Symptoms of Heavy Metal Toxicity

Symptoms of Heavy Metal Toxicity

Symptoms of Heavy Metal Toxicity

Heavy metal exposure may be the sneaky cause of disease you've never heard of – and even if you've heard about it, you may have never suspected it could be a condition that applies to you! Metals like lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic often come from things we use or consume every day, like contaminated water, air pollution, or certain foods.

One reason they go unnoticed is that heavy metals tend to build up over time and may not show immediate symptoms. Another reason is that the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity can look and feel like a lot of other common diseases. Because of these two factors, heavy metal toxicity can remain a hidden cause of health problems. Therefore it's important to know the common exposure risks and symptoms – especially if you have health conditions that have been difficult to resolve through other treatments.

Some of the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity to watch out for include:

  • Abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements
  • Chronic lower back pain not resolved by stretching or spinal care
  • Headaches, brain fog, and memory loss
  • Heart arrhythmia or unexplained episodes of heart pounding
  • Skin rashes, skin sensitivity and trouble healing minor cuts and scrapes
  • Chronic low grade sore throat and lungs
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Numbness and prickly feelings, especially in your limbs
  • Trouble conceiving or unexplained miscarriages
  • Trouble regulating your body temperature
How do you get heavy metals in your body

How do you get heavy metals in your body?

It wasn't until the mid-twentieth century that the dangers of heavy metals really became clear. Before then, people simply did not connect the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity with their usage, such as with the famous 'Mad Hatter' from Alice in Wonderland.

In Victorian times, hat makers used to rub mercury on the outside of the tall felt hats that were fashionable at the time, not knowing it was slowly leading to their own madness caused by mercury poisoning.

Lead, arsenic, cadmium and aluminum were common components of cosmetics and bath products, and until recent decades lead in particular was a common additive in pewter, glass, ceramic glazes, and the paints used on house interiors, furniture & toys.

Unfortunately we cannot claim heavy metal exposure is an artifact from the past; not only are we still living with the legacy of a century or more of using heavy metals for common industrial and household purposes, but these metals continue to be used in ways that impact us today.

Even if we are personally careful not to purchase or use household products that contain heavy metals, we can still be exposed to them because they are often released into the air and water through mining and industrial activities, pesticide usage, and vehicle emissions. These heavy metals can then enter the food chain, and build up in our bodies over time.

What are the effects of heavy metals in the body?

Heavy metals can cause a surprising range of symptoms, some of them noticeable and others hidden – potentially damaging every organ system in the body.

Let's start from the top: heavy metals are known to cause a variety of neurological concerns from headaches to dizziness, confusion, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, irritability and mood swings – and yes, Lewis Carroll fans, they can even cause symptoms of mental illness.

Heavy metals have also been known to cause cardiovascular concerns, from high blood pressure to coronary artery disease and strokes.

Effects of Heavy Metals in the Body

Our excretory organs are particularly hard hit, as the body understandably wants to send heavy metals to these organs in an attempt to remove them from the body.

Heavy metal exposure may contribute to inflammation in the lungs via increased oxidative stress, resulting in tissue destruction and trouble breathing. The impact of heavy metals on lung tissue is not only caused by exposure to inhaled metals (such as lead particles you might breathe in while sanding down walls or furniture covered in a lead based paint). Our lungs can also be affected by other exposure pathways. Any substance that gets into your blood will also touch your lung tissue, as the body is constantly circulating blood through the lungs to get oxygenated, then carrying that oxygenated blood back through the body. Thus our lungs can also be affected by heavy metal exposure through what we eat, drink, or touch.

Like our lungs, our kidneys are always receiving a constant flow of blood. Our kidneys filter out substances from the blood which then get excreted through our urine. But in the case of heavy metals, our bodies are not equipped to move these particles as easily as we move metabolic waste. Often the heavy metals stay behind in the kidneys where they can accumulate over time and compromise overall kidney performance, eventually creating a traffic jam of toxins that will lead to spillover effects on the blood and other organs.

We don't usually think of our skin as an excretory organ, but in fact it is: the body filters out toxins which leave through our sweat glands and pores. Heavy metals are no exception to this, and in fact our bodies may be more adept at removing metals through sweat than through urine. In the case of deliberately working up a sweat through exercise or visiting the sauna, those toxins will quickly be washed away in the shower or bath that follows. But what happens when we're not deliberately provoking a detox, just slowly excreting heavy metals through the low levels of sweat and sebum our skin exudes throughout a normal day?

