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Blood Lead Changes during Pregnancy and Postpartum with Calcium Supplementation

  • Brian L. Gulson
  • Karen J. Mizon
  • Jacqueline M. Palmer
  • Michael J. Korsch
  • Alan J. Taylor
  • Kathryn R. Mahaffey
National Institue of Environmental Health Sciences
Publication Date
Jul 27, 2004
  • Biology
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Mathematics


Pregnancy and lactation are times of physiologic stress during which bone turnover is accelerated. Previous studies have demonstrated that there is increased mobilization of lead from the maternal skeleton at this time and that calcium supplementation may have a protective effect. Ten immigrants to Australia were provided with either calcium carbonate or a complex calcium supplement (~ 1 g/day) during pregnancy and for 6 months postpartum. Two immigrant subjects who did not conceive acted as controls. Sampling involved monthly venous blood samples throughout pregnancy and every 2 months postpartum, and quarterly environmental samples and 6-day duplicate diets. The geometric mean blood lead at the time of first sampling was 2.4 μg/dL (range, 1.4–6.5). Increases in blood lead during the third trimester, corrected for hematocrit, compared with the minimum value observed, varied from 10 to 50%, with a geometric mean of 25%. The increases generally occurred at 6–8 months gestation, in contrast with that found for a previous cohort, characterized by very low calcium intakes, where the increases occurred at 3–6 months. Large increases in blood lead concentration were found during the postpartum period compared with those during pregnancy; blood lead concentrations increased by between 30 and 95% (geometric mean 65%; n = 8) from the minimum value observed during late pregnancy. From late pregnancy through postpartum, there were significant increases in the lead isotopic ratios from the minimum value observed during late pregnancy for 3 of 8 subjects (p < 0.01). The observed changes are considered to reflect increases in mobilization of lead from the skeleton despite calcium supplementation. The identical isotopic ratios in maternal and cord blood provide further confirmation of placental transfer of lead. The extra flux released from bone during late pregnancy and postpartum varies from 50 to 380 μg lead (geometric mean, 145 μg lead) compared with 330 μg lead in the previous cohort. For subjects replete in calcium, the delay in increase in blood lead and halving of the extra flux released from bone during late pregnancy and postpartum may provide less lead exposure to the developing fetus and newly born infant. Nevertheless, as shown in several other studies on calcium relationships with bone turnover, calcium supplementation appears to provide limited benefit for lead toxicity during lactation.

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