By Dr Karen Coates
Lead is a environmental contaminant. The dangers of lead exposure, particularly in children is more universally accepted in mainstream medicine than mercury.
Lead based paint was commercially available in Australia up to 1997, although legislation reduced the allowable concentration of lead from 1978.
The story of lead in health in Australia mimics that of government’s resistance to acknowledge mercury’s toxicity until shamed by overwhelming evidence of its detrimental effect on health.
The first ever medical evidence of lead causing irreversible brain damage in children was published in the Australasian Medical Gazette in 1897 by an astute Brisbane physician. Dr Lockhart Gibson observed an epidemic of lead poisoning from children sucking their fingers after playing near porch railings and homes that had been recently painted.
This discovery failed to impress government authorities, despite a well-known pediatrician confirming Dr Gibson’s original findings seven years later. This was in 1904,an incredible further 93 years before all lead was finally removed from Australian paint. Even now, toys and painted articles from some Asian countries can contain dangerous levels of lead.
Lead was removed from domestic petrol supply in 2002 but most people are not aware that aviation fuel is still lead based. This has health implications for anyone who lives under flight paths, or those who have a close association with marine fuel (boats and jet skis).
Research studies from Thailand in collaboration with an Australian medical college has shown a connection between Essential Hypertension (high blood pressure due to unknown causes) and an increased body burden of lead. More importantly the Thailand doctors are successfully treating high blood pressure by cheating (removing) the lead from hypertensive patients, removing the need for ongoing blood pressure medication in some cases.
Lead pipes for domestic water supply, lead flashing under rooves collecting rainwater for family use can also be a source of leading ingestion.
Suspicion of high heavy metal load is the first step in improving health. Talk to one of our practitioners if you have concerns for yourself or family members.
Next month we will look at some interesting research on the cumulative effects of heavy metals.