By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that can be found throughout the environment. Given their prevalence in the foods that we eat and even the air we breathe, we are exposed to high levels of heavy metals every day.
Certain metals– including zinc, copper, and iron—are beneficial for your health in small doses. However, overexposure to other heavy metals poses serious health risks. Cadmium, arsenic, chromium, lead, and mercury are some of the most toxic. Heavy metal poisoning has become a growing health concern as human activity has increased their presence in our environment.
A doctor or Nurse Practitioner can test your level of exposure to harmful heavy metals in your blood, urine, and hair. If toxicity is high, you may be experiencing symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain
- General feeling of weakness
In more severe and chronic cases of heavy metal poisoning, symptoms may include:
- Burning and tingling sensations
- Brain fog
- Chronic infections
The toxicity of heavy metals can have serious effects on the brain, liver, and lungs. Long term exposure is even associated with cancer.
Although heavy metal exposure poses a risk to everyone, it is a special concern for pregnant and breastfeeding women. This is due to the fact that toxins can be passed to the child through the placenta and breast milk.
While they can hardly be escaped in everyday life, there are certain sources of heavy metals you can deliberately avoid and cut back on to prevent overexposure.
Certain types of fish tend to contain high levels of the heavy metal mercury, which can be harmful in large amounts. The FDA has guidelines for avoiding mercury when eating fish– those with the highest levels are typically larger fish including:
- King mackerel
- Orange roughly
Fish (and seafood) with the least amount of mercury include wild caught salmon, trout, herring, haddock, sole, shrimp and shellfish such as oysters, scallops and mussels.
Cigarettes and e-cigarettes both contain high levels of cadmium, a heavy metal linked with increased cancer risk, among many other harmful ingredients. Avoid smoking to avoid this toxic element, among others.
You’ve heard it before – organic is best. But some foods even more so to avoid heavy metals. Rice tends to contain high levels of the heavy metal arsenic. This is due to its absorbent property—rice absorbs arsenic from pesticide-ridden soil, irrigation water, and even the water that you cook it in.
Buying organic rice can prevent overexposure to the heavy metal. Be sure to always rinse your rice well (until the water runs clear) before cooking it.
Bone broth is a popular health food for lowering inflammation and promoting gastrointestinal health. However, when animals are exposed to heavy metals, they can store it within their bone materials.
Choose organic bone broth from grass fed cows and pasture raised chickens.
There are numerous heavy metals—including lead, cadmium, and aluminum—which are often present in makeup and skin products. Many deodorants and antiperspirants also contain aluminum salts, which clog the pores and can enter the body through injured skin (after shaving). Exposure to aluminum can contribute to serious diseases such as breast cancer.
Find an aluminum-free deodorant to reduce this risk and seek out organic cosmetics.
Due to environmental contamination, heavy metals tend to build up in groundwater and then enter the human body in large amounts. Water pipes also are frequently made with lead or copper, two metals which can be harmful to health. Investing in a water filtration system can help reduce absorption of these heavy metals into your body.
Heat can increase the chance of toxins leaching into food, making cookware an important place to start when trying to limit heavy metal and toxin exposure. Research shows the safest cookware is that made of ceramic, glass, cast iron, or stainless steel, especially higher qualities without contaminated glazing.
Far infrared saunas have become an increasingly mainstream addition to any heavy metal detox protocol. Research shows that sweat produced by an infrared sauna is only 80 to 85% water, with the remainder made up of harmful substances like cholesterol, sulfuric acid, ammonia, and heavy metals. Infrared saunas produce a heat that penetrates more deeply into tissue than a traditional sauna, helping to mobilize and excrete the mercury and other toxins stored in fat.
If you find upon medical testing that your exposure to heavy metals has reached harmful levels, there are medical treatments available. It can take time to safely detox heavy metals from the body, but it is possible.
Medications can be delivered intravenously to remove toxins. These medications bind to the metal, a process called chelation. Note that chelation therapy should only be used in serious cases of heavy metal toxin build up, and under the close supervision of an experienced medical professional.
There are, however, alternative and more gradual ways to detox heavy metals from the body. One way is consuming certain foods which electrically attract metal and will help move it out. These foods include:
- Lemon water
- Green tea
- Dietary fiber
Another option is taking supplements. For instance, selenium helps detox mercury, and Alpha-lipoic acid can renew antioxidants and detox metals.
Furthermore, vitamin B, B-6, and C deficiencies can lead to poor tolerance of heavy metals and easier toxicity, so it may be worth supplementing with these vitamins if you find that you are deficient. As always, take care to consult with a healthcare professional before adding any supplements or detoxification substances to your diet.
Exposure to high levels of heavy metals can cause serious health concerns. And while human activity has increased their prevalence in our environment, there are certain steps you can take to avoid overexposure to these harmful substances.
Heavy metal exposure can feel frightening, but there are plenty of steps to minimize its impact. A healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and plenty of sleep can help. If you have any questions about heavy metal exposure, reach out to us.
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