Vitamin Lead: All Natural Component in your Nutritional Supplements

Stephanie Rodgers of the Mother Nature Network reports on a recent study of lead content in popular multivitamins by Consumer Labs. According to the news summary (the report is subscription only):

Of the 300-plus children’s vitamins and prenatal vitamins tested for lead, only four were found to be lead-free. Those include TwinLab Infant Care, Natrol Liquid Kid’s Companion, NF Formulas Liquid Pediatric and After Baby Boost 2 (for lactating women). No multivitamins for adult women tested negative for lead, but the ones with the lowest concentrations include FemOne, Viactiv Multivitamin Milk Chocolate, Family Value Multivitamin/Multimineral for Woman, and Women’s Basic Multi.

Now, since there are trace amounts of lead in nearly anything, it’s hard to say what this report means. Sciblings, do any of you have access to the actual report?

It seems to me that the market would be really effective in eliminating vitamins that contained high levels of lead, if only the information about contaminants were easily available and consumers could choose safer alternatives.


19 responses to “Vitamin Lead: All Natural Component in your Nutritional Supplements”

  1. Given the correct procedure, Pb can be detected in the sub pg/g levels. So “Pb free” is not very meaningful unless they give a detection limit.

    That being said, almost all natural calcium minerals will have some Pb, as it substitutes into the Ca2+ mineral site. Obviously, biogenic sources (clam shells, bones, etc.) from environmentally contaminated sites will have more.

  2. The new GMP standards, currently being implemented, should resolve any questions concerning content and purity of supplements. From the FDA’s website:

    “Under the CGMP proposal, manufacturers would be required to evaluate the identity, purity, quality, strength, and composition of their dietary ingredients and dietary supplements. If dietary supplements contain contaminants or do not contain the dietary ingredient they are represented to contain, FDA would consider those products to be adulterated. Some product quality problems the CGMPs would help prevent include products that are superpotent or subpotent; that contain the wrong ingredient, a drug contaminant, or other contaminants (e.g., bacteria, pesticide, glass, lead); that contain foreign material; and that are improperly packaged and mislabeled.”

    The FDA promises strict enforcement:

  3. Well, if lead occurs naturally and it is only in trace amounts, then shouldn’t it be noted as such? It isn’t as if it can be found in toxic levels naturally in most food products.

  4. Yek foson

    Wrong, prozac.

    Lead doesn’t seem to have any lower bound on the amount that is toxic. Obviously at some point there are more important things to worry about, but technically it’s toxic at *any* dose.

  5. Yek foson

    I’m curious about why you single out lead, Chris H. I’ve read quite a bit about it, and it strikes me as one of the greatest achievements of industry cover-up and obfuscation ever. They really did a spectacular job trumping science and the public health over many decades.

    In my experience people even have a total knee-jerk reaction about lead, I think partly because there are still no warning labels on lead products, which is totally bizarre imo. My local canadian tire sells lead plumbing solder still, and it’s been banned by the local building code for 23 years now. 30 percent of new houses in my province have (fresh, which the worst) lead in the plumbing because workers continue to use their lead solder, oblivious to it’s toxicity.

  6. Yek foson

    I mean knee-jerk denying it’s significantly toxic type of reaction. Sort of machoesque, except it stems from ignorance.

  7. Chris,
    I agree that better labeling would be helpful, but the detection limits issue would make it moot given people’s general inability to know what a detection limit is or what it means. I am also concerned that, while removing lead is a great thing, once we do lead, we’ll have to do mercury and other heavy metals, and the chemistry may get dicey.

    @Yek – phasing lead out of construction (whether in plumbing or paint) takes a combination of several things. First, you need a good workable alternative. For iron pipe lead solder was and still is the beat bet, simply because of the chemistry involved in the soldering process. For copper pipe not so much, and obviously not at all for PVC. Second, you need regulatory enforcement to get it off the shelves. If Canadian Tire still sells the stuff, either enforcement is lacking, or regulation is lacking, neither of which can be overcome in an instant. Finally, you need education, but lacking components 1 and 2, education will almost certianly fail due to inhernet human laziness.

  8. Yek foson

    Philip you seem to be exhibiting comparable symptoms yourself. You aren’t connecting the toxicity of lead compared with the ease of phasing it out (in this particular situation.) Possibly because you haven’t seen a warning label, you assume it’s not that bad. 2 points for industry denialism.

    If you can’t use iron without lead, don’t use iron. In a house there is no compelling reason to. It’s that simple. And there are ways to use iron easily even if you had to – tapered threads and crimping.

