Heavy metal toxicity is serious business. The symptoms are diverse and can be different from person to person.
In my previous article “Are Heavy Metals the Underlying Cause of your Anxiety and Depression?“, I discussed some of the more common symptoms, testing methods and my own experience with heavy metal testing.
Now I turn to the questions of how/where you got the heavy metal exposure in the first place and how to detox from heavy metals safely.
Let’s talk about four of the more common heavy metals: Mercury, Lead, Aluminum and Arsenic.
Where: In today’s world, mercury occurs primarily through the consumption of seafood, vaccines containing thimerosal, and dental amalgams (‘silver’ fillings).
Other sources can be from coal-burning factories, from our water from commercial fertilizer runoff, and from cosmetics, lotions and fragrances.
Potential Damage: Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that directly passes through the blood–brain barrier and accumulates in brain tissue and the spinal cord, disrupting neurological function, reports naturopath, Chris Kresser.
Dr. Amy Myers shares some of the symptoms that Mercury toxicity can cause:
- Brain fog
- Cardiovascular disease
- Chemical sensitivity
- Hair loss
- Hearing loss
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Sleep disturbance in children
- Unexplained numbness and tingling
In children, ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder can be symptoms of mercury toxicity.
Mercury overload is linked with Autoimmune diseases, thyroid dysfunction, and recurrent Candida.
Where: We can be exposed to lead through paint chips, dust, and water pipes in homes built prior to 1978, as well as dirt, drinking water, and air pollution.
Older sources of lead include leaded paint, leaded gasoline, painted dishes, old lead painted toys and even some modern toys from China, candy from Mexico, children’s jewelry and sometimes canned foods.
While many of these sources are no longer allowed to be manufactured, we may still be carrying around those toxins from years ago. Certainly older homes may still have lead-based paint buried underneath the layers.
Potential Damage: Lead poisoning particularly disturbs GABA balance, according to naturopath, Peter Smith.
GABA is a neurotransmitter that enables the brain to inhibit persistent thoughts going around and around (rumination).
When GABA becomes deficient it can contribute to anxiety.
Lead disturbs Dopamine as well. This neurotransmitter gives the brain energy, motivation and the capacity for pleasure.
When it becomes deficient you can get a low energy, demotivated depression.
Acute lead exposure impedes brain development and it can diminish cognition.
It can lead to Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Hyperactivity Disorders.
Lead produces toxic effects in our:
- digestive system
- cardiovascular system
- reproductive system
Where: Aluminum is used as an adjuvant in vaccines, as a food additive, and in metal cookware, beverage cans, antacids, and antiperspirants.
Dr. Mercola reports that aluminum is found in a large number of foods and consumer products, including:
- Foods such as baking powder, self rising flour, salt, baby formula, coffee creamers, baked goods and processed foods, coloring and caking agents
- Drugs, such as antacids, analgesics, anti-diarrheals, and others; additives such as magnesium stearate
- Vaccines—Hepatitis A and B, Hib, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis), pneumococcal vaccine, Gardasil (HPV), and others
- Cosmetics and personal care products such as antiperspirants, deodorants (including salt crystals, made of alum), lotions, sunscreens, and shampoos
- Aluminum products, including foil, cans, juice pouches, tins, and water bottles
Potential Dangers: Chris Kresser shares his research that aluminum exposure is correlated with Autism as well as adverse affects on the developing brain in children.
Scientists are clear that toxic metals damage brain tissue and lead to degenerative disease by producing oxidative stress—and aluminum is one of the worst offenders.
Aluminum impairs our body’s ability to excrete mercury by impeding glutathione production.
Glutathione is our most important intracellular detoxifier, required for reversing oxidative stress.
Where: Arsenic has become a common contaminant in soil and groundwater due to its prevalence as a byproduct of industrial manufacturing processes.
Arsenic is also present at high levels in conventionally raised poultry, which is fed arsenic-containing drugs, and in rice from India and areas outside of California.
A hot topic among wine producers is the level of arsenic in many popular wines.
