Most people hear the term “heavy metal” and think of the music a 19-year-old boy prefers. But in fact, there are 35 metals that cause concern, nutritionally, and 23 of these elements are the “heavy” metals, meaning they have at least five times the gravity of water.
Some of them, in small amounts, are an essential component of good nutritional health. Those metals called “the trace elements” – iron, copper, manganese, and zinc – naturally occur in our vegetables and fruit, and are always included in common multivitamins.
Zinc is widely marketed as a way to reduce the severity of a head cold, and you’ll find it in many a popular lozenge.
Here’s the weird part of the story though: while a few are beneficial in small quantities, many can do irreparable harm in large quantity.
Toxic doses of heavy metals can result in damage to one’s mental capacity, organs and nervous system.
Prolonged exposure to large amounts creates an even worse scenario: that of severe debilitation.
We’ve all heard the jokes about arsenic poisoning, but it’s no laughing matter if it gets into your system. We know that uranium kills, and we’re glued to shows like “24″ when uranium rods for nuclear reactors go missing.
Another well-known danger is mercury. Word is finally getting around about the danger of mercury fillings in our teeth, as well as that of mercury in fish; I’ve written a column on that very topic earlier this year (see my blog to read it).
In children, ingestion is the most common cause of toxicity; in adults, the culprit is environmental exposure. Toxicity occurs when the body doesn’t metabolize the heavy metal; instead, it builds up in soft tissues. Food, water and even air (fumes) can all be delivery vehicles.
The skin is another critical way these dangers can enter the body, and the manufacturing, agriculture, and pharmaceutical industries present more risk than others. But toxic heavy metals can be present in industrial and residential settings.
Testing for heavy metal toxicity starts with hair analysis. Once toxicity is established, a regimen of chelation therapy is begun, via drugs or intravenously. A high-fat diet during this time will facilitate the excretion of heavy metals. Symptoms will improve quite soon, but treatment can last up to two years.
Beware of detoxing with algae supplements like spirulina and chlorella, however; they work by absorbing heavy metals, so can backfire. Dr. Gary Pynckel in Fort Myers is a super resource, should you or someone you know need heavy metal therapy. Visit drpynckel.com for more information.
So how does one avoid excessive heavy metal intake?
Eating organic foods spares the body heavy metals used in farming and storage.
A high-fiber diet can also help. And amazingly, the herb cilantro – often used in Mexican food – has, in clinical trials and research, quickly moved toxic metals out of brain and spinal cord tissue.
Pass the guacamole.