DR. HOOK- It's insidious: Get the lead out-- everywhere

Do you have a lead foot? My brother and I learned to drive in rural Ohio from parents who used to drive in New York City. So we didn't have just lead in our feet. We had lead, uranium, titanium, and Rush Limbaugh's gigantically obscene belly in our feet. Imagine the terror we created on the county roads! John Denver would have sung, "Take me home, Country roads, To the place...Hey, slow down you darn doctors' kids!"

Then the unthinkable happened one day after college graduation in 1988: I got clocked by a state patrol airplane going something like– eh, let's say 70ish in a 55mph zone (not as bad as Mel Gibson on the Pacific Coast Highway). That was my second speeding ticket in a year, and it was my last.

"Get the lead out" usually means to speed up, but in my case, it made me slow down. Is it good to get the lead out of your body as well as your foot?

 The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1988-1991 estimated that about 700,000 American adults have toxic levels (defined as more than 25mcg/dl) of lead in their blood. Someone can get lead in his body by inhaling it (something Bill Clinton would never do) or swallowing it (something Tom Cruise would never do– like his pride). Batteries, car radiators, pigments, tin cans, ammunition, cables and wires, and even some cosmetics can contain lead.

 Because paint can contain lead, sandblasting paint or chiseling it off can send it up the nose and into the lungs. About one million American construction workers are exposed to lead at work. In countries that use leaded gasoline, not only is lead inhaled but it also can be absorbed through the skin via direct contact.

 Children who bite a windowsill that might have lead paint can ingest the chemical. And some dishes and cups can be "designer painted or glazed" with lead products. Some cookware also contains lead. (Cher needs to do a "lead free" kitchen commercial like she did with "alcohol free" hair products.)

 Southerners who enjoy a little moonshine should beware– there could be lead in the mash. (And this whole time you thought it was the alcohol bowling you over!) 

 Some imported products used by members of the Hispanic community can contain lead, such as antiperspirants, deodorants, and a kind of medicinal remedies called ayurvedics (sounds like a spa product, huh?).

 Lead poisoning can be hard to diagnose because there aren't any specific symptoms. Colicky pains with constipation are usually the presenting problem, along with loss of appetite, aches and pains, and headaches. Labwork usually reveals anemia. 

 Usually 99 percent of lead is excreted in the urine, so acute lead poisoning isn't too common— and when it does happen, the damage usually is temporary. However, one percent of lead gets stored in the body– mostly in the bones. Over decades, it's slowly released, which can cause kidney damage and neurological problems like poor memory, poor thinking, numbness, and weakness. Lead is released faster, for some reason, in pregnant women with lead in their bones, and it can cause the baby to have a diminished IQ. In men, low libido and sterility can result from lead toxicity.

 Avoiding exposure to lead is vital because there is no cure. There is not a good way to make a prognosis after exposure to lead. A funky type of x-ray can measure how much lead is stored in the bones, but it's experimental and not available in most centers. 

So wherever you work, wherever you live, and wherever you eat, be sure you aren't inhaling or eating lead. It isn't good to be mislead.

Got a medical question? Dr. Hook wants to hear from you!