Potential Dangers: Dr. Mercola shares these ill effects of arsenic exposure:
- Kidney damage and failure
- Low blood pressure
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Adverse liver and respiratory effects, including irritation of mucous membranes
- During development, increased incidence of preterm delivery, miscarriage, stillbirths, low birth weight, and infant mortality
- During childhood, decreased performance in tests of intelligence and long-term memory
- Skin lesions
Methods to Detox Heavy Metals Safely
Heavy metals are hard to remove from the body.
They are called ‘cumulative poisons’ because, in normal circumstances, they come out of the body more slowly than you absorb them from the environment.
The older you get the more you accumulate and the higher the levels in your system.
Eliminate the Source First:
First and foremost, the source of the toxicity must be removed from your environment. Here are my tips to get you started:
- Choose seafood with lower mercury content. Avoid farmed fish.
- Avoid using aluminum cookware. Choose ceramic or stainless steel.
- Have your ‘silver’ fillings removed by a biological dentist.
- Filter your drinking/bathing water (research which contaminants your filtration system removes).
- Choose household cleaning products, cosmetics, hair-care and skincare products with only natural ingredients (Make your own with these simple recipes).
- Read ingredient labels carefully! If you don’t recognize an ingredient, look it up or skip that product altogether.
- Choose thimerosal-free vaccines.
- Choose organic chicken. Conventionally raised chicken is high in arsenic.
- Limit intake of brown rice and white rice from India and areas outside of California. Rice from these regions tends to be high in arsenic.
- Avoid aluminum products such as juice pouches, aluminum foil, cans, and aluminum water bottles.
Dislodge and Bind Heavy Metals:
Our bodies are remarkable at shuttling away toxins that they can’t get rid of to keep the body going. But heavy metals still do their damage from within brain cells, fat cells, bones, or wherever they are stored.
Heavy metals displace essential minerals such as Zinc, Magnesium and Selenium. If you take large doses of Selenium, for example, it will dislodge Mercury.
However, once dislodged from the tissues these toxins tend to just circulate around in the blood and become re-deposited in some other part of the body. Even when they get as far as the liver and kidneys, they often just get stuck and poison these organs.
We have to bind or ‘chelate’ (pronounced key-late) the heavy metals so that they can safely be removed from our bodies through our waste system.
Two methods of chelation include using supplements or intravenous chelation.
A variety of supplements can support the detoxification process. Here are some recommended by Dr. Axe:
- Chlorella (1-4 grams per day, or about 4-8 caps daily) — Chlorella is a type of green algae that acts as a natural chelator to remove heavy metals, especially lead and mercury. It’s a great source of chlorophyll and is “hungry” to absorb other metals. You can take it in powder or tablet form.
- Vitamin C (3000 milligrams daily) — Acts as an antioxidant to help reduce free radicals.
- Cilantro (preferably taken as a tincture 2x per day)
- Shilajit (between 100-500 milligrams daily, typically in powder form) — Shilajit is an adaptogenic plant that has certain things in common with activated charcoal, especially that it contains a lot of carbon. It’s a natural chelator because it contains fulvic acid and humic acid that bind to toxic molecules.
- Milk Thistle (150 milligrams taken 2x daily, or milk thistle tea 1-3 times daily) — This is one of the most popular herbs for detoxifying the liver. Silybin is a component with the greatest degree of biological activity that has strong antioxidant properties. It may act as a toxin blockade agent by inhibiting binding of toxins to cell membrane receptors. Silymarin has been shown to reduce liver injury and is used to treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases.
- Activated charcoal— Activated charcoal is a treatment that works to eliminate metals and toxins via adsorption, or the chemical reaction where elements bind to a surface. Look for activated charcoal made from coconut shells or identified wood species that have ultra-fine grains. Follow directions based on the specific type you use. Whenever you take activated charcoal, it’s imperative to drink 12–16 glasses of water per day.
