The term heavy metal refers to any metallic chemical element that is poisonous or toxic at low concentrations and has a comparatively high density.
Examples of heavy metals include:
Heavy metals are natural components of the earth’s crust. They cannot be degraded or destroyed. And, to a lesser extent they enter our bodies through food, drinking water, and air. As trace elements, some heavy metals (such as copper, selenium, zinc) are essential for maintaining the metabolism of the human body. However, in high concentrations, they can cause poisoning. For example, contamination of drinking water (such as lead pipes), high concentrations of emission in the air, or their intake through food chains, can result in heavy metal toxicity.
Heavy metals can enter the water supply by consumer and industrial waste, or even from acidic rain breaking down soils and discharging heavy metals into groundwater, lakes, streams, and rivers.
Some sources of heavy metals include:
- soil erosion
- industrial waste
- fossil fuel emissions
- pesticides on crops
- smoking tobacco
Heavy metal poisoning
Naturally, the body contain some metals such as zinc, iron, and copper which are necessary for its regular functions, unless they are present in toxic amounts. When the soft tissues of the body absorb a specific metal too much, the heavy metal becomes toxic.
Heavy metals are dangerous because they bioaccumulate. Bioaccumulation means an increase in chemical concentration in biological organisms over time as compared to the environment. Compounds accumulate in living things whenever they are picked up and are stored much faster than broken down (metabolized) or excreted.
The most common metals that the human body can absorb in toxic amounts are:
You may be exposed to high levels of these metals from air, food, or water pollution, as well as food containers with improper coating, lead-based paint, or medicine.
Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning
Long-term exposure to metals can be poisonous, causing side effects varying from headaches to organ damage. The symptoms of heavy metal toxicity depend on the type of metal that’s accumulated the most. Mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium are some common ones.
Severe symptoms associated with these metals include:
- abdominal pain and cramping
- difficulty breathing
- tingling in your hands and feet
Bones of children exposed to heavy metals may become weak or form abnormally. Pregnant women can also face miscarriages.
In more severe cases of chronic heavy metal poisoning, you may experience symptoms that include:
- burning and tingling sensations
- chronic infections
- brain fog
- visual disturbances
Long-term exposure to heavy metals can cause symptoms during degenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, in some cases, long-term exposure to certain metals can cause cancer.
Causes of heavy metal poisoning
Heavy metals can enter your body in a variety of ways. For example, you can eat them in your food or absorb them through your skin. Keep in mind that heavy metal poisoning occurs with heavy or repeated exposure, usually over a long period. Here is a list of where some common heavy metals are found:
- Drinking contaminated water
- Contaminated seafood or algae food
- Working near hazardous waste sites
- Using pesticides or insecticides
- Living in an area with high levels of rock, water, and soil
- Inhaling cigarette smoke
- Welding on alloys containing cadmium or silver solders
- Working in an industrial environment, mainly where ore is processed or smelted
- Exposure to fires
- Living in a house with a high level of lead-based paint
- Smelter operations
- Industrial construction work
- Certain cosmetic and beauty products
- Use of contaminated fish
- Mining sites of refined gold and silver ores
- X-ray machines
- Use of contaminated water
Although anyone can get toxins from heavy metals; children are at a greater risk, especially from lead poisoning. This is because older homes sometimes have lead paint. For example, if a child touches a lead-painted wall before touching it with their mouth, they may be exposed. This can affect the development of their brain.
Some types of heavy metal poisoning can cause additional symptoms.
Mercury poisoning symptoms:
- lack of coordination
- muscle weakness
- hearing and speech difficulties
- nerve damage in your hands and face
- vision changes
- trouble walking
Lead poisoning symptoms:
- aggressive behavior
- sleep problems
- high blood pressure
- loss of appetite
- memory loss
- loss of developmental skills in children
Arsenic poisoning symptoms:
- nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- red or swollen skin
- spots on your skin, such as warts or lesions
- unusual heart rhythm
- muscle cramps
Cadmium poisoning symptoms:
- breathing problems
- muscle pain
Heavy metal detox
Excessive amounts of heavy metals can harm the human body. However, some medicine and foods helps with eliminating heavy metals from the body.
The purpose of a heavy metal detox is to remove heavy metals from the body. A substance that binds to heavy metals is known as a chelator, and the process that takes them out of the body is called chelation. Therefore, people can also refer to heavy metal detox as chelation therapy.
For people with heavy metal poisoning, a heavy metal detox may be necessary to avoid life-threatening complications. Conventional doctors may use certain medications, such as penicillamine or dimercaprol, to attach them to such metals and taken them out of the body.
For people with low but chronic exposure to heavy metals, a heavy metal detox can help with preventing various chronic conditions. For example, according to some research, heavy metal detoxing can help prevent kidney, cardiovascular and neurological conditions.
Some healthcare professionals recommend chelation therapy as an option to treat a variety of health conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism. Researches think that there is a link between high levels of heavy metals and these conditions. Chelation therapy can treat heavy metal poisoning under the attentive guidance of healthcare specialists. However, the use of chelating therapy for anything other than severe cases of heavy metal poisoning can be severe and even fatal.
Many sides effects cause by Chelation therapy, including:
- a drop in blood pressure
- permanent kidney damage
- a reduction in calcium levels, which can be fatal
Some foods can also help move heavy metals out of the body.
Foods for heavy metal exposure
A person may gradually reduce the level of heavy metals in their body by changing their diet. Some foods, such as spirulina and cilantro, can help carry heavy metals out of the body.
Heavy metal detox foods include:
- wild blueberries
- lemon water
- barley grass juice powder
- Atlantic dulse
- green tea
Make sure to not over-eat such foods either; because as they are detoxing the heavy metals out of your body, they can have a powerful effect and you may experience side effects.
Also note that if trying to do an intense heavy metal detox with natural food sources such as cilantro, it’s also best if you take charcoal capsules with it. This way, as the cilantro attaches to the heavy metal, charcoal will help with removing them out of the body.
If not going through an intense detox, you can always take some cilantro leaves daily or green tea daily to help the process of gently eliminating these substances out of your body.