DEAR DR. BLONZ: I was recently doing some remodeling, using an electric sander on about 20 windows and doors. When I was just about through, I learned that my house had been painted with lead paint. I recall that every time I took off my dust mask, there was a line of paint in the mask and even a bit in my nose. Is there some kind of nutritional process to remove any lead dust that might have gotten into my body? I don't have the best diet, but I do try to include good foods and have one high-fiber meal every day. My neighbor recommended I do a colon flush, but that did not sound appealing. Is there anything that you might recommend? -- S.F., Chicago
DEAR S.F.: It was excellent that you were wearing some type of dust mask; this is important even if the paint was lead-free. The fact that you found paint around your nose would suggest that the mask wasn't fitted properly, or it wasn't the correct one for that type of job.
Lead can enter the body in a number of ways, the most common being the consumption of substances containing lead and the inhalation of lead dust. Lead poisoning in children, for example, often begins with the consumption of leaded paint chips that peel off the walls, or with putting their hands in their mouths after touching something with lead dust on it. In adults, common problems are leaded water pipes, cooking or eating on pottery rich in lead, the consumption of food or liquids that have been stored in leaded containers, or working in industries where lead-containing compounds are used.
The symptoms of lead poisoning in adults are quite wide-ranging and can include anemia, fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, heart failure, abdominal pain, gout, kidney failure, wrist or foot weakness and reproductive problems. In children, lead poisoning symptoms include anemia, fatigue, decreased appetite, a variety of digestive problems, sleeplessness, learning problems and lowered I.Q. As you can see, it is nothing to trifle with. More information is available at epa.gov/lead.
There is a blood test that can determine if there is excessive lead in your body, so I recommend that you speak with your physician for a precise evaluation. The good news is that the body is able to rid itself of lead, but it can take a while. Forget that colon flush: There is no evidence that it is beneficial, and no reason to think it will do anything to help remove the lead distributed throughout your body. The first priority with a treatment for lead poisoning is making sure lead exposure has stopped. Time, at this point, is probably your ally. Dietary fiber is great to include in a healthful diet, but it is uncertain that it has any special powers to help your body rid itself of accumulated lead.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.