Nav: Home

Evidence lacking to support 'lead diet'

March 07, 2017

BUFFALO, N.Y. - For years, parents of children with high blood lead concentrations have been advised by health experts to provide their kids foods rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C.

The research behind these dietary recommendations, however, is lacking, according to a new paper by a University at Buffalo researcher published online today (March 7) in the Journal of Pediatrics.

"We don't have the right evidence base to be making these recommendations," says the paper's author, Katarzyna Kordas, an associate professor of epidemiology and environmental health in UB's School of Public Health and Health Professions. "We need to be more up front with parents to say we don't know whether this will work."

The impetus for the paper came when a health worker contacted Kordas to inquire about dietary suggestions she could offer families affected by lead exposure. The case worker asked if there was such a thing as a "lead diet," or food-based approaches that would effectively lower children's blood lead concentrations. Kordas said to her knowledge none existed.

"That call was an important 'aha' moment for me as a researcher. This is a critical question we need to ask. If people in the field are asking what they should be recommending to parents, we as researchers need to examine that," says Kordas, PhD, who has studied the health effects of exposure to various metals and chemicals both in the U.S. and abroad.

In addition, the Flint water crisis, in which high levels of lead were discovered in the water supply in that Michigan city in 2014, showed that lead remains an issue in the U.S., albeit not as significant as it once was.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide some of the most commonly referenced suggestions on managing elevated blood lead levels in children. The CDC recommends eating foods rich in iron, calcium and vitamin C. "Overall, though, it's very vague, so it's not surprising that there is some confusion out there," Kordas said.

Kordas notes that the intent of her paper is not to criticize the CDC, which, she says, made its recommendations based on the evidence available in 2002 and when the guidelines were updated in 2012.

"It's not that these recommendations are bad or that they won't work. But if recommendations are being made based on diet or foods, there should be evidence backing that up, and the evidence is very limited. If the recommendation is that you should be eating iron-rich foods or red meat, there should be studies that have evaluated whether that will work. There is no such thing," Kordas says.

Unlike other divalent elements (meaning they have a +2 charge), such as iron, zinc and calcium, lead is a poisonous metal that has no positive benefits in the human body. But it still finds ways to get in. "Lead is the great mimicker," Kordas explains. "It uses the transport systems these other divalent elements use to get into our systems."

Because of the way these other elements interact with and, in some cases, counteract lead, public health experts surmised that diets rich in these nutrients might help a person reduce their blood lead levels. But, Kordas says, "There's a difference between saying 'I'm going to try this even though I don't know if it will work' and 'I'm going to try it because I believe that it's going to work'. I don't think it's just semantics."

The only telltale signs of lead exposure in children occur at extremely high levels - well above the actionable threshold of 5 milligrams per deciliter - which is why it's important that parents have their kids tested for it at a pediatrician's office. Still, between 2004 and 2010, only 1o to 18 percent of children in the U.S. were tested for lead exposure, according to the CDC.

The threat of lead exposure has waned in the U.S. with the elimination of paints and gasoline that once contained the element. However, the nation's aging infrastructure -- think corroding pipes and other plumbing materials -- underscores the fact that lead remains a public health problem, as evidenced in Flint, Michigan, three years ago, Kordas says.

"Flint made a lot of people realize that lead continues to be a problem, and it's clearly something that frontline health workers are still facing and need information on."
-end-


University at Buffalo

Related Public Health Articles:

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.
Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.
Bloomberg American Health Initiative releases special public health reports supplement
With US life expectancy now on the decline for two consecutive years, the Bloomberg American Health Initiative is releasing a supplement to Public Health Reports, the scholarly journal of the US Surgeon General.
Data does the heavy lifting: Encouraging new public health approaches to promote the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE)
According to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, almost 75 percent of US adults do not comply with public health guidelines recommending two or more muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) sessions a week, with nearly 60 percent of the population doing no MSE at all.
The Lancet Public Health: Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health
Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fats from plant sources associated with lower risk of mortality compared to those that replace carbohydrates with proteins and fat from animal sources.
Mass. public safety, public health agencies collaborate to address the opioid epidemic
A new study shows that public health and public safety agencies established local, collaborative programs in Massachusetts to connect overdose survivors and their personal networks with addiction treatment, harm reduction, and other community support services following a non-fatal overdose.
Cyber attacks can threaten public health
Gordon and Landman have authored a Perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine that addresses the growing threat of attacks on information systems and the potential implications on public health.
Public health guidelines aim to lower health risks of cannabis use
Canada's Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines, released today with the endorsement of key medical and public health organizations, provide 10 science-based recommendations to enable cannabis users to reduce their health risks.
Study clusters health behavior groups to broaden public health interventions
A new study led by a University of Kansas researcher has used national health statistics and identified how to cluster seven health behavior groups based on smoking status, alcohol use, physical activity, physician visits and flu vaccination are associated with mortality.
Public health experts celebrate 30 years of CDC's prevention research solutions for communities with health disparities
It has been 30 years since CDC created the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) Program, currently a network of 26 academic institutions across the US dedicated to moving new discoveries into the communities that need them.
More Public Health News and Public Health Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Accessing Better Health
Essential health care is a right, not a privilege ... or is it? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can give everyone access to a healthier way of life, despite who you are or where you live. Guests include physician Raj Panjabi, former NYC health commissioner Mary Bassett, researcher Michael Hendryx, and neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#544 Prosperity Without Growth
The societies we live in are organised around growth, objects, and driving forward a constantly expanding economy as benchmarks of success and prosperity. But this growing consumption at all costs is at odds with our understanding of what our planet can support. How do we lower the environmental impact of economic activity? How do we redefine success and prosperity separate from GDP, which politicians and governments have focused on for decades? We speak with ecological economist Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Propserity, and author of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

An Announcement from Radiolab