Cadmium Contamination and Adrenal Gland Dysfunction
Heavy metal contamination sometimes shows up in the news. They can creep into your food, water, air, and the materials in your home and workplace, and often you won’t know the damage they have done until years later. One, particularly concerning heavy metal, is cadmium. Research shows that, more than other heavy metals, cadmium can play a critical role in causing adrenal gland dysfunction, and it has been linked to shortened telomeres, heart disease, lung disease, and cancers as well.
What Is Cadmium?
Cadmium, number 48 on the periodic table, is a heavy metal that has researchers very concerned. Humans can tolerate only very low-level exposure to cadmium before it becomes toxic. Exposure can come from cigarette smoke, vegetables grown in contaminated soil, or industrial paints and workplaces. Sometimes, purchased goods can be contaminated.
While high-level exposure to cadmium can cause cancer, flu-like symptoms, respiratory damage, pulmonary edema, and liver and kidney failure, low-level exposure may also have serious consequences.
Research suggests cadmium may shorten the life of your body’s cells. This has to do with the shortening of telomeres, a structure at the end of each chromosome that acts like the cap at the end of a shoelace, keeping your DNA in good condition. George Washington University researchers looked at almost 7,000 patients, and in those with the highest amount of cadmium, the telomeres were six percent shorter than in those who had the lowest levels of cadmium. This mere six percent means these cells were acting 11 years older than in people of the same age.
Detoxification of Cadmium
One of the significant concerns about heavy metals is the body’s ability to detox from them. Similar to a water filter, the body filters the blood through the kidneys and liver to remove contaminants to keep the body healthy. Cadmium’s half-life, the length of time for one half of the metal to be removed, is 30 years long. If a child is exposed to cadmium at age 11, then once they reach 41 years of age, half of the cadmium will be gone.
Whenever adrenal gland dysfunction is present, it reduces the body’s ability to filter and clean itself as it should. This can increase heavy metal side effects, worsen symptoms, and require medicinal support. This makes you more at risk for Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), a condition where the body is incapable of dealing with new stressors because it is overwhelmed and depleted from the body’s current problems.
Understanding Adrenal Gland Dysfunction
To correctly understand adrenal gland dysfunction, you must understand the role of the adrenal glands within the body. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys and assist in the production of hormones that help the body cope with stress. The inner compartment of the adrenal glands makes epinephrine and norepinephrine, which are the essential hormones in the fight-or-flight response. The outer compartments make over 50 different hormones which are classified into three types. These are glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoid (such as aldosterone which affects the kidneys), and androgens (steroid and sex-based hormones made in the ovaries and testes).
Adrenal gland dysfunction primarily concerns the glucocorticoid hormones. This group of hormones is where cortisol is found. When production lowers too much (either from poor nutrition or illnesses), AFS can occur.
The Power of Cortisol
One of cortisol’s main function, in healthy people, is to provide that sense of awareness and alertness. Cortisol also helps to deal with stress and provide an anti-inflammatory effect. Levels rise and fall throughout the day, and when they are at their peak, a person is alert and mentally focused. As it decreases in the evening, the effect is similar to that winding-down sensation as you relax before going to bed.
Cortisol’s main functions include:
- Keeping blood sugar level
- Reducing inflammation
- Regulating blood pressure
- Dealing with stress
- Decreasing immune activity
Those who have adrenal gland dysfunction may not be able to respond to stressors. Likewise, their bodies may not be able to fight against colds and flu-like illnesses due to the weakened immune response.
The NEM Stress Response
Whenever stress attacks the body, the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response signals its six circuits to deal with the stress and return the body to normal. One of these circuits significant for adrenal gland dysfunction is the detoxification circuit. This circuit is made up of the liver, interstitium, and the immune system, and it works to help clear out toxins that are built up in the body.
Detoxification is a vital function in your body. Once a substance is eaten or your body is exposed to it, the key components (metabolites) need to be processed or metabolized by the body. This can be done through digestion or absorption, but just like an orange needs to be peeled and the peel discarded before eating, the other metabolites have to be discarded. And just like the pulp or seeds you discard from an orange, the body will attempt to remove hormones from the food, pollution from the air, byproducts of stress and medications, and dirt from the water that you drink. All this is normal detoxification in action.
Detoxification through the NEM stress response is done through two phases. Most toxins and waste products are neutralized by the liver. Phase 1 turns fat-soluble metabolites into water-soluble metabolites, and then Phase 2 takes the water-soluble metabolites and inactivates them.
Like all filters, this system can only work as efficiently as the filter that is being used. If too many pesticides, medications, and pollutants clog up the filter, then detoxification cannot occur as it should. In the case of adrenal gland dysfunction, the body is not able to produce the right amount of hormones to facilitate this process.
Some of the symptoms that are seen when the detoxification circuit is not properly working can include:
- Brain fog
- Feeling irritable or “on-edge”
- Skin rashes and eczema
- Bloating and fatigue
- Inability to eat fermented foods
- Sensitivity or intolerance to supplements
Traditional ways of cleaning out the liver may not be successful for those who have chronic adrenal gland dysfunction or AFS. When the body is overwhelmed with toxins and advanced AFS, the liver often cannot handle harsh cleanses, prolonged fasting, chelation, IV therapies, saunas, or wheatgrass supplements because its strength is very low.
Detoxification has to occur slowly through getting rest, plenty of purified water, and a healthy diet. An organic, healthy diet has to be free of pesticides and toxic chemicals, so the body is not bogged down by further toxins while trying to heal.
What It All Adds Up To
Heavy metals can build up in the body and become toxic. This is especially true for the heavy metal cadmium which can shorten the body’s telomeres. The body attempts to remove the toxic buildup of chemicals through detoxification in the liver, interstitium, and the immune system, but this is dependent on whether it is healthy enough to do this.
In the event of adrenal gland dysfunction, abnormal levels of cortisol can decrease the body’s ability to detoxify as it should. This can cause many uncomfortable symptoms. Healing must be done slowly and correctly. If not, attempts to detoxify the body can backfire and cause more damage because reserves typically are deficient and the body cannot deal with more stress.
© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
Why is the connection between adrenal gland dysfunction and toxic chemicals so dangerous?
If the body is overwhelmed with toxic chemicals, such as cadmium, which is a heavy metal, it can lead to adrenal gland dysfunction. This condition can decrease the body’s ability to flush out the heavy metals and allow them to be stored at higher levels, which can increase your risk for heart and lung disease and even cancers.