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Lead is extremely toxic to the body but is present in most foods, which items have the most lead and how to know?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says lead is linked to a wide range of serious health problems in children, including adults. Therefore, controlling the amount of lead in food is very important.

Why is lead in your food?

It is a fact that food manufacturers do not intentionally add lead to products. However, metals can enter food in a variety of ways. Lead can leach into ingredients naturally. “Lead is naturally found in the earth’s core, so it’s present in the soil where food is grown,” says Katie Boss, a pediatric dietitian at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in the US.

Eating lead-contaminated foods is harmful to health. (Illustration)

Darin Detwiler, associate professor of food safety “Leads in the food chain mainly come from direct deposition from the air into plants and from livestock that eat lead-contaminated soil when they eat plants,” said lead researcher at Northeastern University. absorb lead from their environment. This means that when you eat fruits, vegetables and grains or meat from livestock or poultry, traces of lead remain.”

Detwiler says lead is present in all foods. However, baby foods can increase lead levels if manufacturers add vitamins or enzymes to the product. He cited a 2021 congressional report that found many baby foods in the US, including organic brands, were contaminated with lead and other heavy metals, including cadmium and arsenic.

According to Dr. Diane Calello, lead can also leach into food from industrial processing or packaging. Historically, lead has been found in the lining of food containers, she said.

How much lead is considered “within the safe range”?

In a perfect world, adults and children wouldn’t be exposed to lead. However, lead is everywhere in the environment. The World Health Organization (WHO) also points out that it is not good for the body to be lead-free. Even blood lead levels as low as 3.5 µg/dL (micrograms per deciliter) can lead to reduced intelligence, behavioral and learning problems in children.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children have blood lead levels below 5 µg/dL. For adults, less than 10 µg/dL is considered normal. A simple blood test can detect the amount of lead in the blood.

Why is lead so harmful to babies and children?

Lead poisoning has very serious health consequences. After being absorbed, lead acts on the enzyme system that transports hydrogen, causing a number of body disorders, mainly disorders of the hematopoietic system (bone marrow). When a person has severe lead poisoning, the lead affects the brain and central nervous system causing you to go into coma, convulsions and even death. Severe lead poisoning in children can result in mental retardation, rickets and behavioral disturbances.

According to WHO, more attention should be paid to lead exposure in infants and young children because children can absorb 4-5 times more lead than adults from any source. According to the WHO, children tend to put things in their mouths, increasing their risk of ingesting things that contain or are coated with lead, such as contaminated soil, dust or paint flakes.

Dr Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and chief of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica, California (USA), says: “Children with lead exposure can experience stomach upset, headaches and dizziness. Some children may have no symptoms, so the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children be screened for lead exposure between the ages of 12 and 24 months.”

In the long term, lead can cause neurocognitive defects, leading to lower IQ, reduced attention span, and poor academic performance, the CDC says.

Water spinach is a vegetable that easily contains a lot of lead. (Illustration)

How can lead in food be avoided for both adults and children?

Dr Sarah Shafer, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says that parents shouldn’t worry about lead in food because it can be difficult to completely remove lead from food. “Avoiding lead exposure from food is difficult, as parents have little means to detect or prevent the presence of lead, other than reading product instructions for ingredients,” he said. It”. She advises parents to constantly change foods for children: “No baby should only eat one type of food. If you change the type of food for your child, you will help reduce his or her exposure to lead.”

Fisher suggests giving children a combination of cereals, fruits, vegetables, protein, and milk. “If you consistently feed your child cereal three times a day, if that cereal is high in lead, then the child will be exposed to more than if you feed him once a day,” she said.

Detwiler emphasizes that the biggest source of unsafe lead exposure for children is often from the environment, so the following should be avoided:

– Paint in houses built before 1978 is deteriorating.

– Land near old buildings, airports or busy roads.

– Drinking water from lead pipes, faucets and plumbing equipment.

– Toys, jewelry, antiques and collectibles.

– Some foods, cosmetics, traditional medicines… Lead-contaminated foods include water spinach, seafood such as mussels, snails, mussels, crabs, fish…

– Parents who have a job or hobby related to lead products.

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