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Wellness

Eliminate Heavy Metals from Your Body

August 28 2019

By Eric Madrid MD

In this article:

You may not realize, but every day you are exposed to toxins including arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium. 

According to a 2017 study, “Persistent heavy metal pollution poses a major threat to all life forms in the environment due to its toxic effects”. Over the last 100 years, these heavy metals and other toxins have been used industrially and have found their way into our water and food supply, air and even into our home environments. Once ingested, heavy metals accumulate in our tissues and organs where they can result in health problems. 

Each and every person has heavy metals, to some degree in their bodies. There is no way to completely avoid them. However, we can try to reduce exposure and increase excretion through diet, nutrition and lifestyle choices.

100 years ago, cancer was rare in the United States, Russia, Japan and China. However, cancer is now a leading cause of death worldwide. There is evidence that heavy metal exposure plays a role in the increased cancer incidence, such as Arsenic and bladder cancer according to a 2006 study. Increased heavy metal exposure is a growing problem in Africa as well according to a 2013 study.

At the turn-of-the-twentieth-century, 3 percent of the population in the United States suffered from cancer. By 1950, 20 percent of the American population developed cancer. By 2000, 38 percent of the population had cancer. Doctors predict that by 2020, 1 in 2 people will be diagnosed with life-threatening cancer at some time in their life. 

While many governments may work to minimize exposure with stricter environmental standards and pollution regulations, we should do our best to not only avoid heavy metal exposure but to optimize our body’s natural cleansing mechanisms. Our body has an innate ability to detoxify itself. 

Symptoms of Toxicity Exposure

Symptoms of heavy metal exposure range from few to no symptoms to moderate or sometimes severe symptoms. All of us are exposed to heavy metals, and the goal should be to identify, minimize and remove them from our body using a well thought out approach. 

Symptoms of both acute or chronic exposure may include, but are not limited to:

  • Chronic cough
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Cognitive impairment / Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Frequent infections due to a weakened immune system
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Postnasal drip / mucous secretion
  • Shortness of breath

Avoid Exposure

According to Dr. Joseph Pizzorno, in his 2017 book The Toxin Solution, "The average person encounters a constant stream of benzene and chemicals [plus heavy metals] from toxins, from chemical-laden food, paint, printing ink, flame retardants, coolants, and wood-floor finishes to Scotchgard-treated clothing…”. There is little we can do to completely avoid this. 

Being mindful of the foods we put into our body and environments we spend our time is the first step. Taking all possible precautions to reduce or avoid exposure is crucial. It has been said that the difference between a poison and a medicine is simply the dose. This is also true for non-medicinal chemicals to which we are exposed. While 100% avoidance may not be possible, reducing the dose of exposure can help one optimize their health. 

Common Heavy Metal Toxins include:

Arsenic 

Frequently used in the production of pesticides. Frequent sources of contamination include drinking water, cigarettes and foods such as commercially produced chicken, according to a Johns Hopkins report. As levels build up in the body, arsenic is associated with health problems, including increased risk for diabetes, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, intestinal ailments, mental disturbances, white bands on the fingernails (mees’ lines) and skin irritation. In severe cases, it can also lead to cellular poisoning and death. 

Lead

Lead is a heavy metal. The Latin word is plumbum, which is where we get the word plumber. Those who work in the lead industry, battery industry, welders and solders are at increased risk for exposure. I have a patient who was a competitive marksmen (shooter) and he used to make his own bullets. When we measured his blood lead levels, they were elevated. Other sources of exposure include lead pipes, soil, polluted water. In Flint, Michigan, lead in the public water supply is a big issue that poses health concerns for the community. 

From the 1920s to the 1990s, many places around the world used gasoline that contained lead. By 2011, most countries banned the addition of lead to petroleum. In the United States, structures with paint prior to 1978 contain lead. Children who live in older homes are at increased risk of exposure. 

When children are exposed, their mental and physical development can be effected according to studies. Elevated levels of lead in the blood are associated with a reduced Intelligence Quotient (IQ) Toxic effects include neuropathy, memory issues, kidney disease, increased cancer risk and blood issues, such as anemia. 

Mercury

Mercury is ubiquitous in the environment. Elevated blood levels can cause or contribute to neurological symptoms such as memory loss, fine tremors. In addition, may increase the risk for chronic kidney disease, elevated blood pressure, heart disease and more. 

Regular consumption of high mercury fish is also problematic. These include King mackerel, shark, swordfish ahi tuna and marlin. Low mercury fish are catfish, flounder, salmon, trout, herring and sardines and are better options, especially for pregnant women and children.

Also, many people have “silver fillings” in their mouth. A lot of these are made of a mercury silver amalgam. However, mercury can be released into the blood system in the form of “off-gassing”. To remove mercury fillings, use a dentist who specializes in removing mercury fillings. If not done appropriately, removal can also expose you to a large amount of mercury, which can be very dangerous.

Cadmium

Cadmium is a heavy metal, common in household items, like batteries. Those who work in the battery industry, do electroplating or are around vapor lamps are at increased risk for exposure. Tobacco smokers also ingest cadmium with each cigarette smoked. Elevated levels increase risk for osteopenia, osteoporosis, lung and kidney disease. Acute exposure is associated with headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and diarrhea. It can also be associated with breathing issues and fluid accumulation in the lungs.

