Heavy metals are everywhere in the environment and it’s quite impossible to avoid exposure to them. Even people who are not occupationally exposed carry metals in their body as a result of exposure to other sources such as food, beverages or air.
Some heavy metals are essential nutrients, such as iron, cobalt and zinc. Other heavy metals such as ruthenium, silver and indium are relatively harmless but may be toxic in large amounts or in certain forms. A third group of heavy metals are sources of heavy metal poisoning. These include cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic, the four most common metals that produce symptoms of heavy metal toxicity.
Common sources of toxic metal exposure
Potential sources of heavy metal poisoning include industrial wastes, agricultural runoff, occupational exposure, mining, paints and treated lumber.
Specifically, lead poisoning is often due to lead-based plumbing, lead-based paint (especially in older homes) and foods grown in lead-rich soil. Lead is also found in canned food, cigarette smoke (first- or second-hand), some ceramic dishes, refined chocolate and vehicle emissions. Lead has been linked to dementia, Alzheimer’s, learning disabilities, hyperactivity, seizures and aggression.
Mercury poisoning can occur from eating fish or shellfish contaminated with methylmercury. This includes king mackerel, bass, walleye, pickerel, shark and swordfish. The release of mercury vapor from dental amalgam fillings is another cause. Known for its speedy ability to cross the blood-brain barrier to affect the brain, mercury is linked to neurological, psychological, and immunological disorders in people, including diseases like Alzheimer’s. It has also been linked to heart arrhythmias, headaches, blurred vision, and weakness.
Cadmium poisoning has serious repercussions for the brain and inhibits the body’s ability to use nutrients like iron, zinc and calcium, leaving people more vulnerable to bone and immune system disorders. Cadmium is found in everyday household products such as electric batteries and floor coverings. It is can also be found in auto seat covers, black rubbers, ceramics, cigarettes, evaporated milk, fertilizers, fungicides, furniture, refined wheat flour, silver polish and soft drinks from vending machines with cadmium in the pipes.
Arsenic, now banned from production in the US since 1985, is still environmentally present naturally in ground water, mineral ore, geothermal processes and is released into the air by volcanos. Some seafood such as clams, oysters, crabs and lobsters, bottom-feeding finfish and seaweed/kelp may also contain arsenic. It is also present as an industrial byproduct related to burning fuel oils and coal, glass manufacturing and similar industries. Forms of arsenic are widely used in the electronics industry as components in semi-conductor devices. Arsenic poisoning is linked to kidney failure, vertigo, lung and skin cancers.
Aluminum, although technically not a heavy metal, can pose a health threat particularly with excessive exposure. Linked to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, aluminum is found in baby formula, baked goods and processed foods, deodorants, shampoos and skin creams, aluminum pots and pans, antacids and in many pharmaceutical drugs as a binding agent.
There are several common features among toxic heavy metals. Studies indicate that they cause oxidative damage due to direct generation of free radicals and depletion of antioxidant reserves. This proliferation of free radicals and oxidative stress leads to tissue acidification and inflammation, compromising the immune system. Many toxic metals can act as molecular “mimics” of nutritionally essential metals, competing with essential cofactors for entry into cells and enzymes. For example, cadmium can compete with and displace the essential nutrient zinc from proteins and enzymes.
What are common symptoms of heavy metal poisoning?
Because the symptoms of metal poisoning can be similar to other health conditions, they may not be immediately recognized as due to heavy metal toxicity. Common issues associated with heavy metal poisoning include:
- Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
- Central nervous system dysfunction
- Heart problems
Acute heavy metal poisoning may also damage the lungs, kidneys, liver, endocrine glands and bones. Degenerative diseases of these same systems may increase the risk of some cancers.
What if you suspect heavy metal poisoning?
Heavy metal toxicity can masquerade as a host of other ailments, so it may fly under the radar of conventional healthcare practitioners. Unless your physician personally knows something about your lifestyle and occupation, he may never consider that heavy metal poisoning is causing your unexplainable symptoms. It may be up to you to find out for yourself.
