Study: Eating a Regular Breakfast May Help Reduce Lead Poisoning

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Naoki Okamoto

Eating breakfast is good for you — it’s been linked to weight loss and improved nutrition — and now new research suggests it may also help protect children from lead poisoning.

Reporting in the journal Environmental Health, scientists from China show that children who regularly ate breakfast lowered their blood levels of lead by 15% compared with those who skipped the first meal of the day in a six month study.

Previous research has shown that in adults, fasting can increase the absorption of lead, presumably because minerals in food, such as calcium and phosphate, may compete with lead for absorption by tissues. Past data suggest that food decreases the absorption of lead in the gut by as much as 10 times in adults. That’s why the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that children who might be exposed to high concentrations of environmental sources of lead eat regular meals and snack often.

The most common sources of lead include lead-based paint (even after it has dried), drinking water contaminated by older pipes and plumbing, lead-glazed pottery and crystal, and cosmetics such as kohl. Among the 1,344 Chinese children studied in Jintan, pollution from lead-based gasoline, which was phased out in 2000, was also a prominent source of exposure; in recent years, as many as 24% of youngsters under 14 in the country still had blood lead levels greater than those established by the U.S. CDC as acceptable.

The Chinese findings are the first to document that being well-nourished can help children lower their risk of lead poisoning. The authors hope parents will make note of the findings, but for that to happen, they note, parents need to be made aware of the dangers of lead exposure.

In the study, parents with more education or who had technical or professional jobs were more likely to get their children to eat breakfast. That suggests that public health officials should focus on educating parents about the benefits of breakfast as a proactive way to lower their youngsters’ exposure to lead, and potentially reduce their risk of developing behavioral and cognitive problems later on.