You've probably heard of heavy metals and heavy metal toxicity. But, most people don't pay too much attention to it unless it directly affects them or someone they know. This is why it's important to know what heavy metals are, sources of heavy metals, symptoms of heavy metal toxicity and more. We're going to go over all of this information in this comprehensive guide to doing a heavy metal detox.
Contents:What Are Heavy Metals? Heavy Metal Toxicity Symptoms Common Sources of Heavy Metals Most Common Heavy Metals In Your Body + Why They Affect Your Health How Do You Test for Heavy Metal Toxicity? Seven Steps to Remove Heavy Metals from Your Body Safely
- Step 1: Heal Your Gut Lining
- Step 2: Ensure Your Excretory System Is Working at Optimal Levels
- Step 3: Identify and Remove the Toxicity's Source
- Step 4: Add Essential Minerals to Supplement your Diet
- Step 5: Bind and Chelate Heavy Metals
- Step 6: Detoxify Slowly and Not Rapidly
- Step 7: Re-Test and Take Time to Recover
What Are Heavy Metals?Heavy metals are defined as a naturally occurring element with high densities and high atomic weights. They must have at least five times the density and atomic weight of water to be classified as a heavy metal. You find heavy metals naturally in the earth's crust; however, human activities like mining can cause the heavy metals to become very concentrated. A few of these heavy metals are essential for your health in small amounts, and these include zinc, iron and cobalt. However, they can become toxic to humans in more concentrated forms. Additionally, toxic heavy metals include cadmium, arsenic, lead and mercury, which are extremely poisonous in any amount, and you want to avoid them.
Heavy Metal Toxicity SymptomsThere are several symptoms of heavy metal toxicity, and they can range from mild to severe depending on your levels of exposure. The symptoms also vary by your age and which heavy metals you had exposure to. Additionally, people usually miss the early symptoms because they're largely non-specific, and they may not even realise that they've had exposure to the heavy metals. However, we've rounded up some of the generalised symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, and these symptoms include:
- Abdominal pain with vomiting, nausea and diarrhea
- Behavioural changes
- Brain and memory dysfunction
- Heart and cardiovascular system abnormalities
- Horizontal lines in your nails
- Kidney damage
- Liver damage
- Lung irritation or edema (fluid in your lungs)
- Malformed or weakened bones in children
- Nervous system problems or symptoms
- Premature labour or miscarriage in pregnant women
Common Sources of Heavy MetalsAs we mentioned, you can come into contact with heavy metals by everyday human activities including mining. Other ways that you may come into contact with heavy metals include industrial wastes, aging water supply systems, treated timber, occupational exposure, tailings and certain paints. Four big sources of heavy metals include:
- Tap Water — Many cities have older lead pipes that the drinking water travels through, and this lead chips off into the water and contaminates it. Lead pipes are now illegal, but there are still some contaminated pipes. If you have an older home, you may want to double-check your pipes and update them if necessary.
- Fillings — One surprising source of heavy metals are dental fillings, particularly those made with a mixture of metals including mercury, copper and silver. They can increase your exposure to mercury, and it goes up depending on how many fillings you have in your teeth. Fillings are actually the main source of mercury in your body.
- Environmental Pollutants — There are several environmental pollutants that can increase your exposure to heavy metal poisoning as well. Vehicle admissions are one of the main causes of heavy metal exposure as well as mining, consumer waste, industrial waste, absorption through skin contact and acid rain.
- Geographic Location — Unfortunately, your geographic location also plays a large role in your exposure to heavy metals. The United States has high levels of heavy metals all over, and this increases your chances of experiencing symptoms.