LivingYoung offers a Heavy Metal Basic Test that analyzes your blood panel for concentrations of 22 different heavy metals (add sidebar). Your test results will be reviewed by our physician who will recommend the best course of action to balance the levels of heavy metals in your system. We also offer a Heavy Metal Plus Test which, in addition to analyzing the 22 heavy metals, also analyzes 16 micronutrients for a well-rounded analysis of the essential metallic nutrients in your system. Our physician has in-depth experience with heavy metal poisoning and will direct you to actions you should take. Some of these are DIY changes you can make to your lifestyle and habits to minimize and reverse the damage heavy metals cause.
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What you can do to reduce risk of heavy metal poisoning
The most important thing you can to do counteract the effects of exposure to heavy metals is to eat nutritiously. The right balance of nutrients goes a long way toward neutralizing and eliminating toxic levels of heavy metals. Make sure your diet includes:
- Glutathione. Often referred to as the “master antioxidant,” glutathione is found in all cells where it acts as an antioxidant to neutralize free radicals and prevent cellular damage. It reduces the adverse changes in blood parameters due to lead, cadmium and copper. (Read more about LivingYoung’s Glutathione Injections and Gluathion here. LINK)
- Selenium is found in foods such as brazil nuts, yellowfin tuna, halibut and sardines. Selenium inhibits mercury accumulation and increases excretion of mercury and arsenic.
Vitamin C is a free-radical scavenger shown to reduce lead levels and protect the cells from arsenic toxicity.Up your intake of citrus fruits, strawberries and red peppers. Foods high in Vitamin C include oranges, red peppers, kale and broccoli.
- Folate: Folate (Vitamin B9) is associated with lower blood mercury and cadmium levels. Foods high in folate include spinach, asparagus and avocado. Fortified cereals also have high levels of this essential nutrient.
- Garlic: the sulfur compounds in garlic have been shown to protect against organ damage from heavy metal toxicity, especially lead. Garlic also contains trace amounts of almost every nutrient the body needs.
- Water … drink plenty of it. Water is the vehicle that moves toxins out of your body. It is the ultimate purifier … you can’t drink too much.
Other ways to avoid exposure to heavy metals is to be aware of where they exist in your home environment.
- Avoid insecticides and weed killers. If you must spray, read the label and don’t use any that contain lead arsenate.
- Don’t smoke and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke to avoid inhaling cadmium.
- Don’t burn candles unless their labels specify that the wicks are lead-free. Many metal wicked candles, especially imports, contain lead. As the candles burn, the metal vaporizes and is inhalable and the ash produced puts a fine layer of leaded dust on nearby surfaces.
- Before drinking water from the tap, let the faucet run a few minutes to flush standing water from potentially lead-lined pipes. Or get a water filtration system.
Be fussy with fish. Much of the world’s fish supply is contaiminated with methylmercury, a particularly hazardous form of the megtal. Aim low on the food chain, selecting cod and sardines over swordfish. Be careful with tuna. Light canned tuna and fresh yellowfin tuna are likely to be less contaminated with mercury than white canned tuna and albacore. Don’t eat farm-raised fish. There’s no telling what chemicals they are forced to eat in confinement.
- Buy organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables grown in soils not laced with cadmium.
- Avoid handling arsenic-treated lumber.
- Read food labels to avoid eating high fructose corn syrup which often contains high levels of mercury as well as a host of other “bad for you” ingredients. Mercury is also found in processed protein shakes. It would pay to become a food label reader.
Heavy metal is a serious threat to the health of your body and brain. I’m not referring to Ozzy Osbourne or Metallica here, although too much headbanging has probably damaged more than a few brain cells. I’m referring to the metals found in food, water, air, and many commercially-available products. Here are some surprising sources:
Aluminum—Although not technically a heavy metal, aluminum is a metal that can pose a serious threat to health, particularly with excessive exposure. It has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Aluminum is found in:
-Baked goods and processed foods;
-Over-the-counter and prescription antacids;
-Other pharmaceutical drugs as a binding agent;
-Aluminum pots and pans;
Keep reading to learn about toxic sources of cadmium, lead, and mercury…Cadmium—has serious repercussions for the brain and inhibits the body’s ability to use nutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium leaving people more vulnerable to bone and immune system disorders. Cadmium is found in:
-Automobile seat covers;
-Burned motor oil;
-Refined wheat flour (white flour);
-Silver polish; and
-Soft drinks from vending machines with cadmium in the pipes.