How Heavy Metals Might be Undermining your Health

Mar 14, 2024

In the bustling modern world, where technological advancements seem to permeate every aspect of our lives, there exists a potential health risk that often goes unnoticed - heavy metals. These toxic substances, though invisible to the naked eye, pose a significant threat to human health. From lead and mercury to arsenic and aluminum, heavy metals spread through our environment, infiltrating our bodies through multiple sources and wreaking havoc on our health.

Sources of Heavy Metal Exposure

Heavy metals find their way into our lives through numerous avenues, making avoidance nearly impossible.

Industrial Pollution: Industries such as mining, manufacturing, and construction release heavy metals into the air and water, contaminating the environment and food chain. Living in big cities or near industrial areas can significantly increase this risk.

Contaminated Water: Heavy metals like lead, arsenic, and mercury seep into groundwater from industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and corroded pipes, lead lined pipes (still present in older homes/buildings across Canada) posing a threat to drinking water safety. In one report, thirty per cent of Edmonton lead tests show exceedances of the federal guideline including a result of 428 ppb in 2017 — 86 times the federal guideline (1).

Food Contamination. Due to the rapid evolution of technology within the Agriculture sector, the delicate ecosystems have been exposed to many types of chemical toxicants, in particular, pesticides (herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides) and heavy metals. These toxins accumulate in crops, seafood, and livestock which then can cause significant health problems in humans such as lung cancer, renal dysfunction, osteoporosis, and cardiac failure (2).

Consumer Products: Everyday items like cosmetics, cookware, and electronic devices may contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, posing a risk through direct contact or ingestion. Heavy metals in cosmetics can be absorbed directly through the skin, into the blood, and accumulate in the body and exert toxic effects in various organs (3).

Dental Fillings: Dental amalgams containing mercury have raised serious concerns about prolonged exposure and potential health effects. Important note: If you want to have your dental fillings removed, please ensure you are working with an experienced dentist. There are very important protocols to safely remove these fillings to ensure the mercury isn’t released back into your body.

Different Effects of Heavy Metals

Each heavy metal exerts its own distinct effects on human health:

Lead: Known for its neurotoxic effects, lead exposure can lead to developmental delays, cognitive impairment, and neurological disorders, especially in children (4). Some symptoms that can be associated with Lead toxicity include high blood pressure, joint & muscle pain, difficulties with memory or concentration, endocrine diseases such as hypothyroidism, headaches, abdominal pain, mood disorders, reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm, and miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women.

Mercury: Mercury toxicity affects the nervous system, causing symptoms ranging from tremors and memory loss to impaired cognitive function (5). Prenatal exposure can result in birth defects and developmental disabilities. Besides mercury fillings as mentioned earlier, other sources include some vaccines or medicines and contaminated fish. Some symptoms of Elemental Mercury exposure include tremors, headaches, insomnia, nervous system impairments (neuromuscular changes, twitching, trouble walking/coordination, speech difficulties), and mood changes. It should be noted that there is no known safe limit of mercury (including methylmercury).

Arsenic: Chronic exposure to arsenic is associated with skin lesions, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer (6). Some other symptoms of arsenic toxicity may include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, breathing difficulties, sore throat, low blood pressure, pins and needles feeling in fingers and toes, garlic odor in breath or sweat, and red, swollen skin. Some sources of exposure include rice (drinking rice water) and contaminated food and water.

Cadmium: Exposure to cadmium primarily occurs through the ingestion of contaminated food and water and can accumulate in plants and animals with a long half-life of about 25–30 years. Some data suggests that occupational and environmental cadmium exposure may be related to various types of cancer and liver and kidney disease. Cadmium exposure may also be from PVC products, fossil fuel combustion, refineries, color pigments, and phosphate fertilizers (7).

Aluminum: Although aluminum is abundant in the environment, excessive exposure has been linked to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease, as well as bone and kidney disorders. It remains unclear that the high amounts of aluminum found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, is a cause or an effect of the disease. And while there is some speculation that the accumulation of aluminum found in antiperspirants may cause breast cancer, there needs to be more large-scale studies conducted (8).

Thallium: Thallium poisoning can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, hair loss (sudden onset of alopecia), neurological damage, muscle pain, and cardiovascular complications (9). Some sources of exposure include occupational, contaminated drugs, fish or other foods, and industrial waste.

Other Negative Impacts on Health

The cumulative effects of heavy metal exposure manifest in a myriad of health issues, as shown above. Other negative implications can present as the following:

  1. Immune Dysfunction: Chronic exposure to heavy metals weakens the immune system, increasing susceptibility to infections, autoimmune diseases, and allergic reactions.
  2. Cellular Damage and Oxidative Stress: Heavy metals induce oxidative stress, leading to DNA damage, inflammation, and accelerated aging processes.

