LEAD Action News
LEAD Action News vol 10 no 2, June 2010, ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News (ISSN 1440-0561)
The Journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Research article

Nutrition to Fight Lead Poisoning

By Robert J. Taylor, additional references sourced by Elizabeth O’Brien, Edited by Anne Roberts,
Photos by Catherine Sweeny. A Fact Sheet version of this Research Article can be found at www.lead.org.au/fs/Fact_sheet-Nutrients_that_reduce_lead_poisoning_June_2010.pdf

Zinc: The impact of zinc is similar in nature to iron but the relationship is not as strong. Along with iron and calcium, zinc competes with lead for absorption inside the gut, but zinc does not seem to be as effective in displacing lead, though consumption with the amino acid lysine can help. The evidence for zinc supplementation having an effect on blood lead appears weak, with a very large double blind study finding no impact, though a number of studies have found impacts in conjunction with other nutrients or chelators. One study on rats (Tandon 2000) claimed “the use of becozinc (a pharmacological preparation containing vitamins of the B-complex group, vitamin C, and zinc) as a safe alternate to treatment of lead poisoning with chelating agents,” finding becozinc produced higher excretion than vitamin C or thiamin alone.

Animal studies indicate that zinc may reduce lead damage to some brain functions, probably because zinc concentrations are particularly high in the brain. Its impact is this regard, however, may be less than that of calcium. Animal studies also show dietary zinc reduces lead uptake and toxicity in the kidney, liver and testes but may worsen lead’s impact on the thyroid gland and its functions, potentially impacting on bone resorption. It may also decrease the depletion of calcium and magnesium in organs by lead and alcohol. Zinc deficiency increases bone resorption that can lead to higher blood lead levels. Supplementary zinc reduces lead accumulation in the bones of rats but can also reduce bone density (increasing the risk of osteoporosis). Prolonged high levels of zinc supplementation (above 29mg a day) can block copper absorption, leading to sideroblastic anaemia (inability to incorporate iron in haemoglobin) and iron toxicity as copper is essential to iron absorption and transfer within the body.


Zinc: is found in a variety of food. Rear row: pecan nuts, sesame seeds, cashews, dates, linseed, wheat germ. Middle row: cocoa, oysters, crab, poppy seeds, beef. Front Row: blue cheese, eggs, pine seeds

Zinc is found in significant quantities in oysters, wheat germ, cocoa, crab, seeds (poppy, sesame, linseeds, alfalfa), nuts (pine, cashew, pecan), beef, dates, eggs and blue cheese. Zinc is strongly inhibited by phytates, (found in nuts, seeds and whole grains), with zinc absorption being reduced by up to 67% when consumed with high phytate food. Folic acid is also is a significant inhibitor. The UK Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals recommends no more than 25mg of zinc should be taken as a supplement and that total daily intake should not exceed 42mg a day. If you are seeking to maximize your iron levels, zinc supplements totalling more than 15mg should not be consumed within 2-3 hours of iron rich meals or iron supplements. Zinc can also interfere with magnesium absorption but this probably only has significance with very high levels of supplementation.

  1. Iron and/or Zinc Supplementation Did Not Reduce Blood Lead Concentrations in Children in a Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial Jorge L. Rosado, Patricia Lo´ pez, Katarzyna Kordas, G. Garcı´a-Vargas, D. Ronquillo, J. Alatorre, and R. J. Stoltzfus J. Nutr. 2006 136: 2378-2383. http://jn.nutrition.org/cgi/content/full/136/9/2378 [A large double blind study that found no impact on blood lead levels from daily supplementation with 30 mg a day of iron and/or zinc.]

  2. Selection of Nutrients for Prevention or Amelioration of Lead-Induced Learning and Memory Impairment in Rats Guangqin Fan, Chang Feng, Yu Li, C Wang, J Yan, W Li, J Feng, X Shi and Y Bi Annals of Occup Hygiene 2009 53(4):341-351 http://annhyg.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/53/4/341 [Shows that zinc may help protect against lead damage to some memory and learning functions, at least in rats. It found, however, that no single nutrient alone played an adequate role in protecting brain function, and that zinc worked most effectively with Vitamin C and glycine]

  3. Therapeutic Influence of Zinc and Ascorbic Acid Against Lead-induced Biochemical Alterations Anil Kumar Upadhyay, Ramesh Mathur, Monika Bhadauria and Satendra Kumar Nirala Thérapie 2009 Novembre-Décembre; 64 (6): 383-388 www.journal-therapie.org/index.php?option=article&access=doi&doi=10.2515/
      [Further research demonstrating the importance of combining vitamin C with zinc to protect against lead-induced brain damage].

  4. Calcium or zinc supplementation reduces lead toxicity: assessment of behavioral dysfunction in young and adult mice Rantham P.J. Prasanthi, Gadi H. Reddy, Gottipolu R. Reddy Nutritional Research Volume 26, Issue 10, Pages 537-545 (October 2006) http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2006.09.004 [Finds that zinc has a significant effect on lead-impaired neural related performance, though less than calcium.]

  5. Role of vitamins in treatment of lead intoxication Sushil K. Tandon, Surendra Singh, The Journal of Trace Elements in Experimental Medicine, Vol 13 No 3, Pages 305 – 315, (2000) www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/72510361/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0 [Finds that Benozinc, a compound containing vitamin B complex, vitamin C and zinc reduced blood lead levels more than vitamin C or thiamin in rats]

  6. Study on the influence of L-lysine and zinc administration during exposure to lead and ethanol in rats Maria Chichovska and Anguel Anguelov Vet. arhiv 76, 65-73, 2006. http://hrcak.srce.hr/5086 [Finds that zinc and lysine (an amino acid) reduce uptake of lead to organs, particularly the brain and reduce alcohol’s exacerbating effect on lead toxicity.]

  7. Effects of Zinc Coadministration on Lead Toxicities in Rats Fengyuan Piao, Fanyin Cheng, Haibo Chen, Gang Li, Xiance Sun, Shang Lui, Toru Yamauchi and Kazuhito Yokoyama Industrial Health 2007, 45, 546-551 www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/indhealth/45/4/546/_pdf [Finds that zinc reduces the impact of lead on the testes but increases its impact on the vital thyroid gland]

  8. Marginal Zinc Deficiency Exacerbates Bone Lead Accumulation and High Dietary Zinc Attenuates Lead Accumulation at the Expense of Bone Density in Growing Rats Jennifer A. Jamieson, Carla G. Taylor, and Hope A. Weiler Toxicological Sciences 92(1), 286–294 (2006) http://toxsci.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/92/1/286 [Found that high zinc levels decrease both bone lead levels and bone density while zinc deficiency increases bone lead levels but not lead toxicity]

  9. Interaction of lead with some essential trace metals in the blood of anemic children from Lucknow, India M. Ahameda, S. Singha, J.R. Beharib, A. Kumarc and M.K.J. Siddiquia Clinica Chimica Acta Volume 377, Issues 1-2, 2 February 2007, Pages 92-97 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cca.2006.08.032 [Found that children with lead-induced anemia are likely to have lower zinc levels]

  10. Element of caution: a case of reversible cytopenias associated with excessive zinc supplementation Julie A. Irving, Andre Mattman, Gillian Lockitch, Kevin Farrell and Louis D. Wadsworth CMAJ  July 22, 2003; 169 (2) www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/169/2/129 [demonstrates the ability of zinc supplementation to block copper absorption]

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