Eating plenty of tofu may reduce levels of lead in the blood, new study findings suggest.
Exposure to high levels of lead can cause decreased intelligence, impaired nervous system development, stunted growth, hearing abnormalities and learning disabilities. Found in the air, soil and water, as well as some types of paint and other materials, lead is absorbed mainly through the gastrointestinal tract.
Increasing evidence suggests that diet, including consumption of calcium, iron, zinc and vitamins D and C, affects how the body absorbs and processes lead.
Researchers are not exactly sure how tofu lowers lead levels, but they suspect that calcium in the soy-based food may keep the body from absorbing and retaining lead. Tofu is rich in calcium, which is thought to reduce the absorption and retention of lead in the body. Tofu consumption is high in China, but so is lead exposure, so a team led by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, decided to see whether eating tofu had an effect on lead levels in young adults.
The researchers studied 605 men and 550 women living in the city of Shenyang, China whose residents had the highest blood levels of lead in China during the 1980s. Participants were interviewed about their diet, including how often they ate tofu, and gave a blood sample to be tested for lead. In both men and women, blood levels of lead were lower in people who ate the most tofu. Lead levels were about 11% lower in people who ate the most tofu than in those who ate the least.
"Although controlling environmental sources of lead exposure remains the principal means of preventing lead toxicity, appropriate dietary adjustments may serve as an important adjunct to these measures," the researchers write.
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