5 things You Need to Know about Heavy Metal Poisoning

Heavy Metals

Image Source

The national spotlight on the drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan created a media uproar – the revealing expose featured in the USA Today network story on the test reports of excessive lead contamination has shocked the nation.

More than 300 of US water systems providing drinking water to schools and daycare centers have been reported to contain lead levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency standards.One Maine elementary school has lead of 630 ppm (42 times higher lead laboratory results than the EPA limit of 15 ppm), while a Pennsylvania preschool showed lead contamination of210 ppm.

The Big Question: How come this has been ignored? Were authorities aware but keeping it mum? What are the long term health risks and existing dangers of lead contamination? Who is to blame? Obviously, we will not answer all of these in this small article!

Heavy metal poisoning has been a problem for centuries. Metals can be found in our drinking water, our foods, our kitchens, our homes, our jobs, and in many manufacturing processes. Heavy metals in high concentrations can cause severe damage to the lungs, kidneys, liver, the endocrine organs, bones, the central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and the gastrointestinal system.

Let us take a look at some of the majorly known types of heavy metal poisoning and their causes :

Arsenic Poisoning

Arsenic is a very dangerous compound to have in your body. Chronic exposure makes skin cancer much more likely. These chronic exposures are very low levels, too. At a level of 0.17ppb, 1 person in 10,000 will get cancer. It is found in well water, foods, and some occupational exposures.

In the US, miners of zinc and copper are at risk. Food exposures are primarily rice and wines in the US. Worldwide, arsenic poisoning is caused by the use of topical creams in the treatment of some skin conditions, ingestion of herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, fungicides, or rodenticides containing arsenic which is usually found in non-organically grown vegetables or fruits may also cause arsenic poisoning. Other forms include occupational exposure in manufacturing units involved with paints, enamels,glass and metals. Arsenic is also found in contaminated water, seafood, and algae.

Cadmium Poisoning

The two major causes of cadmium poisoning are tobacco smoking and eating  foods containing cadmium (can occur in grains, legumes, and leafy vegetables, fish, and shellfish). Other factors include exposure to cadmium in electric batteries and solar panels.

Lead Poisoning

Lead was a common ingredient in paints, especially white paint. Lead was used in the stabilization of gasoline. Lead can be an ingredient in ceramic glazes. The Romans made their water pipes from lead (giving people one explanation for why Nero was the Emperor who fiddled while Rome burned)—lead poisoning made him crazy!

Lead was a base for many cosmetics, especially white cosmetics and in kohl, an ancient Middle Eastern mascara. It is still found in medicines and cosmetics in China and India. The EPA estimates that 3 million Americans are exposed to dangerous levels of lead at their jobs. Scientists keep lowering the safe blood levels of lead, because they have found no safe level of lead in the bloodstream.

They have now established a “tolerated level” of 5ppm in the blood. Lead exposure sources are lead solder in copper pipes, occupational exposure to lead in paints, smelting, mining, brass foundries, gasoline and battery manufacturing. Additional causes of lead poisoning include use of cosmetic hair dyes and eating foods that are grown in lead poisoned soil.

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury is even more toxic than lead! The most bio available form of mercury is found in seafood. The most predatory fish are the most dangerous to eat because they have eaten so many mercury-containing fish that these fish consumers now have high lead levels. This is why there are recommended limits in the amount of tuna or swordfish that should be consumed each week. Shellfish can be dangerous, too, but only if they were raised where the ocean water was contaminated. Mercury’s Thimerosal is a mercury compound that is used as preservative in vaccines—currently very controversial! Mercury is a mold-preventative additive in indoor latex paints. Breathing mercury vapors is very dangerous, too.

Contaminated water and fish is a very talked about subject when it comes to mercury poisoning. A common source is the mercury vapors from dental amalgam fillings that has been well documented.  mercury poisoning is also caused due to workplace exposure to manufacturing units for thermometers, mirrors, incandescent lights, x-ray machines, batteries and vacuum pumps.

Children are often exposed to mercury poisoning through paint, calomel, teething powder, and mercuric fungicide which are used in washing diapers, but only with the indoor latex paint exposure and dental amalgam fillings are USA and EU children exposed to mercury, with the other preparations banned in these countries long ago.

Some of the most common health conditions and symptoms that are connected with acute heavy metal poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, central nervous system dysfunction, heart problems, and anemia.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The testing of heavy metal levels in the body can be done with hair, blood, urine, feces, and nails. Blood testing is only accurate in acute poisoning. Chronic heavy metal poisoning can lead to storage of the metals in the bones and organs, so then there is little metal found in the blood.

Hair analysis is the cheapest and easiest of the heavy metal screening tests, always showing true test results with positive findings, but (as with blood tests) the stored forms of heavy metals are not found with hair analysis either. Provocative testing techniques are the only ways to accurately assess the stored tissue levels of the heavy metals. In provocative testing, a chelating agent is used initially, then urine or feces is gathered to determine how much metal was liberated from the tissues with the chelating compound. When a lot of metal is found, the assumption is that there must be a lot of stored heavy metals.

Now you and your doctor need to decide how to remove the metals! Chelation is the desired process, with chemical “claws” to grab the metal and then remove it from the body through the urine or feces. There are IV chelators, such as EDTA, DMPS, and BAL. There are oral chelators: DMSA and d-penicillamine (DPCN). Ozone administration is especially wonderful. Nutritional supplementation is useful, too, with glutathione, seleniomethionine, vitamin C, and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) all having useful benefits.

Dr. Dean Howell