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Turmeric is in the news again after being identified as the source of lead poisoning in at least four Seattle-area families recently - how can you protect yourself and your family? I break it all down here.
Let me start with some good news first. Although lead poisoning sounds scary, the blood levels in the average American has dropped since the 1990s thanks to public health measures like taking lead out of gasoline and the banning of lead pipes in 1986.
However, it is now sadly being found in our everyday products like supplements, protein powders, matcha and yup - herbs and spices.
Although devastating, lead poisoning via turmeric is nothing new. New York City’s health department tested nearly 1,500 samples of spices between 2008 and 2017 and found detectable levels of lead in nearly half the samples of turmeric.
A more recent *Consumer Report Nov 2021 which tested 126 herbs and spices found:
I hear many of you say: “This is depressing. We think we are being healthy by adding these beneficial herbs and spices to our food, and then we learn that so many of them are contaminated by harmful heavy metals…”
I hear you. I am super frustrated too and I know it’s overwhelming.
However, I encourage you to focus on that which is within your control and turn this mindset around. There ARE things within our control; celebrate the fact you are here learning and empowering yourself with information that will help protect you and your family.
Do. Not. Panic.
A single serving of turmeric or another spice that contains lead or other heavy metal is unlikely to cause you harm since the quantity used is small. We have detox organs.
When it comes to toxicity, it is important to take a big picture approach and think about:
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The reason we hear about lead poisoning more frequently in children is because kids have limited detox capabilities (their detox organs are not fully mature yet, and many are lacking important nutrients from their detox), and pound for pound of body weight, they are exposed to more toxins than adults. This is why it is particularly important to protect babies and children, and to support them with food/lifestyle that enhances detoxification (what I teach inside Detox Right)
For a few years now, it has been known that turmeric can be a source of lead in the US. How does lead get into turmeric?
So should we just ditch spices to avoid lead and heavy metals? NO! Turmeric is one of the most healthful foods - it is a powerful antioxidant, supports brain health, detoxification, and something I can consume daily.
If you eat a lot of turmeric or have frequent intake of other lead-containing products, it is worth asking brands of the products you frequently use for their Certificate of Analysis and look at the heavy metal content. (I teach this inside Detox Right).
What do I like and use?
I know some of you will ask me what I use - I’ve seen the COA for turmeric from the following brands: which looked low in 2021, but I can’t promise they will stay this way:
- Pique - I love this for making turmeric latte with - this is what I have post-dinner most nights.
- Simply Organic Turmeric was also found to be good by Consumer Report last year. I have not personally looked at this, but it is widely available.
I always encourage you to do your own research and learn how to read a COA so you can be empowered with better choices because each batch will have varying heavy metal levels, it might change year to year, and nobody can control what a food company does with sourcing in the future.
Lead toxicity (and toxicity in general) is difficult to discern. Symptoms can be vague and mild until the levels start to rise. Many ‘mystery symptoms’ I’ve seen in my patients and clients over the years have been attributed to toxicity (heavy metals, mold etc), but these were missed by clinicians who didn’t have toxicity on their radar.
What symptoms might suggest lead toxicity?
Here are some signs and symptoms of lead toxicity in children - please note, this is not diagnostic - this is for general education, and you should always work with your medical provider so they can take the appropriate assessments as other conditions may also cause these symptoms:
Some signs and symptoms in adults (again, this is not diagnostic, work with your doctor) :
(Source: Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lead-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354717)
Here’s my stance and bird's eye view. There is no room for fear or anxiety around food in my opinion. Stress can adversely affect our health too, and if you are constantly eating your food in fear, even the most healthful food can be ‘toxic’.
What I try to do is to reduce my exposures where I can, within my means and, on a daily basis, support my body’s detox organs with the right food and lifestyle to enhance my detox capabilities (what I teach inside Detox Right). I truly believe knowledge is power and when we are empowered, we can do better.
Well done for taking back control of your health!
In this article, I am focusing on turmeric but if you want to see the other spices tested by *Consumer report, here is the link: https://www.consumerreports.org/food-safety/your-herbs-and-spices-might-contain-arsenic-cadmium-and-lead/