Most Common Heavy Metals In Your Body + Why They Affect Your HealthWhile there are dozens of heavy metals around, there are four main heavy metals that you tend to worry about the most when you hear about heavy metal toxicity. We'll go over those as well as how they affect your health below. 1. Arsenic Arsenic is a naturally occurring chemical compound that you find in many minerals, but you can also find it as a pure elemental crystal. You can find it in the soil, air and water in very low levels. It may also make it's way into your food through the soil, through skin contact, swallowing or inhaling it. One of the biggest long-term issues of arsenic poisoning is skin problems like skin darkening and skin cancer. It can disrupt your cell's natural routines and cause hyper-pigmentation or make you more susceptible to developing cancer or organ damage. 2. Mercury Mercury is another common heavy metal that has negative health consequences for anyone who comes into contact with high levels of it. This chemical element is also called Quicksilver, and you can find it in the earth's crust, in mines, in certain chemicals, dental fillings, and in certain medical devices like thermometers. If you swallow mercury, your body won't absorb much of it. However, if you inhale it, it can attack your central nervous system and cause tremors, memory loss, insomnia, headaches, and behavioural disorders. 3. Cadmium Cadmium is a silver-white metal that is very soft. It's not naturally found in a pure form in the environment, and it's a common byproduct of mining and generally of the mining industry. It can't be naturally broken down, and it can wreak havoc on the environment if it isn't properly cleaned up and disposed of. The most common way to come into contact with Cadmium is through accidental inhalation. This heavy metal can build up in your kidneys, liver and bones, disrupting their normal function and potentially damaging them to the point where they stop functioning. 4. Lead You can find lead in the earth's crust in very small amounts. It's very easy to extract, and it's also very easy to come into contact with. You can come into contact with lead by being around vehicle emissions, gasoline, ammunition, batteries, from mining activities and more. In high levels, lead becomes toxic to people. Lead exposure can lead to a variety of health conditions depending on your level of exposure. It can attack your central nervous system and cause problems with your memory, delayed growth, hearing decreases, cardiovascular problems and several nerve disorders.
How Do You Test for Heavy Metal Toxicity?There are four main ways that you test for heavy metal toxicity. Your doctor may use more than one to confirm your heavy metal toxicity levels, and they'll decide which test or tests are best for your specific case. Blood Tests Heavy metal blood tests are very common. They're actually a group of blood tests instead of a single test, but each of the tests can come from a single sample of blood. Your physician will draw your blood and send it away to the lab. The lab will take this sample and run tests to check your blood for levels of mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic. They can also test for aluminium, zinc, copper and thallium, but this is rare. If you're showing typical symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, your physician may suggest this blood test. They may also recommend it for children under six who have had exposure to heavy metals, especially lead. They're more susceptible to lead poisoning, and they're at higher risk than other age groups. Urine Tests One of the more common and inexpensive methods to test for heavy metal toxicity is a standard urine test. You'll go into your doctor's office and give them a urine sample. The sample will then go to the lab, and the lab will test it for the four main heavy metals. They can also run a full heavy metal panel that includes less common heavy metals. Urine testing is popular with younger patients, but you should also do blood testing in addition to urine testing because blood testing is more concrete. You do want to avoid seafood 48 to 72 hours before your urine test because fish contain levels of mercury, and this can skew your test results. The Heavy Metals Challenge Test The Heavy Metals Challenge test is a variation of the standard urine test for heavy metals. It's also called the "provoked" urine test. You start the test by collecting a normal urine sample and measuring the levels of heavy metals. This will give you your base range. You'll then introduce a chelating agent (chemical compound that reacts to the heavy metals and binds them). These chelating agents force the heavy metals through your system and out in your urine. You'll give another urine sample around 24 hours after they administer the chelating agent. Your physician will take these agents and measure them against your base range. This is a good indicator of the total heavy metal content in your body. Hair Tests The final test for heavy metals is by testing strands of your hair. Your hair follicles store minerals, so this is a very non-invasive way to test if your body is storing high amounts of these metals. You'll go into your doctor's office and they'll take a few strands of hair along with the follicle. They usually take this hair from the nape of your neck. Your hair will go to the lab for further analysis. The lab will test for heavy metals or mineral deficiencies, and they'll send the results back to your physician. This test can take a few hours from start to finish, and you'll get a comprehensive report back that will tell you what your heavy metal levels are throughout your body.
Seven Steps to Remove Heavy Metals from Your Body SafelyNow that you know what heavy metals are, common symptoms, heavy metal toxicity and four tests your physician can perform to test for heavy metal toxicity, we'll give you seven steps that you can take to safely remove heavy metals from your body.
