As you know, our bodies need a variety of essential minerals and vitamins to thrive and function optimally. For example, zinc, copper, and selenium are essential for proper functioning of the thyroid gland, and can be disproportionate in hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, while calcium and magnesium are essential for building and maintaining strong healthy bones.
But, what about heavy metals, what are those and how do they affect us? Heavy metals, also known as toxic elements, disrupt the normal functioning of our bodies and block the beneficial effects of essential minerals. For example, lead can replace calcium in bone, causing osteoporosis, making bones brittle and more susceptible to fractures.
A single large exposure to a toxic element is rare and generally considered a medical emergency. However, small amounts of toxic elements can easily accumulate over time through exposure to our environment, prescription drugs, dental/surgical examinations and procedures, drinking water, food, and lifestyle habits such as smoking. Even herbs and supplements that are made without good manufacturing practices (GMPs) can expose us to toxic elements.
Toxic elements can also be found in common household products and may contribute to a variety of symptoms. Here are some examples:
· Aluminum is found in cooking utensils, antiperspirants, some pickled foods, toothpaste, nasal spray, automotive exhausts, ceramics and baking powder. Signs of toxicity may include impaired memory & increased risk of heart disease.
· Arsenic is found in pressure-treated wood used in decks and playground equipment. Early signs of arsenic toxicity may include headaches, fatigue, restlessness, insomnia, drowsiness, dizziness, stomach aches, and pain.
· Cadmium is found in cigarette smoke, some paint pigments, and in a variety of industrial products. Fatigue may be an early sign of cadmium toxicity.
· Lead is still around from the days when we used leaded gasoline in cars, lead solder in plumbing and leaded paints. Lead exposure may contribute to mood and personality problems.
· Mercury is found in dental fillings, fluorescent lights, and some electronics. Chronic exposure to mercury primarily affects the brain and nervous system. Symptoms like: weakness, fatigue, numbness in fingers and toes, weight loss and gastrointestinal disturbances are common with ongoing exposure to mercury.
· Tin is found in canned foods. If acidic foods are sealed in an un-lined tin can, significant absorption of tin can occur. Excess absorption of tin may contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms.
You might be looking at this list and wondering if you or a loved one has been exposed to heavy metals and are planning to ask if your doctor can test you. Although your doctor can certainly test your blood for single large exposures of lead or mercury, the results are often normal because most of us are not generally exposed in this way.
However, when the body is exposed to small amounts of toxic metals over time, they may not remain accumulated in the blood and may be undetectable using a blood sample. Since the body has such a strong need to maintain homeostasis, or equilibrium, these toxic elements are often quickly removed from the blood and moved to storage into tissues and bone where they cause less direct threat to critical organs such as the brain and heart.
If you are concerned about your exposure to toxic elements, ask if your naturopathic doctor can perform a urine test to determine your body’s excretion of these elements and assess your toxic burden. If you are diagnosed with toxic heavy metal accumulation, a treatment plan using gentle oral and intravenous chelating agents, and follow up testing may be recommended.
Stay tuned for my next article talking about oral and intravenous chelating agents to reduce your toxic element burden and alleviate symptoms caused by heavy metals.
Dr. Amita Sachdev BScN, ND has been in health care for over 20 years, and provides family health and cancer support using naturopathic medicine in Kleinburg and Maple, Ontario. www.DrSachdevND.com