- Bentonite clay— Clays are used to absorb toxins because they act like a sponge or magnet for chemicals and metals inside the body. Most clays are meant for topical use only (they are not meant to be ingested). However, some high-quality, organic clays can be used internally, although you need to be very careful about doing this (contact the manufacturer to ask if it’s safe to consume the clay). If you do want to use clay internally, mix 1/2 teaspoon with water, shake to combine and take once daily.
Chris Kresser recommends supporting the Glutathione pathway.
The glutathione pathway is a crucial system in the body for detoxifying mercury and other heavy metals.
Glutathione, often referred to as the “master antioxidant,” binds to heavy metals and facilitates their removal from the body.
Oral and transdermal glutathione supplementation raises plasma glutathione levels, an effect that may facilitate heavy metal detoxification.
Personally, I took 1500 mg of liposomal glutathione daily during chelation therapy.
In addition to glutathione, Chris Kresser recommends:
- Probiotics–Research indicates that Lactobacillus rhamnosus and L. plantarum, commonly found in probiotic supplements and fermented foods, protect against heavy metal toxicity.
- Selenium. Selenium, an essential mineral serves as a cofactor for the enzyme glutathione peroxidase.
- Zinc. Another essential mineral, zinc, alleviates heavy metal toxicity by competing with heavy metals for binding sites on cells and enzymes.
- Iron. Iron competes with heavy metals for intestinal absorption, and iron sufficiency downregulates transporters that bring heavy metals into intestinal cells and the systemic circulation.
- Vitamin B. Replenishment of vitamin B6 may also alleviate heavy metal toxicity. B6 supplementation reduces the accumulation of lead in body tissues.
It is wise to start slow with small doses with any new supplements to monitor your reaction. These supplement recommendations are for adults only. Consult your healthcare practitioner before beginning any new supplement regimen.
Potential heavy metal detox symptoms you might temporarily experience while you’re cleansing include:
- Bloating and gas
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
- A skin rash
- Changes in appetite
- Low energy
- Metallic or sour taste in the mouth
Some people find that if they jump into a detox too “aggressively” and quickly, they wind up dealing with significant side effects/symptoms.
It’s advised that you detox slowly and gradually.
Chelation using supplements only is a slow and gradual process. It can take months to years to accomplish, but many consider this the safest route.
Retesting should occur along the way to track your progress.
Intravenous Chelation Therapy
IV Chelation therapy uses a chemical solution called EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), which is a type of man-made synthetic amino acid.
As an alternative, some practitioners use another substance in EDTA’s place called DMPS (2,3-Dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid), which works similarly.
EDTA or DMPS is administered into the body, typically directly into the bloodstream via injection, so it can bind with excess minerals.
EDTA chelation therapy helps to eliminate metals by binding salts to molecules. After EDTA attaches to heavy metals, together they both move to the kidneys where they are eliminated through urine.
Most people need between 5–30 chelation sessions to see the best results.
After my first 10 rounds of IV chelation with EDTA (and Glutathione), my lead levels went from a 26 down to 9.5, which was remarkable. As of this writing, I am waiting for my results from the second round of 10 infusions.
Cautions for IV Chelation Therapy
While it’s considered to be generally safe, side effects are possible.
These include burning at the injection site, vomiting, feeling dizzy, fever, headaches, nausea, muscle cramps, low blood sugar symptoms and blood pressure changes.
High levels of EDTA can cause electrolyte imbalances.
Chelation depletes essential minerals also. It removes the good “metals” as well as the bad, which poses the risk for deficiencies in essential minerals.
To make up for this, many practitioners give patients large doses of vitamins/minerals following chelation therapy so they avoid becoming very deficient.
It also has the potential to redistribute heavy metals within the body.
Frequent heavy metal testing during a chelation therapy program is highly recommended.
One thing to consider is that currently, chelation therapy isn’t covered by most insurance plans.
Mainstream doctors may not have facilities for IV chelation therapy, but any MD or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic medicine) can administer the infusions.
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Joli Tripp and Mind Blowing Wellness are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
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