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Article by Sylvie Martin

The dangers of heavy metals and how to detoxify

Updated on 6 February 2024.

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The dangers of heavy metalsThe symptoms and chronic illnesses associated with heavy metal intoxication (also known as heavy metal poisoning) are now considered a health problem of worldwide concern. [1]. Exposure to toxic heavy metals is thought to be a contributing factor, if not a direct cause, of symptoms such as low energy, mood disorders and cognitive changes.

Heavy metals first enter the bloodstream through consumption of farmed fish, contaminated water or contact with household products. They can also come from dental fillings.

These metals then circulate throughout the body, entering the cells of various tissues and organs, where they can remain stored for years!

What are heavy metals?

mendeleev table heavy metalsHeavy metals are elements that can be toxic and very dangerous even in low concentrations.

Among the heavy metals that can lead to intoxication or poisoning are [2] :

  • Mercury ;
  • Lead ;
  • Arsenic ;
  • Cadmium ;
  • Aluminum ;
  • Nickel ;
  • Uranium ;
  • Thallium.

Other minerals – even essential ones – such as manganese, iron, lithium, zinc and calcium, can be considered toxic under certain conditions (very high levels in the body).

What is heavy metal poisoning?

Heavy metal poisoning describes a number of health problems caused by exposure to environmental metals that accumulate inside the body.

According to an article in Scientific World Journal :

“Toxic metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are ubiquitous, have no beneficial role in human homeostasis and contribute to chronic non-communicable diseases.” [3].

Researchers have determined that significant exposure to – at least – 23 different environmental metals (known as “heavy metals”) can contribute to acute or chronic toxicity.

These metals are described as heavy because they stick inside the body, especially when lodged in adipose tissue (fat cells).

The fact that they are difficult to eliminate makes them similar to fat-soluble toxins.

Body fat, in its attempt to protect organs, traps certain substances inside, including certain metals. This is one of the reasons why weight loss can sometimes lead – indirectly – to detoxification from heavy metals, as fat cells shrink and release the trapped toxins.

What are the symptoms of heavy metal poisoning?

Here are some of the most common warning signs of heavy metal poisoning:

  • Chronic fatigue ;
  • Autoimmune diseases, including Lyme disease;
  • Poor recovery after exercise and weakness ;
  • Skin irritation;
  • Neurological disorders;
  • Foggy brain, difficulty concentrating, difficulty learning and memory problems;
  • Depression, manic depression and/or anxiety ;
  • Dementia ;
  • Insomnia ;
  • Digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome;
  • Chronic pain, such as that associated with fibromyalgia;
  • Tremors ;
  • Impaired hearing, speech, vision and gait;
  • Anemia;
  • Increased risk of heart attacks.

Common causes of heavy metal poisoning

light-pollution-among-the-causes-of-heavy-metal-poisoningMercury poisoning is one of the most common types of heavy metal poisoning.

Almost everyone in the world has traces of mercury in their body.

Why is this?

Because the factors that can cause mercury poisoning (and, where applicable, other types of heavy metal toxicity) are everywhere.

These include

  • Exposure to environmental pollutants, such as vehicle exhaust fumes, air pollution, food contaminants, cigarette smoke or radiation ;
  • Dental metal amalgam fillings;
  • Poor-quality diets (for example, eating farm-raised fish that contains high levels of mercury). [4] ;
  • A diet including processed foods;
  • Drinking water contaminated with traces of metals (such as aluminum);
  • Perinatal transmission (heavy metals can be transmitted in utero from mother to fetus);
  • Exposure to or use of household substances containing mercury, such as adhesives, air filters, cosmetics, fabric softeners, floor waxes and polishes, and talcum powder.
  • Tattoos.
  • Exposure to substances containing lead, such as chocolate, preserves, toothpaste, old paint, insecticides, ceramics and pottery, and soldered pipes.
  • Use of or exposure to other household items, such as antiperspirants, baking powder, certain baby formulas, plastic toys, antacids, aluminum foil, certain metal pots and pans, stainless steel cutlery, coins and make-up.
  • Some vaccines.

Mercury: a deadly metal

In large quantities, mercury is one of the most deadly metals.

Some studies have shown that when nerves are exposed to mercury, the myelin sheath (the fatty substance that surrounds the axon of certain nerve cells and helps with electrical signalling) can be severely damaged, interfering with the way nerves communicate.

What are the warning signs of mercury poisoning?

Central nervous system changes, irritability, fatigue, behavioral changes, tremors, headaches, hearing problems, skin damage and cognitive loss. [5].

Can heavy metal exposure be prevented?

There is virtually no way to completely avoid exposure to heavy metals, since they are natural elements found everywhere around us (food, water, soil, etc.).

The problem with environmental metals is that they can often accumulate in body tissues, without the person affected being aware of their presence.

Heavy metal toxicity can lead to deterioration in mental function and the central nervous system, as well as damage to vital organs such as the liver, heart, endocrine glands and kidneys.

Long-term exposure to heavy metals can lead to physical, muscular and neurological degenerative processes.

At the extreme, symptoms of heavy metal poisoning can even mimic those associated with Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning are often confused with normal signs of aging (such as memory loss or chronic fatigue).

As a result, many people attribute the cause of their symptoms to age, without realizing that the source of their problem lies in their exposure to heavy metals.

