Regenerate Your Brain by Dr. Jacqueline Chan
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Wine and Lead Poisoning


If you’re like me, I’ve been relieved to have longer evenings since we moved our clocks forward and joyous to see the trees blooming all over. Spring is one of my favorite times of the year and it’s also a great time to CLEANSE. As I mentioned in my last newsletter, sign up for the Spring Detox to Cleanse. The introductory meeting is April 19th from 10-11 am at Marin Natural Medicine Clinic.

Recently, I had a new patient, a woman in her 50’s with osteoporosis, joint pain, fatigue, sleep issues, allergies, acid reflux, gas and bloating, migraines and a 15-pound weight gain as well as anxiety and depression since medicated with a psychiatric medicine since her divorce. We did a thorough work up with labs and upon follow up I discovered she had one of the highest lead levels I’ve seen in a patient. She didn’t live in an old home with old lead pipes, which is the root cause most doctors are taught to ask about. She does, however, live in Napa. As most people who live in the Bay Area do, she loves to pour a glass of wine while she’s making dinner in the evening to relax, and sometimes that becomes two or three glasses of wine.

Where could she have gotten the lead from? I did a little digging and discovered to my chagrin something I was never taught in medical school – wine can be a source of lead poisoning! From this article from December 2017 International Journal of Food Contamination: 

Recently, it has been reported that wine samples contain detectable levels of heavy metals, raising concerns of potential contamination issues in food and beverages (Haelle 2015; Wilson 2015). Specifically, a recent study reported that Pb was detected in 58% of United States wine samples, concluding that the risk associated with Pb contamination in some wines may be significant (Wilson 2015). Due to established Pb toxicity at certain exposure levels, it is important to understand whether Pb contamination in commonly consumed beverages, such as wine, poses a health hazard to humans.

The primary route of exposure to Pb in the general population is ingestion, including contaminated food, water, or alcohol (ATSDR 2012). Specifically, it has been estimated that 70% of Pb intake is due to ingestion of food and drinks, and that wine is the alcoholic beverage with the highest levels of Pb (Pyrzyńska 2004). Lead tissue burdens increase as a result of cumulative exposure, and can result in various health effects at certain exposure levels, including effects on the hematological, nervous, renal, and reproductive systems (Needleman 2004; Patrick 2006). Additionally, Pb competes with calcium in the body, which disrupts neurotransmitter release and bone mineral density (Papanikolaou et al. 2005; Beier et al. 2013).

A study was performed with the goal to determine if lead (Pb) intake poses a health risk among adult consumers of wine. Here are the results:

This was achieved by performing a literature review of studies reporting Pb concentration in United States and international wines, determining adult wine consumption rates in the United States using NHANES dietary survey data, utilizing the U.S. EPA’s Adult Lead Methodology (ALM) model to estimate adult blood lead levels (BLLs) from wine consumption under various exposure scenarios, and comparing modeled BLLs to guidance values. Models were stratified by average exposure (mean wine Pb concentration) and high exposure (95th percentile wine Pb concentration) scenarios.


Lead concentration data was abstracted from a total of 31 studies, including wine from 18 countries for a total of 472 wine samples. The mean Pb content of international red and white wines were 33.9 μg/L (n = 282) and 35.7 μg/L (n = 118), respectively, while the mean Pb content of domestic red wine was 4.4 μg/L (n = 61). All modelled BLLs were below the Center for Disease Control (CDC) BLL guidance value of 5 μg/dL. Assuming a mean baseline BLL, an individual was required to drink 10.4 glasses of wine per day (all wine types) under the average exposure scenario and 3.7 glasses of wine per day (all wine types) under the high exposure scenario in order to elevate their BLL to the guidance value of 5 μg/dL. When stratified by region, a minimum of approximately 24 glasses of wine from the United States per day was required to raise adult BLLs to the 5 μg/dL guidance value.

The study made the conclusion that since American wines have much less lead than other types (Argentinian was the highest in lead, then Italian came in second), you would have to drink 3.4-24 glasses a day of wine to have blood lead levels become toxic. One thing the authors of the study ignored however is that lead gets stored in our body not just for a few days or weeks but for 20-30 years!

In adults 80-95% of retained lead is stored in the bone where it exists for extended amounts of time, with a half-life of 20-30 years. Bone lead can contribute to elevated blood leave levels long after the exposure no longer exits.

What does lead do in our bodies and how does it affect us? Most of us know that lead can lower your IQ -YIKES! It also lowers vitamin D synthesis, can cause anemia by blocking heme synthesis and slows nerve conduction, causing neuropathy. From an article published in the Current Top Medical Chemistry, December 2001; 1(6):529-39. PMID: 11895129 by N Ercal, H Gurer-Orhan and N Aykin-Burns titled “Toxic metals and oxidative stress part I: mechanisms involved in metal-induced oxidative damage.”

