Metals are important for our health – we couldn’t survive without iron or magnesium. But many – like mercury, lead and arsenic – can be very dangerous. Heavy metal toxicity can cause or exacerbate many health problems including cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, autism, Alzheimer’s, psychiatric disorders and neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS). Low level symptoms of metal toxicity include many vague symptoms such as fatigue, stomachache, headache, joint pain, depression, memory loss and irritability. At early stages, however, many people have no symptoms at all.
Toxic metal exposure can come from almost anywhere – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, even the supplements we take. The main sources of mercury toxicity are drinking water, food, ‘silver’ dental fillings and vaccines.
Mercury is a byproduct of a number of industrial processes and ends up in our water. As a result, mercury contamination is highest in fish. The biggest offenders are swordfish, shark and tuna. Other fish may have some mercury but at much lower levels. Fish such as wild salmon, Alaskan halibut, farmed tilapia or catfish, sole, mahi mahi and atlantic mackerel are safe to eat. For more details, check out oceansalive.org.
Lead is commonly found in water, air and food, in old paint and windows and some pottery glazes. Old houses often have lead pipes and newer houses may still have lead solder even if the pipes are copper. Vinyl miniblinds are another common source of lead poisoning for young children. Shockingly, lead can also be found in some candy. The ink used to print candy wrappers can contain lead. This is an even bigger problem with candies from Mexico as some of the ingredients, especially chilis and tamarinds, can also be contaminated with lead. Colored gift wrap, esp. metallic and yellow tinted paper can contain appreciable amounts of lead.
Those most at risk for heavy metal injury are unborn babies and young children. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need to be particularly careful about mercury consumption. Mercury and lead can be passed through the placenta and breast milk, so detoxing before (but not after) you become pregnant is a great idea. The smaller a child is, the greater the risk, so exposure to things as seemingly innocuous as gift wraps needs to be tightly controlled in young children.
What can you do?
The first and most important thing is to avoid any exposure to heavy metals.
1. Get a water filter that will remove heavy metals.
2. If your house was built before 1980, lead paint was used. If there is any peeling or chipping paint or if you have sliding windows with painted frames, you should get the paint tested for lead content. Lead paint was also used on the outside of houses and can get into the soil. So, don’t grow food plants right outside an old house. Old cribs can also be painted with lead-based paint, so get that checked before you use one.
3. Throw out any vinyl miniblinds if you don’t know where they came from, especially if you have kids in the house. Newer blinds are usually lead-free, but ask. Avoid imported blinds if possible.
4. If you vaccinate, make sure you get thimerosol-free (no mercury) vaccines.
5. If you have cavities, find a dentist who uses gold or composite (white) fillings. If you’re thinking about removing old amalgam (mercury) fillings, make sure that your dentist knows what s/he is doing – ask us for a referral. A bad removal may be worse than leaving them in.
6. If you work in an environment where you are exposed to heavy metals – pottery, plumbing, painting, battery manufacture, etc. – shower or at least wash your hands and face at work, change your clothes there and wash your work clothes separately and keep your work shoes outside.
7. Avoid or restrict mercury-heavy fish, including tuna, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
8. Do not let your kids play on decks or playsets built with pressure-treated wood. Until 2003, all such wood was suffused with arsenic. It is now illegal, but anything built before 2003 is fixed with CCA (arsenic). Under no circumstances should you burn pressure-treated wood – as little as a tablespoon of the ash is lethal!
9. Many calcium and other mineral products are contaminated with lead. It is best to avoid calcium derived from natural sources – bonemeal, dolomite, oyster shell or coral calcium.
10. Keep young kids away from imported candy and don’t let them chew on wrappers or gift wrap.
11. Get yourself tested! Call us at 626 794 4668 to set up a screening.
Jocelyn came to see me with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) – she was having breathing problems, skin reactions and terrible headaches that would last for days at a time if she was exposed to perfumes, paints, glues or other strong-smelling chemicals. When I first saw her, she was almost in isolation – she could not go to work because of her reactions to glue and new formica that was used for minor construction in her office and she had to move out of her home for three weeks because her landlord had been painting. Heavy metal toxicity usually contributes significantly to MCS. Jocelyn’s urine metal test showed elevated lead of 10mg/g of creatinine (normal is less than 5), very elevated mercury of 16 (normal is less than 4) and extremely elevated tin levels of 530 (normal is less than 10). We discovered that her tin exposure was coming from the canned pineapple that she was consuming daily. I had her stop eating it and also avoid other sources of metal contamination. We started a heavy metal chelation protocol using DMSA to bind the metals and allow her body to excrete them effectively. Jocelyn also began to get regular infrared saunas that can increase heavy metal excretion through sweating. 10 weeks later, the lead was down to 8.5, mercury was at 10 and tin at 290. A second round of chelation and saunas was begun and a further 10 weeks later, lead was normal, mercury was near normal at 5.6 and tin was all the way down to 16. At the end of this process, Jocelyn was able to return to work and said that she felt the best that she had in years!