Many people have growing concerns about their potential exposure to environmental toxins and the negative health consequences surrounding them, whether the toxins come through air pollution, water pollution, organophosphates, pesticides, plastics, or heavy metals. Awareness around environmental toxins is a passion of mine, having attended multiple conferences over the last 17 years that focus on heavy metals, toxic exposure, and how to handle the effects.
My patients often come in with vague symptoms that go undiagnosed, so we’ll go through an exposure history and medical history. After running some lab tests, we often confirm they have elevated levels of heavy metals. Once we help them process those heavy metals, they start to feel better.
In this article, we’ll talk about the five most common heavy metals which are arsenic, lead, mercury, aluminum, and cadmium. We’ll also go over the sources of these metals, the negative impacts they have on the body, the symptoms they cause, and a few simple things you can do to help your body process these heavy metals.
Your first thought might be, “Well, I’ve never had any specific exposure since I’ve never worked as a painter, or with ceramics, or in a manufacturing plant.” However, it’s still an important question of whether these toxins are an obstacle for you achieving your health and wellness.
When we talk about heavy metals, there are three primary targets in the human body:
- First is the immune system which can cause allergies, chronic infections, autoimmunity, and certain types of cancers.
- Second is the neurological system, which would include cognitive abilities, brain fog, sensory changes, numbness and tingling, fine tremors, fine motor difficulties, and coordination issues. Mood alterations like depression, anxiety, and anger are part of the neurological system as well.
- Third is the endocrine system which can cause sleep disruption, sensory disruption, and changes in energy levels and mood. Alterations can also happen in weight, appetite, bowel functions, sexual interest, and sexual functions. In women, there can be menstrual changes along with differences in temperature perception, sweating, flushing, and alteration of hair growth and nail growth.
Heavy Metal Toxicity Symptoms Doctor’s Advice
Why Some People Retain More Heavy Metals than Others
There are genetic differences in phase one and phase two detoxification pathways in the liver due to individual polymorphisms. This may be due to nutrient deficiencies, like magnesium, selenium, or vitamin B6, or may be due to a poor diet that is high in sugar and low on protein. It can also be due to stress, emotional suffering, trauma, or the presence of other heavy metals making you retain additional heavy metals.
There are certain red flags I look for in patients including headaches, brain fog, fatigue, muscle weakness, muscle spasms, and an irritable bowel. An inability to handle caffeine is also a red flag, so take note if you can’t consume caffeine after noon without experiencing insomnia later in the day. An inability to handle medications is another red flag, like having to take very small doses or else suffering side effects.
Five Heavy Metals Contributing to Negative Health Conditions
Arsenic is the number one toxin in the United States ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency. Sources include cigarette smoke, wine from sprayed grapes, shellfish, seaweeds, wood preservatives, cattle and sheep dip, production of semiconductor parts, and production of photoelectric components in electronic manufacturing. Other sources are galvanizing, etching, fungicides, pesticides, fireworks, tanning leather products, textile printing, cable sheaths, copper or lead smelting, and glass manufacturing.
Exposure to arsenic can lead to several symptoms like fatigue, malaise, light sensitivity, headaches, and problems with your skin, nails, lungs, and cardiovascular system. You can also experience gastrointestinal, kidney, endocrine, musculoskeletal, and psychological problems.
The toxin ranked number two by the EPA is lead. Sources of lead include bullets, fishing equipment, art supplies, weight equipment, radiation shields, bearing alloys, ceramic glazes, and pigments. Lead can also be found in plumbing, miners, mechanics, refinery smelting work, antiknock gasoline additives, paint, solar joints in water systems, batteries, and colored and stained glass.
A build-up of lead in your body can cause fatigue, malaise, weight loss, burning of the mouth, headaches, plus musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiovascular, kidney, and reproductive problems.
Mercury is ranked by the EPA as the number three toxin Americans are exposed to. One type is elemental mercury, which comes from coal power plants, medical waste incineration, municipal water waste incineration, and contaminated water and food products. Another type is organic or methyl mercury mercury. It’s methylated by organisms in water and soil which means it’s found in trout, pike, walleye, bass, tuna, tilefish, swordfish, and shark.
Elemental mercury is found in dental amalgams. Dentists have a high level of elemental mercury because they’re dealing with amalgams often. It can also be found in fossil fuels, latex paint, old thermometers, electrical switches, Dove soap, Ajax, and even some brands of dishwashing soap. Some of the symptoms elemental mercury causes include fatigue, hair loss, skin rashes, headaches, and a metallic taste in your mouth. It can also create neurological, cardiovascular, kidney, lung, gastrointestinal, and skin problems.
Aluminum is often found in cookware like coffee pots, pizza pans, pots, and utensils, and cooking with tomato sauce can extract aluminum in higher quantities. Other items where traces of aluminum are found include certain brands of antacids, aspirin, paint, fireworks, glasswork, ceramics, aluminum baking powder, soy-based infant formulas, deodorants, drinking water clarified by aluminum, canned goods, coal power plants, incinerators, and pesticides. Aluminum exposure can cause fatigue, malaise, and even heat intolerance. You may also experience skin, neurological, lung, reproductive, and kidney problems.
Cadmium is the number seventh-ranked EPA toxin in the United States. Exposure can come from batteries, plastic manufacturing, metal soldering, welding, fossil fuels, incineration, metal smelting, tattoos, fertilizer, fungicides, and cigarette smoking. Cadmium can cause malaise, weakness, fatigue, kidney problems, gastrointestinal problems, lung problems, cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, cancers of the lung and prostate, and endocrine problems.
Supplements You Can Take for Heavy Metal Toxicity
Now that you know the five heavy metals to watch out for, you can take preventative action against them. There are general supplements you can take such as glutathione, Curcuma, Tinospora, milk thistle, calcium D-glucarate, epigallocatechin gallate, Brassica vegetables, and whey protein.
You can also take specific supplements to combat each of the heavy metals. Alpha-lipoic acid is specifically helpful for mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and lead. Arsenic is helped by taurine and mentha herbs like spearmint and peppermint. Mercury can be helped by Ocimum (Holy Basil), coriander, spirulina, selenium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Lead can be helped with coriander, cadmium with zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, and ginger.
There are chelating agents you can take, like DMPS and DMSA, but I would highly recommend working with a qualified practitioner if you consider using them to extract heavy metals. A chelator goes into the body, grabs the heavy metals, and pulls them out of the body. In addition to chelators, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, selenium, whey protein, an amino acid supplement, and plenty of magnesium can help your liver process these heavy metals.
Additional Resources on Heavy Metal Toxicity
Environmental Working Group is a website with helpful information about the sources of toxic heavy metals and what you can do about them. The first step is identifying sources of heavy metals and then limiting the amount of exposure your body has to them. Supplementation and chelation are effective, but it’s better to avoid these heavy metals altogether.
Even if you think you’ve never been directly exposed to these heavy metals, everyone is exposed in some way and at risk for possible health consequences. Continue educating yourself, your friends, and your family about the sources and symptoms these heavy metals can cause.
Here at Zenith Labs, we’ve created a supplement called Zenith Detox. It contains many botanical agents and nutraceuticals to help your body process these heavy metals. Pair this with simple actions to avoid heavy metal toxins and you’re one step closer to better health and wellness.
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I believe in the original meaning of the word doctor, ‘docere’, which means teacher. I’m here to help educate you on how to take care of yourself in ways that you may not have heard of before, but that are effective. I always want to hear your ideas and feedback so be sure to leave me comments below!