity, but each year in the US, around 310,000 under fives are found to have worrying levels of lead in their blood. Lead toxicity can lead to a wide range of symptoms, such as poor growth, stomach pain, constipation, behavioral problems and anaemia. Lead can also affect a child’s developing brain and can be one of the underlying causes of low IQ, poor performance at school and learning difficulties.

Changes in the UK law have removed many sources of lead from the environment, such as the requirement for all new cars in to run on unleaded petrol since 1990, and this has led to a decrease in levels of lead in blood. However, it is known that a small number of children are still being exposed to harmful levels of lead, for example from old lead paint and in the ground water. In the United States when you buy or rent a house you must have a certificate from the Lead Rental Registry. This is not common practice in the UK.

Children are especially vulnerable to any lead exposure because they are at a stage of rapid brain development. Numerous studies show adverse impacts of lead toxicity on child cognition, affecting IQ, exam results, memory and learning, fine motor skills, as well as behaviour, often hyperactivity and aggression. In adults, high blood pressure, joint pain, and memory or concentration problems are linked to chronic lead exposure.

Many children have blood lead levels that exceed the “level of concern” set in 1991 at 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Currently, there is no lowest threshold identified for adverse effects of lead in children. This means blood lead levels lower than 10 µg/dL can still be associated with neurological impacts. Lead only stays in the blood for 2-3 months after exposure and then it settles in the bones which can displace calcium and even reduce bone density.

One of the most inspiring books I have read on child development is “Dyslogic Syndrome: Why Millions of Kids Are Hyper, Attention-disordered, Learning Disabled, Depressed, Aggressive, Defiant, or Violent – and What We Can Do About It” by Bernard Rimland.

It is a short and sweet text, investigating the link between diet, environmental toxins (specifically lead) and “dyslogic” behaviours. Rimland released this book in 2006 and challenged the traditional idea that bad parents are to blame for troubled, disobedient, sad, or dangerous children.

In this book, Rimland argues that childhood behavior labels such as Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Bipolar Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorders may stem from dysfunctional brains exposed to biological insults including environmental toxins and poor diets. Using case histories to illustrate both the causes of dyslogic and examples of successful treatment, the book describes what parents and those in authority can do to help troubled children become happy, well-adjusted, and healthy.

Another more recent and very thought provoking article was published in the Guardian newspaper linking lead to criminal behaviour by George Monbiot.

Testing For Lead Exposure

If you worry that your child has recently been exposed to lead toxicity then you can ask your GP for a blood test. Some people prefer private options and this testing is part of the Genova Diagnostics NutriEval. Remember lead only stays in the blood for a couple of months before it settles deeper into the tissues and the bone, so if you think exposure was more than two months ago, then the best way of testing for lead is through a hair elements test.

Detoxification of Lead

Detoxification of heavy metals and other toxins in the body may be increased if sulphur rich foods such as onion, garlic, cauliflower, eggs, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts are eaten regularly. Other plant based food and supplements include spirulina, chlorella, vitamin, C, milk thistle, broccoli sprouts, coriander, parsley also have properties to support the ability for the liver to manage toxic load. Omega 3 rich fish oils have also been noted to help with enabling faster detoxication.

Pectin rich foods such as apples, cabbage, bananas, beetroot, grapes, carrots, and citrus pith are natural sponges and help to reduce heavy metal load. Pectin rich foods may be specifically used to help reduce lead toxicity in children due to its gentle action.

Please note all detox regimes need to be under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. 


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