Safe Levels and Exposure

Establishing safe levels of heavy metal exposure is crucial for protecting public health. Regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) set guidelines and standards to limit exposure to heavy metals in air, water, food, and consumer products. However, we cannot avoid all heavy metal exposure in our current environment, highlighting the importance of proactive measures to minimize exposure. Even low levels of exposure over time can have detrimental effects. We need to prioritize supporting our detoxification pathways, providing our bodies with proper nourishment, and taking supplemental support when needed. Here are some suggestions to mitigate and reduce exposure.  

Supplements That Detox Heavy Metals

Several supplements and natural remedies may aid in heavy metal detoxification:

  1. Modified Citrus Pectin: This soluble fiber binds to heavy metals in the digestive tract, facilitating their excretion from the body. Unlike some other chemical chelators, MCP doesn’t bind to healthy  minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc.  
  2. Shilajit: Rich in fulvic acid and trace minerals, shilajit may help chelate heavy metals and support detoxification pathways. A little goes a long way here!
  3. Spirulina: This nutrient-dense algae contains chlorophyll and phycocyanin, which may assist in removing heavy metals while providing essential nutrients.
  4. Fulvic Acid: Derived from soil humus, fulvic acid exhibits chelating properties and may enhance the elimination of heavy metals.
  5. Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal adsorbs toxins and heavy metals in the gastrointestinal tract, preventing their absorption into the bloodstream.
  6. Chlorella: This freshwater algae is rich in chlorophyll and antioxidants, making it a popular choice for heavy metal detoxification.

Importance of Diet and Lifestyle:

In addition to supplementation, adopting a health-promoting diet and lifestyle can help prevent heavy metal accumulation:

  1. High-Fiber Foods: Fiber-rich foods promote regular bowel movements, aiding in the elimination of heavy metals through fecal excretion.
  2. Foods that Support Detoxification: Cilantro, cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, garlic, wild blueberries, Atlantic dulse, green tea, and tomatoes are some of the foods that support heavy metal detoxification through various mechanisms.
  3. Healthy Fats and Bile Flow: Drinking plenty of water helps flush out toxins, including heavy metals, through urine and sweat. Opt for spring or glacier fed water if you have access to it or invest in a water filtration system. If purchasing a water filtration system, ensure you add minerals back into the water as that is what helps drive water into the cell.
  4. Hydration: Drinking plenty of water helps flush out toxins, including heavy metals, through urine and sweat. Opt for spring or glacier fed water if you have access to it or invest in a water filtration system. If purchasing a water filtration system, ensure you add minerals back into the water as that is what helps drive water into the cell.
  5. Sauna Therapy: Regular sauna sessions promote sweating and facilitate the excretion of heavy metals through the skin. It’s important to shower after a sauna to wash away any toxins that may have been released through sweating. Because you can continue to sweat after a sauna, it is usually recommended to shower 20-30 minutes after the session.
  6. Important Nutrients: Zinc is one of the most studied essential metals for the alleviation of heavy metal toxicity. Zinc, along with calcium and iron, can compete for the binding site of certain heavy metals so it’s important to have sufficient levels in the body. Selenium, important for glutathione production (aka master antioxidant), helps to protect organs form heavy metal toxicity due to it’s high antioxidant activity. Some other important nutrients are Vitamin C and B-Vitamins (specifically B6 and Choline). (10).  
  7. Functioning Detox Pathways: If you have certain genetic mutations such as MTHFR, working with a practitioner to restore methylation function is critical. It’s important to note that it is not as simple as taking methylated B12 and Folate because this can lead to worsening of symptoms for sensitive individuals. Lifestyle and diet must always to be addressed before supplementation

In conclusion, heavy metals pose a significant threat to human health, with their insidious effects permeating various aspects of our well-being. By understanding the sources of exposure, recognizing the diverse effects of different heavy metals, and implementing proactive measures such as supplementation, dietary modifications, and lifestyle interventions, we can mitigate their impact and safeguard our health. Let us strive for a world where the stealth threat of heavy metals is recognized and addressed, ensuring a healthier future for generations to come.

(1) https://globalnews.ca/news/6114854/canada-tapwater-high-lead-levels-investigation/

(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7996329

(3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25809475/

(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2858639/

(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3395437

(6) https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/arsenic

(7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7312803/

(8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651828/

(9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449837/

(10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303853/

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