An Interview With Dr. Susan Wiepert: What Families Should Know About Lead Poisoning and Child Nutrition
Children exposed to lead early in their developmental stages are at risk for developmental delays, learning disabilities, and overall sickness, which impacts them for life. It is extremely important for parents to allow their child’s pediatrician to test for lead and anemia at ages one and two.
Dr. Sue shares her extensive experience and expertise about the steps parents should take after receiving a report indicating elevated blood lead levels in their children.
AMD: What should parents do immediately following a high blood lead level report? What diet changes are necessary after they receive information about their child’s elevated blood lead levels?
Dr. Sue: Immediately after an elevated blood level is determined, parents can optimize their child’s ability to clear the lead and decrease further lead absorption by directly adding foods involving iron, fiber, calcium, and vitamin c.
Iron and calcium-rich foods include spinach, leafy greens, egg, vegetables, seeds, yogurt, cheese, tofu, broccoli, and meats, to name a few.
Foods high in vitamin C and fiber include many fruits and vegetables. Foods high in fiber can prevent constipation with elevated lead levels and decrease lead absorption from the stool.
AMD: Please tell us about the effects of good nutritional practices on blood lead levels after exposure.
Dr. Sue: The cause of elevated blood lead levels in children is generally due to ingesting lead from paint chips, dust, or soil. Remediation after elevated lead levels is found to alter the environment that is causing lead exposure.
Due to environmental modification, it is difficult to determine the effects of good nutritional practices after lead exposure. Still, adequate iron, fiber, and calcium in the diet can decrease lead absorption.
AMD: Have you observed elevated blood lead levels decrease with improved nutrition?
Dr. Sue: Adequate vitamin C can help promote lead excretion in the urine. I have seen a child’s lead level decrease from 5 mcg/dl to 4 mcg/dl after starting that child on a multivitamin with iron. The environmental modification did not change the blood lead level indicated by repeat blood draws after completion.
Three months after adding the multivitamin with iron, the child’s blood lead level decreased to 4 mcg/dl.
AMD: What advice would you give to parents who cannot afford (or do not have access to) nutritious food sources? Are there foods they should avoid giving their kids that may exacerbate the problems associated with lead poisoning?
Dr. Sue: If parents cannot obtain healthy food sources high in iron, fiber, calcium, and vitamin C, some people can arrange access. For example, a pediatrician or a social worker can work closely with the family regarding any barriers to purchasing healthy foods. It will be necessary for these dietary sources to be consistently available to the family attempting to prevent or manage elevated blood lead levels.
Diets high in calories, total fat, and saturated fat have been associated with elevated blood lead levels in toddlers.
A well-balanced diet involving whole foods is important for every family, particularly those with elevated blood lead levels.
AMD: What vitamins would you recommend children take to ensure adequate nutrition?
Dr. Sue: Incorporating nutritional drinks such as Boost or Ensure are good options for children with special needs or who have limited dietary intake.
Consuming a variety of whole foods containing iron, fiber, calcium, and vitamin C should be adequate for managing and preventing elevated blood lead levels. Vitamin supplements are also available to enhance vitamin and mineral intake directly.
Liquid or chewable vitamin supplements are recommended. Gummy vitamin supplements are not recommended.
Who To Contact if Lead Exposure is Suspected
If a child has been exposed to lead or exhibits unusual symptoms, contact a trusted pediatrician immediately for a blood test.
The best way to determine if lead is the problem is to have a lead-risk assessment or lead paint inspection on a property. Surfaces only need to be inspected once by a professional to draft a cost-effective way to eliminate or control issues.
AMD Environmental recognizes how important it is for parents to be equipped with life-saving knowledge from a trained medical professional. We thank Dr. Sue for her devotion to children and families all over Western New York.
Click here for more information about lead exposure.