In-Depth Guide to Heavy Metal Poisoning and Detoxification Part 2
Symptoms of Heavy Metal Poisoning
Heavy Metal Poisoning can be either acute or chronic. Acute toxicity occurs when one is exposed to a toxic metal at a high level, such as drinking contaminated water or through occupational exposure. Acute exposures are easier to identify than chronic exposures. Symptoms of acute metal toxicity include:
- excessive sweating
- labored breathing
- impaired cognition
- impaired motor skills
- severe cramping
Symptoms of chronic, low level heavy metal poisoning are more common and often quite subtle and easy to dismiss. Symptoms of chronic heavy metal poisoning include:
- digestive issues
- joint soreness
- difficulty regulating blood sugar
- female reproductive issues
As toxic metal levels continue to build, problems can become more serious, and cause damage to the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, and endocrine system as well as to the lungs, kidneys, liver, and bones.
Sources of Toxic Metals
Minimizing your exposure to toxic metals starts with understanding your potential sources of exposure. Some of the most common sources of toxic metal exposure include items you come into contact with every single day without a second thought.
Water may be contaminated with many toxic metals. This may be the result of pollution or leaching from lead pipes or other plumbing components. If you think your water may be contaminated, you have two main options. You might opt for bottled water, but bottled water is not regulated as strictly as tap water and may contain just as many plastic toxins. Bottled water can also be quite expensive and may present other health hazards. A better (and potentially more budget-friendly) option is to invest in a good water filter that can filter out not only bacteria and viruses, but also chemicals and metal toxins. Reducing the risk of heavy metal poisoning.
Aluminum, stainless steel, and nonstick cookware like teflon can all leach toxic metals into your food during cooking. Opt for glass, cast iron, titanium, or enamel cookware. Cast iron is an especially good option for those that tend to be a bit anemic, as food cooked in cast iron absorbs the iron. This is especially true for acidic foods, such as tomato-based sauces. Be aware that restaurants are required to use stainless steel cookware, so limit restaurant meals. On a related note, stainless steel water bottles and orthodontic devices can also contain toxic metals.
Many cosmetic products, especially antiperspirants, contain aluminum and other toxic metals. Women are exposed to approximately 700 chemicals daily and have no idea about it because the cosmetic industry is not regulated well. Many companies dump toxins into their products to make them more functional. However, the skin absorbs much of these toxins and has a hard time expelling them out of the body. While mercury is notorious for being absorbed by the skin, it’s not the only toxin absorbed in this way. Toxic metals in your beauty routine aren’t just sitting on top of your skin, they’re making their way in. Check labels closely and look for products that do not contain aluminum or other toxic metals. Even costume jewelry can pose a problem in those with sensitive skin.
Most toxic metals are naturally occurring, and may be found in the soil. Removing your shoes before entering your home can help to keep toxic metals out. Also, be sure to wash your hands after working in the yard or playing outdoors with children.
As discussed, seafood can be contaminated with mercury, and food cooked in certain types of cookware absorb toxic metals. However, these are only two of the ways in which the food you eat could be a source of heavy metal poisoning. Food grown in soil containing high levels of toxic metals will contain at least trace amounts of those toxic metals. Seafood may also contain cadmium, as can grains, legumes, and leafy greens. This may be one of the most difficult sources of toxic metals to avoid, as it can be difficult to know what kind of soil your food has been grown in, even when you have your own garden. If you do choose to grow some of your own food, avoid commercial pesticides and other garden chemicals and consider having your soil tested.
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of known toxic substances, including cadmium and other toxic metals. If you smoke, quit. If someone in your home smokes, encourage them to quit or insist that they smoke outside.
Supplements and herbal remedies
Some products may be contaminated with toxic metals, either because they are believed to have medicinal properties or through accidental contamination. Make sure to look for a reputable vendors for these types of products with strict quality testing.
If you work in an industry where you may be exposed to toxic metals, be sure you review the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) information on the materials to which you may be exposed, and be sure to observe all safety precautions.
Lead toxicity is of particular concern, simply because lead is nearly impossible to avoid. Lead has been banned from many applications in numerous countries, but not everywhere. Children’s toys imported from countries where lead has not been banned may contain lead, especially in the paint. Even in the United States, lead has not been banned from use in plastics, and it is frequently used to make plastic more flexible and durable.
Many of the symptoms of lead poisoning, such as fatigue, hyperactivity, irritability, lack of appetite, digestive distress, weight loss, and impaired cognition, can be caused by many other conditions and are easily disguised. If you live in a home painted prior to 1978 and have these symptoms, consider getting a lead blood level test and moving out of the home if your levels are elevated.
Fluoride is the subject of significant controversy in the field of dentistry. There are studies that show fluoride can strengthen teeth, while other studies cast doubt on these claims. High doses of fluoride can cause fluorosis, which can weaken the bones and discolor the teeth. Fluoride has also been shown to increase absorption of lead, aluminum and other toxic metals that can lead to heavy metal poisoning. Fluoride is added to the water supply in many municipalities, so it can be difficult to avoid completely. If you use toothpaste or other dental hygiene products containing fluoride, be very careful not to swallow it.
How the Body Detoxes Heavy Metals
When people with healthy lifestyles find they experience serious health issues, get sick more often than their peers, or experience poor digestion and gastric distress, it’s possible that toxic metal overload is the cause. High levels of these metals are considered to be a medical emergency, but even low levels of toxic metal exposure can cause a host of illness symptoms, especially when exposure is frequent. Some of these metals, mercury in particular, are toxic at concentrations as low as one part per billion.
Even if you try to follow a generally healthy lifestyle, you’re being exposed to toxic metals from many different sources every single day. In fact, we’re exposed to so many toxins that babies are born with these toxic metals in their bloodstream. In 2004, the Environmental Working Group discovered that babies were born with an average of 287 toxins, including mercury, at detectable levels in their bloodstreams. These toxic metals are difficult for even a healthy body to process and remove, so they simply build up in the tissues and cells until they begin to cause or exacerbate any number of health conditions.
Removing toxic metals occurs through a process known as chelation. In cases of acute heavy metal poisoning, chelation may be done in a medical setting. Lower levels of metal toxicity may not be addressed medically, but there are some foods, supplements, and nutrients that have been shown to effectively bind with toxic metals in the body so they can be more easily removed.
Proper nutrition is a vital component in removing toxic metals from the body. Part of the importance of proper nutrition lies in supporting those organs and systems responsible for removing toxins. Just as importantly, however, is that the body is an expert at making do with what’s available. When the body does not get enough of the essential minerals it needs to function well, it will find a way to fill the gap. This may mean using toxic metals to stand in for what is lacking. For example:
- Lead may replace calcium, building up in the bone and disrupting red blood cell formation. Lead buildup in the bones can lead to osteoporosis and other bone illnesses.
- Cadmium may replace zinc and buildup in the kidneys and cause peripheral neuropathy.
- Aluminum may replace magnesium, leading to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and a variety of other neurological changes.
- Nickel is a carcinogen that may replace manganese, which is needed for proper collagen building.
Substitutions are not a good thing when it comes to substituting lead for calcium. However, substitution is the body’s way of surviving in situations of deficiency. When the body begins substituting toxic metals for needed minerals, they cannot be removed through chelation. The only way to remove them is to replace them with the needed nutrients. This is one of many reasons why proper nutrition is so critical to the chelation process.
© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.