Garlic Powder to Lower Lead Levels

There are so-called chelation drugs that can be taken for acute, life-threatening lead poisoning—for instance if your two-year-old swallowed one of the little lead weights her grandma was using while sewing curtains and the doctor happened to miss it on x-ray, so it stayed lodged inside her until she died with a blood lead level of 283 mcg/dcl, a case I discuss in my video Best Foods for Lead Poisoning: Chlorella, Cilantro, Tomatoes, Moringa?.

However, for lower grade, chronic lead poisoning, such as at levels under 45 mg/dL, there were no clear guidance as to whether these chelation drugs were effective. When they were put to the test, the drugs failed to bring down lead levels long term. Even when they worked initially, in dose after dose, the lead apparently continued to seep from the patients’ bones, and, by the end of the year, they ended up with the same lead levels as the sugar pill placebo group, as you can see at 0:50 in my video. It was no surprise, then, that even though blood lead levels dipped at the beginning, researchers found no improvements in cognitive function or development.

Since much of lead poisoning is preventable and the drugs don’t seem to work in most cases, that just underscores the need “to protect children from exposure to lead in the first place.” Despite the medical profession’s “best intentions to do something to help these kids…drug therapy is not the answer.” Yes, we need to redouble efforts to prevent lead poisoning in the first place, but what can we do for the kids who’ve already been exposed?

The currently approved method, these chelating drugs that bind and remove lead from our tissues, “lack[s]…safety and efficacy when conventional chelating agents are used.” So, what about dietary approaches? Plants produce phytochelatins. All higher plants possess the capacity to synthesize compounds that bind up heavy metals to protect themselves from the harmful effects, so what if we ate the plants? “Unlike other forms of treatment (e.g., pharmacotherapy with drugs), nutritional strategies carry the promise of a natural form of therapy that would presumably be cheap and with few to no side effects.” Yes, but would it work when the drugs didn’t?

We had learned that a meal could considerably cut down on lead absorption, but “the particular components of food intake that so dramatically reduce lead absorption” were uncertain at the time. Although the calcium content of the meal appeared to be part of it, milk didn’t seem to help and even made things worse. What about calcium supplements? Some assert that calcium supplements may help in reducing lead absorption in children, but “recommendations…must be based on evidence rather than conviction.” What’s more, those assertions are based in part on studies on rodents, and differences in calcium absorption and balance between rats and humans make extrapolation tricky. What you have to do is put it to the test. Researchers found that even an extra whopping 1,800 mg of calcium per day had no effect on blood lead levels. Therefore, the evidence doesn’t support conclusions that calcium supplements help.

What about whole foods? Reviews of dietary strategies to treat lead toxicity say to eat lots of tomatoes, berries, onions, garlic, and grapes, as they are natural antagonists to lead toxicity and therefore should be consumed on a regular basis. Remember those phytochelatins? Perhaps eating plants might help detoxify the lead in our own bodies or the bodies of those we eat.

These natural phytochelatin compounds work so well that we can use them to clean up pollution. For example, the green algae chlorella can suck up lead and hold onto it, so what if we ate it? If it can clean up polluted bodies of water, might it clean up our own polluted bodies? We don’t know, because we only have studies on mice, not men and women.

So, when you hear how chlorella detoxifies, they’re talking about the detoxification of rat testicles. Yes, a little sprinkle of chlorella might help your pet rat, or perhaps you could give them some black cumin seeds or give them a sprig of cilantro, but when you hear how cilantro detoxifies against heavy metals, I presume you don’t expect the researchers to be talking about studies in rodents. If we’re interested in science protecting our children, not just their pets, we’re out of luck.

The same is true with moringa, tomatoes, flaxseed oil, and sesame seed oil, as well as black grapes, and black, white, green, and red tea. There are simply no human studies to guide us.

Dietary strategies for the treatment of lead toxicity are often based on rodent studies, but, for tofu, at least, there was a population study of people that showed lower lead levels in men and women who ate more tofu. The researchers controlled for a whole bunch of factors, so it’s not as if tofu lovers were protected just because they smoked less or ate less meat, but you can’t control for everything.