Other heavy metals which may cause health problems include the toxic forms of aluminum and chromium (not to be confused with the beneficial form of chromium picolinate).

How to Test

If you are concerned about heavy metal exposure, consult with your physician. Blood tests, urine tests and sometimes hair analysis can be undertaken to check if you have concerning levels of heavy metals in your body. 

Purify Your Body

There are a few things you can do to purify your body to help remove heavy metals and toxins. These include the following:

Improve Your Diet 

Fasting is one of the most efficient and inexpensive ways to help detoxify the body. The simple act of abstaining from food or food items for a specified period of time allows the body to remove unwanted substances. 

Eating organic fruits and vegetables and hormone-free, grass-fed poultry and beef (to the best of your ability) is important in avoiding chemical exposure. Do not consume fish with elevated mercury levels more than once per week. 

Avoid processed foods and food with excessive sugar. Avoid artificial sweeteners and high- fructose corn syrup as they both put extra stress on your body’s metabolism and detox pathways. 

Optimize Gut Health 

Our intestines are the primary way toxins enter our body. Those with gut issues, like irritable bowel syndrome, chronic diarrhea, constipation, bloating etc., frequently have a condition called Leaky Gut, which results in absorption troubles. A poor intestinal barrier results in increased absorption chemicals and heavy metal toxins. We can optimize our gut health using probiotics and prebiotics. Also, avoiding common trigger foods such as wheat, dairy or corn may be helpful for some. Consume generous portions of fruits and vegetables may also be useful.

Optimize Liver Health

The liver’s job is to remove heavy metals and other toxins from our blood. Our liver performs numerous chemical reactions in order to detoxify the blood. Certain nutrients are needs for this to occur. Limit or avoid alcohol consumption when attempting to detox. 

Detox Supplements

Primary Supplements

Additional Support

  • Folic Acid – 800 mcg daily. Can be taken as a separate supplement or in a quality multivitamin
  • Selenium – 200 mcg daily can be taken as a separate supplement or in a quality multivitamin
  • Vitamin B12 – 2,000 mcg daily. Can be taken as a separate supplement or in a quality multivitamin
  • Vitamin C – 500 to 2,000 mg per day. 
  • Zinc – 25 mg daily. Can be taken as a separate supplement or in a quality multivitamin

Optimize Kidney Function

The kidneys are responsible for filtering blood and in the process, remove heavy metals, toxins, and metabolic waste. According to research, the following 15 food items and supplements can be helpful in restoring optimal kidney function and help facilitate detoxification.

Supplements Which May Help Preserve Kidney Health and the Detox Process

References:

  1. Ayangbenro AS, Babalola OO. A New Strategy for Heavy Metal Polluted Environments: A Review of Microbial Biosorbents. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(1):94. Published 2017 Jan 19. doi:10.3390/ijerph14010094
  2. Bladder cancer mortality associated with arsenic in drinking water in Argentina. Hopenhayn-Rich C, Biggs ML, Fuchs A, Bergoglio R, Tello EE, Nicolli H, Smith AH Epidemiology. 1996 Mar; 7(2):117-24.
  3. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2013;14(6):3393-402.
  4. https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-a-livable-future/_pdf/research/briefs/Arsenic%20in%20chicken%205-15-13.pdf
  5. Dimens Crit Care Nurs. 2017 Jan/Feb;36(1):71-73. (water supply in Flint, Michigan)
  6. Ping Zhao, Min Dai, Wanqing Chen, Ni Li; Cancer Trends in China, Japanese Journal of Clinical Oncology, Volume 40, Issue 4, 1 April 2010, Pages 281–285, https://doi.org/10.1093/jjco/hyp187
  7. China's Smog Is as Deadly as Smoking, New Research Claims http://time.com/4617295/china-smog-smoking-environment-air-pollution
  8. Océane Albert, Bernard Jégou; A critical assessment of the endocrine susceptibility of the human testis to phthalates from fetal life to adulthood, Human Reproduction Update, Volume 20, Issue 2, 1 March 2014, Pages 231–249, https://doi.org/10.1093/humupd/dmt050
  9. http://dailysuperfoodlove.com/10943/foods-for-kidney-health
  10. https://www.davita.com/kidney-disease/diet-and-nutrition/lifestyle/top-15-healthy-foods-for-people-with-kidney-disease/e/5347
  11.  L-arginine as a therapeutic tool in kidney disease. Klahr, Saulo et al. Seminars in Nephrology , Volume 24 , Issue 4 , 389 – 394
  12. L-Arginine Supplementation Improves Function and Reduces Inflammation in Renal Allografts 
  13. INGRID H. C. VOS, TON J. RABELINK, BERT DORLAND, REMKO LOOS, BEN VAN MIDDELAAR, HERMANN-JOSEF GRÖNE, and JAAP A. JOLES JASN Feb 1, 2001 12: 361-367
  14. Hong Kong Med J. 2017 Dec;23(6):616-21. doi: 10.12809/hkmj176214. Epub 2017 Oct 13.

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