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Is it Lead poisoning, or Autism? Healthy Life 2/12/2008

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In October of 2007, there were 27 Million lead-related recalls of toys and other items, including jewelry. And the symptoms of lead poisoning also mimic those of Autism. This is creating quite the dilemma for many parents, and medical professionals. Here's some background. 

LEAD POISONING: Lead is a heavy metal that has very negative effects on the brain. It is particularly dangerous for young children because a developing brain is more sensitive to lead exposure than a fully developed brain. Years ago lead was the leading cause of mental retardation. But since the 70’s, lead-based paint was no longer used in homes and the number of kids with lead exposure decreased. In the 90’s, doctors stopped doing universal checks for lead in the blood, since the exposure was not as common. A blood test can determine if a child has lead in their body, however, sometimes if the lead has been in the body for awhile, the lead can move into the bones and tissue and will not show up on a blood test.

 LEAD SYMPTOMS: Lead poisoning can harm many systems in the body, so there can be a wide range of symptoms. Many times, lead poisoning is not discovered until the problem becomes severe because lead poisoning mimics many other conditions. Symptoms can include fatigue, stomach pains, headache and pain in the hands, feet, muscles or joints. Other effects include developmental delays, speech and language problems, aggression, hyperactivity, delinquency and impulsivity. Extremely high blood lead levels can be fatal. It used to be that a lead level below ten was considered OK, but research shows even low levels of lead can cause problems. One study reports each one point that the lead level goes up between zero and ten - it’s associated with an IQ loss of 0.7. This means a level of ten -- which was considered safe -- could bring about an IQ loss of seven points.

RECOMMENDATIONS: In light of the many toy recalls due to lead paint, Pediatrician David Berger says young children should be tested for lead. He believes that any child with a neurodevelopment disorder should be checked for heavy metal toxicity. He says this includes autism, seizure disorders, ADHD and even Tourette’s Syndrome. He says this idea of kids being exposed to lead in toys is all very new and it’s going to take some time to do the research. He adds since universal lead testing was stopped ten years ago, we don’t know the numbers when it comes to lead and children. However, he recommends parents to request a lead test if your child chewed on any of the toys recalled. While he doesn’t believe for example that every child with autism has high levels of lead, he says he has seen children diagnosed with autism who do have high lead levels. Lead poisoning mimics many of the symptoms of autism and so therefore he says doctors need to look for heavy metal toxicity in these children. 

TOY CHOICES: Dr. Berger believes the recent toy recalls are just the ones that have been identified and there are probably many more toys out there made with lead paint. He is telling his parents to avoid any toy or object with paint on it if it’s made in China. He also says parents should take extra steps to not give toys with paint on them to a child who is still at an age where he/she puts things in their mouth.




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