Why You Are at Special Risk After Middle

Lead, like aluminum and fluoride, preferentially accumulates in bones. In fact, 80 percent of ingested lead ends up in bones, where it is stored for a lifetime. Remember that lead has a very high affinity for calcium, and accumulation in the skeleton can begin even before birth. Lead exposure is especially dangerous during early childhood as bones undergo rapid growth and remodeling. Not surprisingly, lead also tends to accumulate in teeth during childhood.

In addition to the neurological effects I have already discussed, elevated lead levels in children are associated with many physiological defects, such as abnormal bone formation and bone weakness. Because lead is stored in the bones, and under normal conditions is released only when bone dissolves, it can remain in large concentrations in the bones throughout life. As we begin to age, our bones frequently break down, releasing not only calcium and phosphorus, but also lead and other metals that have been stored in them. Osteoporosis, an exaggerated process of bone destruction, releases large amounts of stored lead, as well as aluminum and fluoride, over a relatively short period of time. The released lead enters the blood stream, and then the nervous system where it proceeds to wreak havoc with the delicate cellular systems I described above.

This is akin to giving a person a single toxic dose of lead, but the osteoporosis patient and her doctor would not even begin to suspect complications caused by lead poisoning. In cases such as this one, physicians usually ask about recent exposure to hazardous materials and, if none is suspected, do not order a heavy metal screen for lead, mercury, aluminum, and cadmium.

The faster bones degenerate, the greater amounts of lead are released, and the higher the blood levels will be. People in nursing homes and shut-ins are at special risk, since their diets are usually poor, they receive no nutrient supplementation, and they get very little exercise.

The government, in all its wisdom, has decided that screening tests are not worth the expense unless recent exposure and ensuing toxicity can be easily pinpointed. What an absurd policy! In cases of metal toxicity, Medicare/Medicaid rules essentially say that a test can only be ordered if the diagnosis is already known: in order to obtain a blood lead level test, the doctor must have documented evidence that blood lead is elevated. It's a "Catch-22," bureaucratic socialized medicine at its best.

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