    I’m not really talking about education much – just a label would go a long way. Why is there a “poison” label on the solder flux (which is ammonium chloride and petroleum jelly- an edible salt added to licorice, and vaseline eaten as a butter substitute in some countries) but no labels on what is, in the words of mcgill chemistry prof joe shwartz “a profoundly potent neurotoxin” when it can be expected to get in drinking water (e.g. on plumbing solder)…

  9. Dave Ruddell

    “Lead doesn’t seem to have any lower bound on the amount that is toxic. Obviously at some point there are more important things to worry about, but technically it’s toxic at *any* dose.”

    I’m sorry, but this sounds very much like what the anti-vaxers say with regards to mercury. OMG!!!11!! There is NO SAFE AMOUNT OF MERCURY!! Even a microgram is supertoxic!

    So seriously, if there is no lower bound on the amount that is toxic, does that mean if I were to ingest, say, 1 pg of lead there would be toxic effects?

  10. catgirl

    I have to take iron supplements because of anemia, and I find it easier to just take it as a multivitamin. Does anyone have any real data on what amount of lead is dangerous? It’s hard for me to believe that any amount is dangerous, no matter how low it is. I wonder if I should just switch brands, but I don’t want to end up spending more money or wasting what I already have if there’s no reason for it.

  11. @#9: Yek seems to have reading comprehension problems.

  12. I’ve never heard of Consumer Lab before (and I’m an avid consumer rights reader). Having done an hour or so of googling I’m inclined to view their report with skepticism. While their results largely conform to what I’d expected and are consistent with other supplement studies I would have to see the actual data and methodology before I would consider citing this particular study. And I’m not interested in paying $30 to do so.

  13. Yek foson, #5 – “My local canadian tire sells lead plumbing solder still, and it’s been banned by the local building code for 23 years now. 30 percent of new houses in my province have (fresh, which the worst) lead in the plumbing because workers continue to use their lead solder, oblivious to it’s toxicity.”

    Popular automotive uses of lead include soldering radiators and filing holes in sheet metal car bodies. The later activity being the origin of the vernacular ‘lead sled’ meaning a heavily modified car body that sacrifices practicality for style. Lead/tin solder is still preferred in both cases because the solder flows well at a wider temperature range so it can be worked longer.

    I find it interesting that you say “30 percent of new houses in my province have (fresh, which the worst) lead in the plumbing”. Do you have any source for that? I don’t know about Cananda but down here in the SE of the US inspectors have made use of lead solder a major deal. You don’t want to get on an inspectors bad side if your intending to get jobs and make profits as a plumber.

    This was a major sticking point when the no-lead rules first came out. The early no-lead solders were pretty bad and hard to work with. Cold and burnt solder joints leak, look bad, and have to be reworked.

    Two things happened in the late 70s and early 80s. The solder manufacturers developed better no-lead solders that are almost as easy to work with as the old lead/tin solder. The other thing is that plastics, first PVC, then CPVC, now PEX took over most of the plumbing jobs that used to use copper.

    From what I can tell plumbers around here use no-lead solder as a matter of course and I haven’t seen lead solder in hardware stores or plumbing supply houses for a very long time.

    More on-topic it would be interesting to see a list of vitamins and what amounts of lead they contain. Some analysis of what the current science says about the effects of low levels of lead exposure would be helpful. I used to experiment with electronics and shoot so my lead exposure was likely pretty high. Now, less.

  14. Schoene et al. 2006 (Geochimica Cosmochimica Acta, 70, 426) have Pb blanks in the 0.1 pg range. I don’t know of any lab that can do better. So obviously levels lower than that will be difficult to detect, and proving toxicity at such levels will be similarly difficult.

  15. Lead doesn’t seem to have any lower bound on the amount that is toxic. Obviously at some point there are more important things to worry about, but technically it’s toxic at *any* dose.

    This seems unlikely from basic principles. To be toxic at *any* dose, a single molecule must do irreversible damage to something that is not routinely replaced by cells–which usually means covalent modification of DNA. It is difficult to see how lead can do this.

    It may well be that a safe lower limit of lead has not been established, but this is very different from saying that lead is toxic at any dose.

  16. Yek foson

    Gnnnnnnnnn….. I mean practically any dose; besides in vitro it’s toxic down to the lower limits of detectablity, last time I checked.

    It’s pointless to quibble about whether it’s toxic at ingested doses exactly down to 0, anyway, since everyone consumes at least several micrograms (5 to 7 for adults) from food alone (as we should expect for a common element…) never mind dust, dirt and water.

    And it’s pretty much established that harm is caused in the couple of microgramish/day range for children.

    And temporary harm is still damage.

  17. Yek foson

    I couldn’t find a reference for the 30 percent of new houses having lead in the plumbing, but I clearly remember reading it. I don’t mean, though, that it was all lead sweat joints, just that there at least one, sometimes more, in the potable water system.

  18. Uncle Glenny

    All this talk about lead levels – right after we are told food from the White House garden is safe for our Children!


    I think not!

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