“Recent studies indicate that transition metals act as catalysts in the oxidative reactions of biological macromolecules therefore the toxicities associated with these metals might be due to oxidative tissue damage. Redox-active metals, such as iron, copper and chromium, undergo redox cycling whereas redox-inactive metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury and others deplete cells' major antioxidants, particularly thiol-containing antioxidants and enzymes…Enhanced generation of ROS can overwhelm cells' intrinsic antioxidant defenses, and result in a condition known as "oxidative stress". Cells under oxidative stress display various dysfunctions due to lesions caused by ROS to lipids, proteins and DNA. Consequently, it is suggested that metal-induced oxidative stress in cells can be partially responsible for the toxic effects of heavy metals. Data suggest that antioxidants may play an important role in abating some hazards of heavy metals. “

Other sources of lead include: our drinking water, lead-glazed ceramics, soft vinyl that is in mini-blinds or children’s lunchboxes (they have been found to contain more than 90 times the legal limit for lead in paint), commercially processed vinegars with balsamic and aged vinegars being the worst, Indian and Chinese herbs, and some lipsticks! In fact, 32 different lipsticks were analyzed in a recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives: 24 of them (75%) contained lead.

So, what do you do about this situation?

My quick response is: MEASURE, AVOID, DETOX

First of all, wouldn’t it be great if you could measure how well your balance is between oxidative stress caused not just lead, but all the other heavy metals and stressors on your system and your powerful anti-oxidant system? Don’t you want to know if you eating enough anti-oxidants and taking enough in your supplements to buffer the stressors of what you’re being exposed to? That’s why you want to make an appointment to come in to get some help from us! This is why I love to give my patients one of my favorite test to measure exactly that! It’s a relatively new test that is a urine collection that measures the amount of oxidative stress on DNA as well as your antioxidant reserves. This test is a bargain at only $100! This is a fabulous way to see if you are taking enough antioxidants for the stressors your body is under. Remember that antioxidant stress is something that we don’t actually “feel” in our body, until the dreaded disease occurs and by then it is much harder to reverse (heart disease, arthritis, cancer, auto-immune conditions, and even aging skin for example). You can also get tested to see what your lead levels are as well as a multitude of other heavy metals.

What if you don’t have the time to come in for lab testing right now? There are three things you can do to help your toxicity levels related to lead:

  • Avoid lead: drink clean water, cut down on wine. If you have problems with food addiction sign up for our CLEANSE in April! Going through a group cleanse is one of the BEST ways to get off of food addictions. If you’re like me, I still like to have a nice glass of wine every once in a while, but there are some ways you can cut back and still have a relaxing healthy drink. Learn how by joining the group CLEANSE!
  • Increase your body’s glutathione. Glutathione is one of the most powerful antioxidants in our body. It is made within from 3 major components the amino acids: glutamate, glycine, and cysteine. As one of the most powerful antioxidants it helps recycle other antioxidants such as vitamin C and vitamin E. Glutathione binds to fat-soluble toxins and makes them water-soluble so they can be excreted because of the sulfur chemical group it contains. Sulfur acts like flypaper- all the bad things in the body stick to it- glutathione binds to heavy metals helping escort them out of our bodies through our urine and stool. Glutathione regulates cellular replication and lastly it boosts our immune system by up-regulating the function of natural killer cells. You can boost your glutathione by eating more foods that contain sulfur. Including the following foods into your diet will help: 
    • Cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, collards, kale, brussel sprouts, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, arugula, radish, wasabi, watercress, kohlrabi, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnips. Eat at least one cup cooked or 2 cups raw a day.
    • Curcuminoids (turmeric, curry)
    • Garlic
    • Green tea (one to two cups a day)
    • High quality, sulfur-containing protein – eggs, garlic, onions
  • Another way is to take glutathione either as an IV or in our liposomal form. Glutathione IVs have been used for neurological illnesses such as ALS, Dementia, Parkinson’s and MS. Studies show that although they reduce symptoms by 42% IV’s are time consuming and expensive, so this can be challenging for a patient, although worth it for a person with a severe neurological condition such as the ones mentioned above. Oral glutathione does not cross the blood brain barrier and is poorly absorbed. Fortunately, there is a new form, which can be obtained here that is liposomal, meaning it crosses the blood brain barrier. Studies done on this brand and form in particular show that in 2 weeks of taking it the natural killer cell activity in the body increased by 400% and in 2 weeks lipid peroxidation went down 25%. This form is GMO free and heat stable. It comes in a yellow tube and tastes like orange toothpaste or watermelon candy.

    You can also take supplements that increase your glutathione, such as:
    • N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), 500 mg twice a day. This is a special amino acid that dramatically increases glutathione. It is even used in the emergency room to treat liver failure from Tylenol overdose.
    • Buffered ascorbic acid vitamin, C 1000 mg twice a day.
    • Milk Thistle (silymarin) 140 mg twice a day of standardized extract.

 There is even more to learn about detoxification, other metals, cleansing and how to cut back on some of your food addictions while still being able to relax. This article is just a fraction of the knowledge I could impart to you. Spring is a great time to cleanse. Call our clinic at 415-945-3213 to get your body and health in gear for a great year of energy by cleansing!

All Rights Reserved Dr. Jacqueline Chan, D.O.