Ideally, we’d have a randomized, placebo-controlled study. Researchers would take a group of people exposed to lead, split them into two groups, with half given food and the other half given some kind of identical placebo food, and see what happens. It’s easy to do this with drugs because you just use look-alike sugar pills as placebos so people don’t know which group they’re in, but how do you make placebo food? One way to do disguised food interventions is to use foods that are so potent they can be stuffed into a pill—like garlic. There had been various studies measuring the effects of garlic in rats and looking at garlic as a potential antidote for lead intoxication distributed among different mouse organs, but who eats mouse organs? One animal study did have some direct human relevance, though, looking at the effect of garlic on lead content in chicken tissues. The purpose was to “explore the possible use of garlic to clean up lead contents in chickens which”—like all of us on planet Earth—“had been exposed to lead pollution and consequently help to minimize the hazard” of lead-polluted chicken meat.

And…it worked! As you can see at 1:59 in my video Best Food for Lead Poisoning: Garlic, feeding garlic to chickens reduced lead levels in the “edible mass of chicken” by up to 75 percent or more. Because we live in a polluted world, even if you don’t give the chickens lead and raise them on distilled water, they still end up with some lead in their meat and giblets. But, if you actively feed them lead for a week, the levels get really high. When you give them the same amount of lead with a little garlic added, however, much less lead accumulates in their bodies.

What’s even more astonishing is that when researchers gave them the same amount of lead—but this time waited a week before giving them the garlic—it worked even better. “The value of garlic in reducing lead concentrations…was more pronounced when garlic was given as a post-treatment following the cessation of lead administration”—that is, after the lead was stopped and had already built up in their tissues. We used to think that “the beneficial effect of garlic against lead toxicity was primarily due to a reaction between lead and sulfur compounds in garlic” that would glom on to lead in the intestinal tract and flush it out of the body. But, what the study showed is that garlic appears to contain compounds that can actually pull lead not only out of the intestinal contents, but also out of the tissues of the body. So, the “results indicate that garlic contain chelating compounds capable of enhancing elimination of lead,” and “garlic feeding can be exploited to safeguard human consumers by minimizing lead concentrations in meat….”

If garlic is so effective at pulling lead out of chickens’ bodies, why not more directly exploit “garlic feeding” by eating it ourselves? Well, there had never been a study on the ability of garlic to help lead-exposed humans until…2012? (Actually, I’m embarrassed to say I missed it when the study was first published. That was back when I was just getting NutritionFacts.org up and running. Now that we have staff and a whole research team, hopefully important studies like this won’t slip through the cracks in the future.)

The study was a head-to-head comparison of the therapeutic effects of garlic versus a chelation therapy drug called D-penicillamine. One hundred and seventeen workers exposed to lead in the car battery industry were randomly assigned into one of two groups and, three times a day for one month, either got the drug or an eighth of a teaspoon of garlic powder compressed into a tablet, which is about the equivalent of two cloves of fresh garlic a day. As expected, the chelation drug reduced blood lead levels by about 20 percent—but so did the garlic. The garlic worked just as well as the drug and, of course, had fewer side effects. “Thus, garlic seems safer clinically and as effective,” but saying something is as effective as chelation therapy isn’t saying much. Remember how chelation drugs can lower blood levels in chronic lead poisoning, but they don’t actually improve neurological function?

Well, after treatment with garlic, significant clinical improvements were seen, including less irritability, fewer headaches, and improvements in reflexes and blood pressure, but these improvements were not seen in the drug group. They weren’t seen after treatment with the chelation therapy drug. So, garlic was safer and more effective. “Therefore, garlic can be recommended for the treatment of mild-to-moderate lead poisoning.


 There are also some human studieson vitamin C. Check out Can Vitamin C Help with Lead Poisoning?.

For even more lead videos, see:

To learn more about chlorella, see:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

Food Combining for Prostate Cancer

What would happen if you secretly gave cancer patients four of the healthiest foods?

In my video Pomegranate vs. Placebo for Prostate Cancer, I discussed how pomegranate pills appeared useless in the treatment for prostate cancer, and the same disappointing results were seen with a pomegranate beverage, but that was just a pomegranate extract as well. So, maybe the pomegranate itself “cannot be blamed for the ineffectiveness seen in the study” but rather the low dose of the pomegranate active principles in the extract. But what is the active principle? Extracts will boast about the level of ellagic acid, definitely “one of the most potent of the phytochemicals found in pomegranate. However, it is not as strong as pomegranate” itself.