All metals have a degree of antimicrobial properties, which sounds like it would be a good thing. In fact it can be good in the right context - this is why doctors use stainless steel for surgery tools, why we use brass doorknobs, and why we use metal sinks and counters in restaurant kitchens. But when we excrete heavy metals through our sebum and sweat, there comes a time when 'antimicrobial' is not a helpful feature.

Heavy metals can not only clog pores and cause rashes due to contact dermatitis, but when we have metal particles on our skin left behind by evaporated sweat, the metals disrupt the balance of microorganisms in the beneficial biofilm that lives on our skin. This biofilm, when healthy, forms a protective barrier over our skin and serves as a first line of defense for our immune systems, so it's definitely not something we want to be throwing out of balance!

Heavy metal toxicity and digestion

Heavy metal toxicity and digestion

You know we're always interested in bringing the science back home to our livers, bile, and digestion – and heavy metal toxicity is no exception.

Just as with the disruption to our skin's biofilm, the antimicrobial properties of heavy metals can wreak havoc on our gut microbiota. Healthy intestinal flora provide keystone support to multiple systems in the body. Conversely, when our gut flora are compromised by heavy metal exposure, it sets off a cascade of self-reinforcing problems that include higher gut permeability, increased inflammation, reduced nutrient absorption, altered metabolism, weakened immune response, and neurotransmitter deficiencies which affect cognition and mood.

Heavy metals also have a multitude of negative effects on the liver. Let's look at three of the most well-researched conditions.

Firstly, one of the liver's primary functions is to filter and remove unwanted substances and just as with the kidneys, heavy metal particles are often, well, too heavy for the liver to contend with. The liver simply cannot push them out as efficiently as with organic compounds. Heavy metals get backed up in the liver, stressing and weakening tissues and clogging bile pathways. Heavy metals alter the bile, making it thicker and more likely to fill with sludge.

In fact, the accumulation of heavy metals in the biliary system is a common cause of gallstone formation!

Secondly, heavy metal toxicity is directly connected to the development of obesity, reduced insulin sensitivity and metabolic syndrome, which in turn manifests in the liver as the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and metabolic-dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD). These two similar diagnoses are characterized by the buildup of fatty tissue in the liver, which compromises the organ's ability to perform its bile producing and detoxing functions.

Lastly, heavy metal toxicity is responsible for triggering autoimmune liver disease. What happens is that the body recognizes the excess heavy metals as a foreign invader, and tries to eliminate the problem and protect itself by launching an immune response to 'kill' the invader.

Of course the heavy metal particles are inert molecules, not living pathogens, but the body doesn't know that. It just starts running the program of, "When I see this unwanted substance, I attack it!" and since the liver is the most likely location for the body to find heavy metals, unfortunately for the liver it becomes the battlefield for the body's misguided immune attack.

How to avoid (or reverse!) heavy metal buildup

With all these nasty consequences of heavy metal toxicity, your first thought it probably, "How can I get rid of heavy metals before they make me sick?"

Honestly, the best cure for a problem is to avoid it in the first place. We can avoid heavy metal buildup first by avoiding exposure through the means within our control: by taking care to eat organically whenever possible, by drinking pure or filtered water, by avoiding smoking and vaping or secondhand smoke exposure, and by removing any sources of household exposure such as 'retro' bakeware, kitchenware, toys, cosmetics and painted furniture. If you live in a house built before 1978, be aware that the older layers of paint on your walls may have lead.

However, there are many systemic sources of heavy metal exposure that we might not be able to do anything about. For example, the lead pipes in your house can be replaced (expensive, but theoretically possible), but you probably can't change your entire city's water treatment facilities. Automobile exhaust, exposure from contaminated groundwater and rain water, nearby factories and local industrial activities, and the burning of fossil fuels all contribute to heavy metal ingestion by means we cannot directly control.

For this reason, avoiding buildup by eating the kinds of foods that support your body's efforts to remove heavy metals is your best course of action.

heavy metal detoxing foods

Heavy metal detoxing foods you'll want to add into your diet:

  • Wild blueberries
  • Green apples and pears
  • Grapes and pomegranates
  • Chlorella and spirulina
  • Seaweeds such as dulse and kelp
  • Birch chaga and winecap mushrooms
  • Lemons and lemon water
  • Green tea
  • Raw honey
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh garlic
  • Hemp hearts and chia seeds
  • Flax seeds and cold-pressed flax oil
  • Beetroots and carrots
  • Beet greens and dandelion greens
  • Cucumber and celery
  • In fact, all the green veggies you can eat!

