January 11, 2008 The Pump Handle 4Comment

A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience last week reports a link between lead exposure and accumulation of Alzheimer’s-type plaque in the brains of primates. The National Institutes of Health-funded study examined the brain tissues of 23-year-old monkeys that had been exposed to lead for the first 400 days of their lives (resulting in blood lead levels of 19–26 µg/dl, but no overt signs of toxicity), and found that they had elevated expression of Alzheimer’s-related genes as well as altered levels, characteristics, and distribution of amyloid plaques, which are one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Nasser Zawia of the University of Rhode Island, told the Providence Journal that the research is significant because, while he’s found similar results in mice and rats, this is the first time scientists have found the lead-Alzheimer’s link in primates. Zawia and a spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association put the results in context for people worried about their own disease risk:

Zawia and a spokesman for the national Alzheimer’s Association cautioned that the study should not prompt lead-poisoning victims or their families to fear that their lead exposure will automatically lead to Alzheimer’s.

Until the last few years, Rhode Island has been a hot bed of lead poisoning. More than 30,000 children have been diagnosed with elevated lead levels since 1991.

“I would say it’s just another factor, another risk factor,” Zawia said in a telephone interview. “It’s like how smoking is a risk factor for cancer. It puts you at greater risk. But there are 100 other things that can intervene between early life and old age. And this does not just apply to lead. Certain other things may lay dormant for many years.”

William H. Thies, vice president of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago, called the study “good, solid basic science,” but he also emphasized “making a leap from this paper to saying Alzheimer’s disease is caused by early childhood lead exposures doesn’t fit.”

Thies recalled that in the past some people pinpointed aluminum as a cause of Alzheimer’s and many people threw away their aluminum pots and pans before that theory was rejected.

“I predict we’ll find no single, monolithic cause,” said Thies. “We know there are already lots of good reasons for removing lead from the environment. And it’s certainly possible lead is a contributor to Alzheimer’s. But I don’t think it’s the answer to solving Alzheimer’s.”

Since we already know that lead poisoning causes serious neurological problems in children – and that even elevated blood-lead levels below the official cutoff are cause for concern – health officials are already motivated to reduce lead exposure, and this finding may not have much effect on prevention efforts. It’s an important reminder, though, that the substances we’re putting in our environment today might have health effects that won’t become apparent until decades into the future.

4 thoughts on “Lead on the Brain

  1. Gee, I wonder how many kids with lead exposures
    have been diagnosed with ADD and not chelated?
    Only to end up a dysfunctional “toxic victims” and
    called “mentally ill”. Might a good percentage of
    the homeless population be made up of such
    individuals ? Then there is the question of “behavioral
    problems” from lead exposures among violent
    criminals ?

    The attached forwarded “Pump Handle Newsletter”
    has many other stories that are also of interest. To
    which such deeper questions can also be asked with
    regard to the cumulative effects of lead with other toxic chemicals (16, *17*).

    The following are posted blogs at

    Toxic Victims Or Mentally Ill ?
    (view Blog, with peer reviewed medical journals)

    What might you expect to happen when
    “Toxic Victims” are called “mentally ill”
    and they meet up with a policeman that is
    “raging” from steroid abuse (aka roiding) ?

    Blog title:
    “Roid a Cops: National Epodemic of Police Brutality & Steroid Abuse”
    (view more with video of a Harvard University studies and others,
    with regard to steroid abuse and law enforcement. “A national epidemic”
    linked in at the blog at:)>


    Tom Krohmer
    Environmental Technologist

    The Toxic Reverend
    Justice Is Homeless

    16: Considering Cumulative Effects Under the National Environmental Policy Act http://ceq.eh.doe.gov/nepa/ccenepa/ccenepa.htm

    *17*: Our Stolen Future New insights from scientific research, Low dose effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals http://www.ourstolenfuture.org/NewScience/lowdose/lowdose.htm

  2. The information in this article I find very disturbing.
    It didn’t say why the children of Rhode Island have had
    such heavy exposures to lead since 1991? Does it come
    from lax laws that govern factories? Lead from gasoline? Paint? Toys? I know the current administration has cut back on monitoring toxic
    chemicals. Are there no state laws that monitor this?
    This is so alarming. So irresponsible. Haven’t
    people known about lead poisonng for several decades?
    I’m writing as a person who has been detoxing
    from mercury and lead for 5 years. That’s partly why
    I read these articles. That’s probably why I have
    chronic fatigue.

  3. Trade Secrets,
    Aweb page from Bill Moyers Public Broadcasting show, national television.
    Documentation of 50 years of corporate cover up. Bull Moyers was tested
    for over 800 chemicals. They found over 80. That creates more viable
    chemical reactions in one patient than the California pick six lotto. In many
    instances, chemicals multiply in toxicity, rather than add, when mixed (16,
    17). The correct tests must be used (12A).

  4. Hally, a lot of the lead exposures in Rhode Island are from leaded paint. Old houses that were painted with leaded paint need to be renovated carefully, by a contractor qualified to handle the problem — and that’s pretty expensive. Rhode Island wants the paint companies to pay to rehab old homes that contain lead paint.

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