What researchers mean is that the components may act synergistically: The whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. As you can see at 1:07 in my video Best Supplements for Prostate Cancer, human prostate cancer cells in a petri dish churned away at 100 percent growth, but after dripping on a pomegranate fraction, the cancer growth rate was cut by 30 percent. However, dripping on a different fraction appeared useless. What do you think would happen if you added them both together? 30% suppression + 0% suppression = 70% suppression! That’s synergy, where 1 + 1 is greater than 2. Under a microscope, prostate cancer cells appeared sparser with the combination of fractions. “Any attempt to characterize the phytoceutical power of a medicinal food by standardizing a single chemical is missing the entire point” of plant-based medicine. So, the standardized extracts represent a “cynical, lucre-driven [money-driven] attempt to replace the power of the pomegranate with the power of ellagic acid. The pomegranate needs no such tricks or enhancements.” It’s powerful as is. So, why don’t researchers just try the fruit on cancer patients?

Because you can’t stuff a pomegranate in a pill, so you can’t compare it to an indistinguishable sugar pill placebo. Drugs are easy to study. People don’t know if they are taking the active drug or a placebo, but they tend to notice if they’re eating a pomegranate or not. So, if you gave a bunch of cancer patients some pomegranates to eat and the cancer slowed down, you wouldn’t know if it was the pomegranates or just the placebo effect. Of course, the patients wouldn’t care. They’d just care that they got better. But, to change medical practice, we want to know if the fruit is actually something special. I suppose you could create some kind of pomegranate smoothie versus a fake smoothie, but that sounds logistically difficult. So, researchers tried powdering it. Three times a day, 199 men with prostate cancer got either a placebo or a tablet containing 100 mg of powdered whole pomegranate—the whole fruit with just the water taken out. How much can fit in a tablet? It comes out to be about six pomegranate seeds’ worth a day, about 1/100th of a pomegranate each day. Since so little could fit into a pill, researchers tried to maximize their chances of beating back the cancer using diversity.

As you can see at 4:01 in my video, two groups of people ate approximately the same amount of fruits and vegetables, but one group ate a relatively low biological diversity diet, where they ate tons of really healthy foods but just less variety than did a second group who ate smaller servings of a high diversity diet. Which group do you think would win in terms of protecting their DNA from free radical damage? The high diversity group. This suggests that “smaller amounts of many phytochemicals may have greater potential to exert beneficial effects than larger amounts of fewer phytochemicals.”

Same result for inflammation. Greater variety in fruit and vegetable intake is associated with lower inflammation even if you eat the same number of servings. Same with improving cognitive function, too. Greater variety in fruit and vegetable intake is also associated with a better mental status, executive function, attention, and memory function in some cases, even after adjustment for total quantity. So, if you have two people eating the same number of servings of healthy foods, the one eating a greater variety may do better.

Going back to the study with the 199 prostate cancer patients getting either a placebo or a tablet with 100 mg of powdered whole pomegranate three times daily, the researchers didn’t just put in pomegranate powder. They also added powdered broccoli, powdered turmeric, and powdered green tea concentrate. So, the tablet contained a fruit, a vegetable, a spice, and a leaf in tiny amounts—about one floret of broccoli a day, less than an eighth of a daily teaspoon of turmeric, and about one sixth of a tea bag worth of green tea. All great plants, but could such tiny amounts actually affect the progression of cancer? Yes. As you can see at 5:55 in my video, in the group of men with early stage prostate cancer trying to avoid surgery, the PSA levels in the placebo group rose nearly 50 percent, indicating that the cancer continued to flourish, whereas the PSAs didn’t rise at all in the pomegranate, broccoli, turmeric, and green tea food supplement group. And, in those with more advanced disease—patients who had already had surgery or radiation and were trying to avoid chemo—there was a 70 percent greater rise in PSA levels in the placebo group. This was enough to significantly delay some of these more toxic treatments. Indeed, the study found significant, short-term, favorable effects. However, they only had enough money to run the study for six months, because it was a “non-commercial” endeavor, funded by charities, not some supplement company. In fact, there was no supplement until the investigators dreamed it up from scratch for the study. Of course, now there’s a supplement, given the study’s extraordinary results, but the only reason the researchers put the foods in pill form was to match it with a placebo. In my mind, what this study should tell cancer patients is to eat curried broccoli with fruit for dessert and to sip some green tea. A completely plant-based diet may even shrink the tumor, not just slow it down, but there’s no reason we can’t do both with a plant-based diet chock full of especially powerful plants.

I love that study! You and I both know why these types of studies aren’t performed more often. Who would profit? (Other than the millions of people suffering and dying from cancer, of course!)

The note I ended on, the landmark Ornish study, is detailed in Cancer Reversal Through Diet. For those unwilling or unable to make such significant dietary changes, there’s still something you can do. See Prostate Cancer Survival: The A/V Ratio. Changing a Man’s Diet After a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis isn’t easy!