You're probably noticing there's substantial overlap between a "gallbladder healthy diet" and a "heavy metal detox promoting diet" – and that's no coincidence. Any foods that promote optimal liver function and healthy bile are naturally going to contribute to your liver's ability to detox itself by transporting heavy metals out of your body.

You should also expect that the reverse is true: eating an abundance of foods that provoke poor liver and gallbladder health – processed foods, sugars, starches, and heavy fats – will also impede your body's efforts to remove heavy metals.

Heavy metal detox side effects

Aggressive detox programs have become increasingly popular as health consciousness continues to rise. But when it comes to heavy metal detox protocols, this is an area where "more" (i.e. more detoxing) is definitely not more. You need to be extremely careful not to do more harm to yourself than good.

Although you certainly don't want to leave heavy metals accumulating in your tissues and causing long term damage, it can be even worse for your health to start dislodging those heavy metals faster than your body can eliminate them – which, as we've already discussed, can present a serious challenge for your kidneys and liver, especially if they are not already functioning at optimum health.

An uncontrolled, rapid heavy metal detox can provoke many of the side effects that you'd expect to see in a scenario of toxic exposure: severe headaches, diarrhea and acute abdominal pain, the start or escalation of neurological and autoimmune conditions, just to name a few possibilities. In short, rapid heavy metal detoxing can make you very, very sick.

The heavy metal detox process we recommend

Just as heavy metal toxicity is a problem that builds up over time, we also need to take the long term view when removing these toxins from your body. Start by shifting into healthier eating patterns based on a gallbladder friendly diet. Next, make it your goal to stay hydrated with fresh water, lemon water, flax tea and green tea. Then add gentle movement into your daily routine. Go for a leisurely walk in the late afternoon and focus on taking long, slow, deep breaths. These activities will open up the detox pathways and support your body in its natural ability to heal and thrive.

You cannot supplement your way out of a health problem if you're not also willing to make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes. That said, once you've locked in the foundations of good health as described above, we have a handful of supplements that will do wonders to support your body's heavy metal detoxing process.

The first product we recommend for heavy metal detoxing is PectaSol

PectaSol is a modified citrus pectin powder derived from the pith of lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges. There is no fruit juice in this product, only the white fluffy fiber from the inside of the citrus peel. This pectin is modified into a very fine powder – the particles are so small that they can make their way through the walls of the intestine and into the blood stream, where the pectin binds to heavy metals and renders them harmless. Think of it like capturing heavy metal molecules and wrapping them up in bubble wrap, so they cannot damage your organs on the way out the door! It sounds almost cartoonishly "too good to be true" and I might doubt it myself, except that PectaSol has been proven effective in more than 80 peer reviewed scientific studies (you'll find some of them linked below).

The next supplement we recommend for heavy metal detoxing is fermented beetroot

Beets are doing triple detox duty here. Firstly, as we know, beets are excellent at thinning the bile and stimulating bile flow, which is going to support the liver in removing any toxins (heavy metals included). Secondly, beets are high in alpha-lipoic acid, which has been proven to cross the blood-brain barrier and assist with removing toxic heavy metals from the brain. Incidentally, cruciferous veggies are also high in alpha-lipoic acid, but anyone with a gallbladder concern is going to want to be extremely cautious with cruciferous veggies to avoid triggering an attack, so you might want to sidestep that broccoli and lean into the beets instead! Thirdly, the fermented beets we recommend are high in natural nitrates, which means they will support healthy blood vessels, circulation and blood oxygenation, which not only promotes your detox efforts but also helps to counteract the negative symptoms of heavy metal buildup.

Lastly, supplementing with glutathione is your heavy metal detox coup de grâce

Glutathione deserves all our love and gratitude for the way that it scavenges through the body sucking up free radicals, repairing oxidative damage, and making toxins water-soluble so they can be easily flushed from the body. In case all that wasn't enough, recent research is revealing that glutathione can play a crucial role in removing heavy metals, too. Without diving too far down the chemistry rabbit hole, let's just say the reason it's so effective is because the molecule 'donates' its electrons to metals very easily. This means the heavy metal particles get trapped in a smothering romance with sticky glutathione, and once they're paired up they just can't break free of each other. As with modified citrus pectin, glutathione behaves like molecular bubble wrap while escorting heavy metals to the door.

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Autoimmunity and Heavy Metal Toxicity