Step 1. Heal Your Gut LiningThe lining of your gut is one of your first lines of defence against any heavy metals that make their way into your body through food you eat or water your drink. If you have problems with the lining of your gut like inflammation or Leaky Gut Syndrome, ulcers, a bacteria imbalance, or a variety of GI problems, you're more susceptible to problems with heavy metals. The first thing you want to do is start healing your gut lining. You can start by switching to eating mainly whole and unprocessed foods. These foods include things like leafy vegetables, healthy fats, bone broth, collagen peptides + much more. One study showed that switching to this type of diet could significantly heal your gut lining. You want to treat any infections or bacteria overgrowth as well because these things can wreak havoc on your health and your digestive lining. Your doctor will have to diagnose any infections or bacteria overgrowth, and they'll give you a treatment plant to help clear it up.
Step 2: Ensure Your Excretory System Is Working at Optimal LevelsYou can think of your excretory system like your body's housekeeper. Your skin, liver, kidneys, urinary tract and lungs all work together to rid your body of any unwanted toxins, waste products or contaminants like heavy metals. However, eating an unhealthy diet can cause your excretory organs to work overtime, get stressed ,and not clean as efficiently as they normally could. However, there are several ways that you can ensure your excretory organs are working at their optimal levels. First, you want to start drinking a lot of water if you currently are not. Water will help flush any toxins or contaminants out of your excretory organs. This means that they won't have to work so hard to accomplish their tasks. It's also important that you limit your exposure to toxins. While this isn't entirely possible, you can cut down on your exposure levels by restricting your alcohol intake, limiting your exposure to smoking or secondhand smoke, eating a healthy diet, and paying attention to what ingredients are in your favourite lotions or body care products.
Step 3: Identify and Remove the Toxicity's SourceThis is the stage where you may need your physician's help to determine which toxins you have exposure to. A simple blood or urine test can help you find out which heavy metals are present in your body, and then you can start narrowing down the sources. For example, if you have high amounts of lead in your body and you drink a lot of tap water that doesn't come from a well, you may want to switch to bottled water. Older homes with lead pipes can also contaminate your drinking water. If you can switch to a mostly organic diet, this will cut down on the heavy metals as well; that's because many pesticides contain copper and iron sulphate and calcium. These things can contaminate your food and get into your body, even if you wash them before you eat them. If you smoke or are around someone who smokes, your exposure levels to heavy metals increases. Not only will you breathe heavy metal fumes in through the smoke, but the cigarette ash contains residue that can sink through your skin and get into your bloodstream. Stopping smoking and giving your home a deep clean can help to remove the heavy metal source.
Step 4: Add Essential Minerals to Supplement your DietFor people with heavy metal toxicity, you want to add essential mineral supplements to your diet because they prevent your body from absorbing more of the heavy metals that are in your cells, blood and tissue. It also prompts your excretory system to flush the heavy metals out of your body. If you're suffering from high levels of Cadmium, you want to supplement your diet with zinc and magnesium because they'll help deplete your stored levels of Cadmium. At the same time, this will also help ease your heavy metal toxicity symptoms. For lead toxicity, you should concentrate on supplementing calcium and magnesium. Calcium blocks the absorption of lead into your system. Magnesium can also slow down your body's absorption rate of lead, and this gives your body more time to get rid of it. Additionally, calcium is safe for pregnant women with high levels of lead in their bodies.
Step 5: Bind and Chelate Heavy MetalsOnce you've completed the first four steps, you're ready to bind the heavy metals from their storage points in your tissue, cells and systems. Once you bind them, they'll flush into your bloodstream and end up in your excretory system. They'll pass through the liver in bile to your feces, through your kidneys in urine, or they'll pass through your skin as you sweat. Chelation therapy is a popular method of detoxing your body of heavy metals. Your physician will inject a solution called EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) through a slow intravenous drip. This synthetic amino acid goes through your bloodstream and starts binding molecules to salts. Then they attach to the heavy metal pockets in your cells and tissue and escort them back into the bloodstream. Once they hit the bloodstream, your body will start to flush them through the excretory system and out your body. The chelating agents have the ability to form specific bonds between the heavy metals in your body and organic molecules. This is what gives them their binding ability, and it is what makes them so efficient at riding your body of excess heavy metals. Other ways to get rid of heavy metals include:
- Exercise — When you exercise, you start to sweat. This sweat allows for heavy metals to exit your body through your sweat glands and skin.
