Getting the Lead Out

Lead Poisoning


What a beautiful animal the angelfish is.  I killed a whole tankful of them with lead, and never knew it.

As a teenager, I was really into tropical fish, successfully breeding Siamese fighting fish at age 14. That was a rather strange experience.  The babies started to fight at a surprisingly tender age, so of course I had to isolate each one. Until I sold them, I had forty baby-food jars of fighting fish in my bedroom.  But they were far from alone; I also kept a large bluegill sunfish (by himself), and an assortment of other species in several more aquariums, all nicely filling up my rather small part of the house.  Walking into my room was like a visit to Jacques Cousteau's rumpus room.

A Fish Story

I always wanted to breed angelfish. I had a number of really fine angels which I moved to a private tank furnished with some beautiful plants. The plants were held down with some metal “plant weights” that I bought at the local pet shop. Plants, you see, often get uprooted and float to the surface.  So when I saw the package of nice, easily bendable, made-to-order soft metal strips, I bought it.

The weights held the plants down admirably.

All the angelfish died.

It was pretty awful.  I woke up one morning bright and early to check on my charges, and half of the angelfish were dead. The rest were swimming erratically, in an unbalanced circling movement.  It is sad to see sparkling silver angelfish swimming on their sides, upside down, and writhing in their death throes, and not being able to do anything about it.

It was not until I had taken chemistry at college that I had a guess at what had happened. Those plant weights were made of lead. The lead leached into the aquarium water, and the angelfish may have died of lead poisoning.

Vitamin C

Over the years, we have all heard about the hazards of lead. These include lead paint ingestion by children, lead dust inhalation by miners and metalworkers, lead in solder used in plumbing, and leaded gasoline contaminating cattle.  We know that lead poisoning can cause severe mental retardation.  Lead has been clearly linked with Alzheimer’s disease.

We have been told to avoid lead in the home and to stop lead pollution of our environment. But we have not been told how to remove it from our bodies at home.  No drugs are needed; vitamin C megadoses will do the job efficiently.  Saturation, or “bowel tolerance” doses of vitamin C will chelate lead right out of a person. That is good news for everybody.  

Hair Analysis

I am sometimes critical of hair analysis, as it is too often employed unscientifically (and for profit) by vitamin salespeople to prescribe supplements. Hair analysis is NOT a reliable method to determine your body’s levels of nutrients. It is, however, a very good way to determine your body’s levels of heavy metals. Forensic pathologists use hair analysis to measure lead, cadmium, mercury and other toxins.  A “before” and a few “after” readings can be most useful for diagnosis and also most encouraging as they indicate improvement with vitamin C treatment.

Lead-Avoidance Checklist

Not using, and removing, lead remain the best ways to avoid problems with it. The good news is that environmental lead pollution is way, way down, making it one of the great hippie Eco-freak contributions to world health. I was there, and saw it happen. The EPA and our much tighter environmental laws are largely 1970’s products of ‘60s activists. There is still more to do, though. Here’s what is directly in your power:

1. Do not use lead solder for plumbing projects.  Make sure your plumber doesn’t, either.

2. Have lead paint and lead products taken away by your community’s Hazardous Waste Disposal Unit. And you do have one; check the phone book’s Government Listings, or call the EPA, toll-free, or hit their website, for help.

3.  When a lead-painted room, house or barn is repainted, have the contractor use all precautions, including collection and removal of all paint scrapings.

4. This next suggestion is pretty cool: plant Sunflowers. Yes, sunflowers, those giant yellow smiley-faces of the farm, will efficiently suck up lead from contaminated soil. Their roots silently clean the dirt as their huge blossoms follow the sun across the sky.  I make it a policy to border house, garden, garage and barn with sunflowers.  This is all the more vital if that barn is an old one, and most wood barns are. 

When I was a kid, my Dad used barn paint on our house because it was a buck cheaper per gallon and, he believed, longer lasting than regular house paints.  We had the only barn-red house in the neighborhood, and maybe even the city. Pop also made a large wood and metal star to display on our white front door at Christmas time.  He painted it with the red barn paint, too. Imagine, if you will, the overall patriotic effect of a bright-red house, with a bright red star on the door . . .  during the McCarthy era. Dad (who was fortunately well-known as a very American WWII veteran) finally realized the humor of the whole thing, and painted a one-inch green border around the star. The house stayed red until I was old enough to paint it brown.

But I digress, as usual. Back to the sunflowers. Each autumn, after the sunflowers dry and die, be sure to throw them out in the trash.  Do not burn them or compost them; lead-laced sunflowers can be safely landfilled.

When in Rome

The ancient Romans used rot-proof, rustproof, cheap-to-make, easy-to-use lead pipe for their plumbing.  In fact, “plumber” comes from the Latin word plumbum, and the chemical symbol for lead is Pb to this day. There is speculation as to whether the decline of the Roman Empire, complete with its civil wars, corruption and mad emperors, was the result of chronic lead poisoning.

Geologic cores in the arctic and elsewhere have shown that the ancient Romans polluted as much as half of the world with lead many centuries ago.  Smelting metal ores often drives off lead fumes, and they travel with the weather. And autopsies of the corpses of ancient Romans have revealed unusually high quantities of lead in their bodies.

They, like my angelfish, never knew what made them sick.  Now we know, and we know what to do to get the lead out.

Copyright 2007, 2003 and prior years by Andrew W. Saul.


Andrew Saul is the author of the books FIRE YOUR DOCTOR! How to be Independently Healthy (reader reviews at ) and DOCTOR YOURSELF: Natural Healing that Works. (reviewed at )

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Andrew W. Saul


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