Heavy Metal Toxicity
Lead and mercury poisoning are well‐described medical entities. In children, high lead levels can lower IQ, cognition and development. High lead levels have also been associated with antisocial behavior, attention‐ deficit disorder (ADD) and attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Mercury poisoning can cause mental disturbances and have neurological effects.
Some researchers contend that low levels of these heavy metals, below the levels that are defined as ʺmetal poisoning,ʺ can cause chronic and long‐term health problems. Compared with lead levels in people during the Middle Ages the levels of lead found in people living in America today are 500 times greater.
Low levels of heavy metals may lead to depression, anxiety, fatigue, digestive problems (including yeast overgrowth), joint pain, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and a multitude of other symptoms. The metals create oxidative stress, decrease absorption of nutrients, replace calcium in bone, burden the liver and kidneys, interfere with normal detoxification and even affect the immune system.
Where Do We Get Heavy Metal Toxicity?
- Lead was used in gasoline until the 1970s and is still found in diesel fumes.
- Lead was also present in paint prior to the 1970s. Living in a house built before 1970 can be a source of
contamination, especially near wood windows. Opening and closing the painted wooden windows
produce lead dust.
- Rehabilitating old houses is a major source of lead toxicity. Many clients have chronic symptoms that
began with a rehabilitation project.
- Certain occupations like working in factories where batteries are produced, working with solder,
working near diesel fumes, etc., are associated with lead poisoning.
- Some older homes have lead pipes and lead is also found in the tap water.
- Because it was prevalent in the air pollution prior to 1970, lead is concentrated in the soil in some areas.
It has turned up in produce.
- Some hair dyes and eye makeup contain lead.
- Some ceramic dyes contain lead and food served on a cracked or chipped ceramic plate colored with
lead dye may contain lead.
- Some calcium supplements are contaminated with lead, especially those derived from limestone
- Dental amalgams are a major source of mercury in the body. This is a controversial subject, but the controversy does not center on whether or not the mercury is absorbed, but how much mercury contributes to health problems.
- Mercury is found in tuna and other seafood.
- Shark cartilage supplements are a source of mercury.
- Cigarette smoke is a major source of cadmium.
- Workers in certain industries like battery production are exposed to cadmium.
Finding Heavy Metal Toxicity
Blood Tests: Children are routinely screened for lead with blood tests. This is a good practice because children are the ones who are most adversely affected by lead toxicity. Developing nervous systems are susceptible to lead. Lead decreases IQ, is linked to disruptive behavior, ADD and ADHD. It has been argued that blood tests for heavy metals are not entirely effective. The body tends to store heavy metals in the soft tissue and blood tests are only good to demonstrate recent exposure or when very high levels of the heavy metal are present.
Hair Analysis: Hair analysis is useful for finding heavy metals. Very often the presence of heavy metal in hair reflects the soft tissue burden. Hair analysis is not the most accurate way to measure heavy metal toxicity, but itʹs a good screening tool. It is hard to know how much metal is present based on a hair analysis, but if metals are found in the hair, they are present in the body. Sometimes people have heavy metal toxicity, but the metal doesnʹt show in the hair analysis. These are usually the sickest people; they have very poor ability to detoxify themselves from the metal. Hair analysis has received some bad publicity lately because some nutritionists use hair to determine nutritional status—it is a very poor tool for that.
Chelation Challenge: This is a very accurate way to find heavy metals in the body. You take a chelating agent (a drug that binds to heavy metal) and measure the amount of heavy metal found in the urine over the next 24 hours. Unlike a blood test, this method will find metal that is stored in the body. Unlike hair analysis, a chelation challenge gives an idea of how much of the metal is present.