- Saunas — Saunas are excellent detox tools. The sauna can stimulate your excretory system and stimulate your body to start to sweat. These processes help flush the heavy metals out of your body faster than they would normally go out.
- Filtered Water — Filtering your drinking water helps to remove any excess lead or heavy metals that it may contain. You can buy filters that attach straight to your faucet and run the water through a series of filters before it gets to you.
- Glutathione — Glutathione is a peptide that is made up of three amino acids. Located within your cells, its main role is to help the cells contain and transport heavy metals through your bloodstream and out through your excretory system. It's especially effective against mercury.
- Diatomaceous Earth — Diatomaceous Earth is a great way to chelate because it binds to heavy metals and escorts them out through your urine.
- NAC — N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) is a form of a crystallised amino acid that can significantly increase your body's production of Glutathione. It also decreased oxidative stress; one study showed that it enhanced mercury excretion by 400% in mice.
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid — This antioxidant has the unique ability to quickly penetrate your cell's membranes and cross your blood-brain barrier to help chelate any heavy metal deposits that may be there. It works to protect your body against mercury, cadmium and arsenic toxicity.
- DMSA and DMPS — Dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA) and Dimercaptopropane sulfonate (DMPS) are pharmaceutical chelating agents that are water-soluble. Several studies showed that they are effective at prompting your body to excrete lead, mercury, and arsenic as well as cadmium.
Step 6: Detoxify Slowly and Not RapidlyYou want to start slowly and go through the heavy metal toxicity detoxification process. If you detox rapidly, your body most likely won't be able to keep up with the amount of heavy metals that are streaming through your body. If this happens, you could find that the heavy metals don't pass through your excretory system, and they end up redistributing themselves throughout your body in your cells and tissues. If you're detoxing from heavy metals and you start to feel worse, it's recommended that you reduce the amount of chelating agents you're taking because this will let your excretory system catch up and process all of the heavy metals without overloading it. It is recommended that you have your physician monitor you through this process. They'll be able to tell you if they think that you're going to fast and overloading your excretory system. They'll also be able to advise you on your chelating agent dosage and how to safely taper off or add more as you need it.
Step 7: Re-Test and Take Time to RecoverOnce you go through the entire heavy metal toxicity detoxification process, it's time to give your body a chance to recover and re-test your heavy metal levels. If this process worked and your heavy metal levels are within acceptable limits, it's time to concentrate on taking care of your body and eating a healthy diet to prevent heavy metal toxicity from happening again. If you re-test and find that your heavy metal levels are still too high, you want to look at your detox process and figure out what isn't working. You should give yourself time to recover and rest before you go through the detox process again. You may also want to consult your physician and make sure there are no underlying causes for heavy metal accumulation in your cells, organs and tissues. If there is, you want to treat it before you detox again, or you may not even have to detox again because your levels will go down on their own.
More Supplements to Help with Heavy Metal ChelationWe mentioned a few minerals and vitamins that can help with heavy metal chelation above, but there are more you can try if you're afraid that your current regimen isn't chelating the heavy metals that are present in your body.
- Modified Citrus Pectin — Pectin is simply plant fibre. Modified citrus pectin (MCP) is still a plant fibre, but scientists changed it slightly to make it more digestible. One promising study showed that taking 15 grams of MCP each day increased urinary excretion of cadmium by 150%, lead by 560% and arsenic by 130%.
- Vitamin C — Vitamin C plays a vital role in increasing your Glutathione levels by naturally recycling any used Glutathione in your blood and using it again. One study showed that Vitamin C also protects your lead excretion levels, and it also stops it from reabsorbing through your intestines.
- Selenium — Selenium is a nutrient that performs several functions when it comes to protecting from heavy metal toxicity. It increases your Glutathione levels, and one study showed that taking 100 micrograms each day increased mercury excretion, decreased oxidative stress damage and decreased inflammation markers.
- Zinc — Zinc is responsible for directly competing for binding agents on proteins against cadmium and lead. Adding zinc to your diet can decrease how much of these two heavy metals that your body absorbs.