For more on the 2 + 2 > 4 concept, see Food Synergy.

What about preventing prostate cancer in the first place? Check out my videos like Prostate Cancer and Organic Milk vs. Almond Milk and Eggs, Choline, and Cancer to get a sense of what you might want to avoid. But, in terms of what to eat, see The Role of Soy Foods in Prostate Cancer Prevention and Fermented or Unfermented Soy Foods for Prostate Cancer Prevention?.

Also, see: 

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:

A Half Teaspoon of Dried Rosemary May Improve Cognitive Function

In Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5, Ophelia notes that rosemary is for remembrance, an idea that goes back at least a few thousand years to the ancient Greeks, who claimed that rosemary “comforts the brain…sharpens understanding, restores lost memory, awakens the mind…” After all, “plants can be considered as chemical factories that manufacture all sorts of compounds that could have neuroprotective benefits”. So, let’s cut down on processed foods and eat a lot of phytonutrient-rich whole plant foods, including, perhaps, a variety of herbs. Even the smell of certain herbs may affect how our brain works. Unfortunately, as I discuss in my video Benefits of Rosemary for Brain Function, I’ve found much of the aromatherapy literature scientifically unsatisfying. There are studies offering subjective impressions, for example, but while sniffing an herbal sachet is indeed “easy, inexpensive, and safe,” is it effective? The researchers didn’t even compare test scores.

However, even when there was a control group, such as one study where researchers had people perform a battery of tests in a room that smelled like rosemary, lavender, or nothing, and even when the researchers did compare test results, the lavender appeared to slow down the subjects and impair their performance, whereas the rosemary group seemed to do better. Perhaps that was just because of the mood effects, though, as I show at 1:36 in my video. Maybe the rosemary group did better simply because the aroma pepped them up in some way—and not necessarily in a good way, as perhaps the rosemary was somehow overstimulating in some circumstances?

Now, there have been studies that measured people’s brain waves and were able to correlate the EEG findings with the changes in mood and performance, as well as associate them with objective changes in stress hormone levels, as you can see at 2:05 in my video, but is that all simply because pleasant smells improve people’s moods? For instance, if you created a synthetic rosemary fragrance with a bunch of chemicals that had nothing to do with the rosemary plant, would it have the same effect? We didn’t know…until now.

Aromatic herbs do have volatile compounds that theoretically could enter the blood stream by way of the lining of the nose or lungs and then potentially cross into the brain and have direct effects. A 2012 study was the first to put it to the test. Researchers had people do math in a cubicle infused with rosemary aroma. The subjects got that same boost in performance, but for the first time, the researchers showed that their improvement correlated with the amount of a rosemary compound that made it into their bloodstream just from being in the same room. So, not only did this show that it gets absorbed, but that such natural aromatic plant compounds may have a direct effect on changes in brain function.

If that’s what just smelling it can do, what about eating rosemary? We have studies on alertness, cognition, and reduced stress hormone levels inhaling rosemary. “However, there were no clinical studies on cognitive performance following ingestion of rosemary”…until now. Older adults, average age of 75, were given two cups of tomato juice, with either nothing, a half teaspoon of powdered rosemary, which is what one might use in a typical recipe, a full teaspoon, two teaspoons, more than a tablespoon of rosemary powder, or placebo pills to go even further to eliminate any placebo effects.

“Speed of memory is a potentially useful predictor of cognitive function during aging,” and, as you can see at 4:08 in my video, researchers found that the lowest dose had a beneficial effect, accelerating the subjects’ processing speed, but the highest dose impaired their processing speed, perhaps because the half-teaspoon dose improved alertness, while the four-teaspoon dose decreased alertness. So, “rosemary powder at the dose nearest normal culinary consumption demonstrated positive effects on speed of memory…” The implicit take-home message is more isn’t necessarily better. Don’t take high-dose herbal supplements, extracts, or tinctures—just cooking with spices is sufficient. A conclusion, no doubt, pleasing to the spice company that sponsored the study. No side effects were reported, but that doesn’t mean you can eat the whole rosemary bush. In one study, an unlucky guy swallowed a rosemary twig that punctured through the stomach into his liver, causing an abscess from which two cups of pus and a two-inch twig were removed. So, explore herbs and spices in your cooking. Branch out—just leave the branches out.

That twig is like a plant-based equivalent of Migrating Fish Bones!


Interested in more on aromatherapy? See:

For more on spicing up your life, check out:

And, learn more about improving cognition and preventing age-related cognitive decline in:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations: