By Chris Hwang
Lead is arguably one of the most useful metals in the world. It’s heavy and dense yet very malleable. In the form of lead dioxide, it becomes highly conductive, making it excellent for batteries. It’s also exceptionally durable and resistant to corrosion. All in all, lead is great for a variety of things. Now, the Ancient Romans loved lead so much that they would physically consume it in the form of lead acetate in order to sweeten their wine. What they didn’t know is that lead is very toxic and poisonous.
The Health Effects of Lead
Lead, when consumed, can result in serious health issues. In fact, no amount of lead is beneficial to our health. When ingested or inhaled, it gets absorbed into the blood, and can build up in your organs including the kidneys, brain, liver, and heart as well as your bones and teeth. Inside the brain, lead can disrupt the storage and movement of calcium, which in turn blocks out neurotransmitters resulting in weaker communication between the neurons. This becomes a huge problem especially for children as it can seriously damage their developmental skills. Lead can also cause health issues such as anemia, skeletal pain, and permanent brain damage. We love them in our batteries, but it can be fatal to our bodies.
When in Ancient Rome…
Unfortunately for the ancient Romans, they were not aware of the scares of lead. Instead, they enjoyed the naturally sweet taste of them; which came in the form of Lead (II) Acetate. This chemical compound was known to the Romans as the “Sugar of Lead” and was consumed in large quantities especially among the royalties of Rome to sweeten their wine. They were quite literally sipping on lead. Not only did they drink it, but also used it to preserve food. This resulted in many Romans having problems such as gout, infertility, and dementia; and many historians believe that lead acetate was one of the reason for the fall of the Roman Empire.
By and large, it’s best that we only use lead for the modern applications and stick to Aspartame as our source for artificial sweetener. I suggest that when in Ancient Rome, don’t do as the Romans do.