Understanding Heavy Metal Toxicity and Chelation Therapy
Metals are a natural part of our world. They’re used in a myriad of industries. They’re part of our daily use of products, our home and our surroundings. Our bodies innately carry non-toxic amounts of metals, including zinc and iron, which we need to function. However, when we’re exposed to too much metal, it may become concerning to our health.
The Impact of Heavy Metal Exposure
When your soft tissues absorb too much of a certain metal, you may experience heavy metal poisoning (or heavy metal toxicity). Arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury are metals that are commonly dangerous to humans at excessive levels.
Toxic heavy metal exposure is either acute or chronic. Acute poisoning occurs from a single exposure to heavy metals (i.e. chewing on something that contains lead). Chronic toxicity may happen when heavy metals accumulate in the body over time, which may lead to chronic diseases. Severe chronic toxicity may lead to degenerative diseases and damage the central nervous system, the lungs, kidneys, liver, endocrine glands, bones, the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal systems.
Symptoms may change depending on the type and amount of metal consumed, but the following symptoms may indicate heavy metal toxicity:
- Unexplained fatigue
- Nervousness, low mood
- Memory loss
- Brain fog
- Chronic pain
- Muscle, nerve or joint pain
- Twitches and tingling sensations
- Tasting metal in your mouth
- Dark under-eye circles
- Sensitivity to odors related to chemicals, tobacco, fragrances, cologne, and paint.
How Are We Exposed to Heavy Metals?
The answer is from air or water pollution, coated food containers, drinking water, food sources, industrial surroundings and second-hand cigarette smoke.
You’re also at risk of heavy metal poisoning when your occupation involves the use of heavy metals; when you inhale lead paint; eat fish from a mercury-laden area; or utilize herbal remedies that contain heavy metals.
Heavy Metal Testing: Benefits and Process
There are many benefits to being tested for heavy metal exposure. Testing allows you to choose the appropriate treatment for eliminating heavy metals; this may further allow you to reduce toxic burdens that may impair body functions. Heavy metal testing may also help you recognize how to avoid your exposure to toxic elements and re-establish your peak well-being.
Health care providers are able to conduct a toxic elements panel, which is a urine test. Depending on your test results, additional tests may be recommended. Your urine test can indicate how much metal your body currently holds. This urine test compares your urine prior to and after consuming a chelating agent. Overall, testing helps diagnose heavy metal toxicity, which will help your doctor determine an appropriate treatment for restoring your health. (To see a sample report for heavy metal testing, click here.)
How is Heavy Metal Toxicity Treated?
For patients with minor poisoning, sometimes refraining from the metals exposure may suffice. Depending on what’s triggering the toxicity, you may need to modify the tasks in your job and/or your lifestyle choices.
For those with critical heavy metal toxicities, a health care provider may recommend a standard treatment known as chelation therapy. Chelation therapy eliminates heavy metals, such as mercury, lead or cadmium, from your blood. Here’s how it works: A chelating agent will be prescribed to you. This agent will attach to the metals found in your blood, forming a compound that your kidneys will eliminate via urine. Your health care provider will discuss the types of chelating agent to use in your personal case; common chelators include EDTA, dimercaprol or dimpercapotsuccinic acid.
When left untreated, heavy metal toxicity can cause other issues to our health in the future, such as kidney problems, allergies and nutritional mineral shortages. This is why treating heavy metal poisoning may be essential for improving health. Plus, it’s critical to work closely with a health care practitioner to ensure that you’re following an effective treatment plan.
Addressing Your Concerns with Toxic Metals
We can’t always avoid contact with toxic heavy metals. But we can reduce our risks for toxicity through proactive choices:
- Limit your consumption of certain fish. According to the Government of Canada, “…predatory fish that eat lots of other fish for food tend to contain higher levels of mercury. These include fresh/frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy and escolar.” You may continue to eat these, however, limit your intake. (Click here to read the Government of Canada’s recommended consumption per week.)
- Take action around your home. Although Canadians have slashed their exposure to lead levels, Health Canada says, “the metal can still be found in the world around us. Lead is usually found in drinking water after leaching from distribution and plumbing system parts.” Replace any brass faucets and valves as they may hold lead. Install a water filter on your taps. If you have an older home, ask your municipality about replacing lead service lines. Lead in older homes is a concern; because lead was formerly used as materials in piping, lead was also used in solder. For more on Health Canada’s guidelines to reducing lead exposure at home, click here. Also, if your house was built prior to 1978, consider testing it for lead as the paint may contain high levels of the metal.
- Be diligent when you purchase supplements and spices. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “A North Carolina study of lead content in spices, herbal remedies, and ceremonial powders in homes of children with elevated blood lead levels found that 28.8% of samples contained ≥1 mg/kg lead, suggesting contaminated products might represent an important source of childhood lead exposure.” With that, make sure you purchase dietary supplements and spices from trusted high-quality sources. Read the labels for heavy metals. Call the manufacturers if you have questions about their use of metals.
If you think heavy metals are affecting your life, visit a health care practitioner to discuss your health and the possible benefits and side effects of chelation therapy. At the Toronto Functional Medicine Centre, we offer a fully integrative and functional medicine program for heavy metal detoxification. To learn more from our health team, please schedule your appointment here.
“Drinking water: what about lead?” by Government of Canada, posted on October 25, 2018, viewed on November 19, 2019.
“Health Canada Sets New Guideline for Lead in Drinking Water” by Health Canada, posted on March 8, 2019, viewed on November 19, 2019.
“Lead in Spices, Herbal Remedies, and Ceremonial Powders Sampled from Home Investigations for Children with Elevated Blood Lead Levels — North Carolina, 2011–2018”, posted November 19, 2018, viewed on November 19, 2019.
“Mercury in fish” by Government of Canada, posted on February 2, 2017, viewed on November 19, 2019.
“What is Heavy Metal Poisoning?” by WebMD, posted on January 9, 2018, viewed on November 19, 2019.