What’s with heavy metals?
As we began discussing the topic of this month’s blog, our minds went to Valentine’s Day and then, of course, chocolate! While most people revere chocolate as an unhealthy temptation, chocolate can actually be good for you. It contains antioxidants–namely flavonols and polyphenols–that are linked to better heart, brain, and overall health.
So naturally we were a little disheartened (pun intended) to learn that some common brands of chocolate were found to be contaminated with heavy metals, specifically lead and cadmium.
Chocolate lovers–do not despair! We have a list of chocolates at the end of this article that have received the blessing of Cindi, our functional nutritionist. In the meantime, read on for a little more information on heavy metals.
What’s with heavy metals?
In the U.S., we continue to face growing exposure to environmental toxins and heavy metals that can negatively impact our health. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has noted that the general population is exposed to toxic metals, with lead being the most prevalent, followed by mercury. These metals are in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink.
Ongoing exposure to these heavy metals, including lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, can build up in our systems over time and contribute to various symptoms and health conditions.
What are heavy metals?
Heavy metals are elements naturally occurring throughout the earth’s crust. Although some heavy metals, such as copper, iron, and zinc, are essential nutrients needed for cellular function in humans and other animals, excessive amounts can cause cellular and tissue damage, leading to adverse effects and diseases. Other heavy metals, including aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, are considered non-essential.
Symptoms of Heavy Metal Toxicity
The symptoms of heavy metal toxicity can vary depending on the specific metal involved, as well as the duration and level of exposure. Acute heavy metal poisoning is a medical emergency; if you have a known exposure to a heavy metal (often through work) and are symptomatic, it is important to seek medical attention. Acute symptoms of heavy metal exposure may include chills, diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, numbness in hands or feet, and weakness.
Toxic metals can also cause harm to the body through long-term exposure and accumulation. This accumulation generates reactive oxygen species (ROS) and causes a depletion of glutathione (an important antioxidant), which overwhelms the body’s antioxidant defense systems and can lead to DNA damage as well as inflammation.
Cumulative heavy metal toxicity can lead to various symptoms and health problems Some of these include:
- Alzheimer’s disease has been associated with exposure to mercury and aluminum.
- Parkinson’s disease has been linked to exposure to metals such as mercury, lead, manganese, copper, iron, aluminum, bismuth, thallium, and zinc.
- A chronic fight-or-flight state that leads to a poor stress response
- Cadmium and chromium have been linked to early pregnancy loss.
- Heart attacks.
- Chronic fatigue.
- Autoimmune diseases and allergies.
- Brain fog.
- Depression and anxiety.
- Digestive issues can result from heavy metals impacting the balance of the gut microbiome.
It is important to note that symptoms of heavy metal toxicity can be nonspecific and may overlap with other health conditions. Work with your Vytal Health physician to understand whether heavy metal toxicity may be contributing to your health or symptoms. Testing for heavy metals is most commonly done with urine.
I have heavy metal toxicity. Now what?
The most important first step in solving heavy metal toxicity is looking for possible sources of exposure. For example, over-consumption of certain seafood can raise mercury levels. Even seemingly healthy vegetables like broccoli and spinach can contain high levels of cadmium. Cooking with aluminum-containing cookware can raise aluminum levels. Working with your clinician to identify where heavy metals might be entering your system is an important first step.
Certain nutrients are helpful for decreasing heavy metals in the body. A whole food, plant-rich diet high in micronutrients protects against the effects of heavy metals and serves as a solid nutritional foundation for healing. Including ample leafy greens (which aid arsenic metabolism) and colorful fruits and vegetables, abundant in antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, carotenoids, and flavonoids, help shield tissues from the damaging effects of toxic metals and may assist in chelating metal ions. A whole food, plant-rich diet naturally includes high-fiber foods, but incorporating soluble fibers, chia seeds, or flax seeds can provide additional benefits in heavy metal detoxification. Protein intake should also be considered due to the increased amino acid requirements by adding clean, organic animal-based or vegetarian proteins.
What about chelation?
Chelation is the process of using a supplement or medication to remove heavy metals from the body. It is used for acute poisoning, but can also be used to decrease the overall burden of heavy metals from chronic exposure. Chelation can be a difficult process and often needs to be done with a specialist who performs chelation (either via IV or orally). However, there are certain supplements that can definitely help with a gentler, more natural approach to chelation (not to be used in acute poisonings, however). These include:
- Glutathione: an antioxidant that can reduce the impact of reactive oxygen species (ROS) formed as a byproduct of heavy metals in the body.
- Chlorella: a type of algae, sometimes called seaweed, grown in controlled conditions and produces substances that bind toxic heavy metals.
- Probiotics: such as Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus, can help eliminate heavy metals like aluminum, cadmium, lead, and arsenic from the body. Probiotics have been shown to bind to these metals and get eliminated through bowel movements.
- Tulsi: an Ayurvedic herb, acts as an antioxidant and protects cells from damage caused by heavy metals. It can be consumed daily as a tea or in capsule form.
- Modified Citrus Pectin (MCP): a safe and effective chelating agent for heavy metals, particularly in children with chronic environmental exposure.
And the chocolate? Here are the brands that our nutritionist recommends. Indulge and enjoy.