Is it possible to die from heavy metal poisoning?

It’s rare, but possible. Indeed, in some severe cases, heavy metal poisoning can lead to hallucinations and even death.

Why is heavy metal detox necessary?

blood-test-heavy-metal-intoxicationIf you believe you have overexposed yourself to heavy metals, you should consult a physician or naturopathic practitioner for a medical examination.

Heavy metal analysis, whether in the form of hair analysis or blood testing, is now widely available and useful for confirming suspected toxicity.

If you choose not to undergo toxicity testing, the diet and lifestyle changes described below will still be beneficial for immune system function, intestinal health, liver function, …

The main aim of a heavy metal detox is to eliminate heavy metals accumulated in the brain and nervous system.

The kidneys, liver, heart, lymphatic and respiratory systems will also benefit from detoxification.

Benefits of a heavy metal detox

  • Reduced damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress;
  • Improved energy levels;
  • Improved immunity and intestinal health;
  • Improved digestive function;
  • Improved mental performance (attention, memory, learning, etc.);
  • Improved skin health;
  • Better protection against cognitive disorders and autoimmune diseases.

Heavy metal detox diet

First and foremost, changing your diet should be the first decision you make in the fight against heavy metal poisoning.

Foods to combat heavy metal poisoning

Foods to eat during a detox cure include:

  • Green leafy vegetables – Try to have at least one species of bitter greens every day, such as kale, Swiss chard, dandelion greens, mustard greens, arugula, spinach or beet greens. Broccoli sprouts are also an excellent food for providing antioxidants and reducing inflammation.
  • Herbs and spices – Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant herbs such as basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary, thyme, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and coriander. Coriander (along with other herbs and green plants) is one of the best herbs for detoxification and can help reduce the accumulation of heavy metals such as mercury and lead in the body. [7]. Try adding herbs like coriander and parsley to freshly squeezed green juices.
  • Foods rich in vitamin C – Citrus fruits like oranges or grapefruit, green vegetables like spinach and kale, all types of berries, broccoli and cruciferous vegetables, kiwi, papaya, guava and bell bell pepper.
  • Garlic and onions – These vegetables contain sulfur, which helps your liver detoxify from heavy metals like lead and arsenic.
  • Water – Drink enough water or vegetable juice every two hours to stay hydrated and help eliminate toxins.
  • Flax and chia seeds – They provide fat, fiber and omega-3 which can help detoxify the colon and reduce inflammation.
  • Bone broth – In addition to its ability to hydrate the body, this broth provides an important mineral and supports liver health by supplying glutathione. It also provides amino acids that help strengthen organs. Consume bone broth by making your own and sipping several cups a day, or by using protein powder made from bone broth.

What foods to avoid?

Foods to avoid while detoxifying include:

  • Farmed fish – Farmed fish, especially from countries where quality is not controlled, can contain heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs that are highly toxic. The worst offenders are Malacanthidae, swordfish, shark, king mackerel and bigeye tuna. You can continue to eat fish several times a week. Just choose fish with low mercury content.
  • Food allergens – If your body is fighting common allergens and dealing with high levels of inflammation, it won’t be able to detoxify from heavy metal poisoning.
  • Non-organic foods – The chemicals in these foods aggravate the symptoms of heavy metal poisoning.
  • Food additives – Additives can aggravate symptoms of toxicity and reduce your body’s ability to detoxify.
  • Alcohol – Alcohol abuse is toxic to the body and can make it harder for the liver to process other toxins.

Heavy metal detox recipes

Detox drinks and recipes can help naturally reduce inflammation, boost energy, aid digestion, cleanse the liver and promote intestinal health.

Detox drinks are particularly useful if they are based on raw vegetables, fruits and herbs that stimulate detoxification while providing vitamins and minerals.

Many detox drinks can be made with ingredients you already have at home, such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, cucumbers, leafy greens, berries, ginger, herbs or melon.

You can also make detoxifying water drinks, which you can drink throughout the day.

Heavy metal detox supplements

Supplements to take that can help you overcome heavy metal poisoning include:

– Chlorella

Chlorella is a type of green algae that acts as a natural chelator to eliminate heavy metals, particularly lead and mercury.

It’s an excellent source of chlorophyll, which also absorbs other metals.

You can take it in powder or tablet form. The recommended dosage is 1 to 4 grams a day.

– Vitamin C

Acts as an antioxidant to help reduce free radicals. Recommended dosage is 300mg per day.

– Coriander

Preferably taken as a tincture 2 times a day.

– Shilajit

Shilajit is an adaptogenic plant that shares certain properties with activated charcoal, in particular its high carbon content.

It is a natural chelator, as it contains fulvic acid and humic acid, which bind to toxic molecules. [8].

The recommended dosage is between 100 and 500mg a day, generally in powder form.

– Milk thistle

One of the most popular herbs for detoxifying the liver.

Silybin is a component with the highest degree of biological activity and strong antioxidant properties.

It can act as a toxin-blocking agent by inhibiting the binding of toxins to cell membrane receptors.

Silymarin has been shown to reduce liver damage, and is used to treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis and toxin-induced liver diseases. [9].

The recommended dosage is 150mg taken 2 times a day. In tea form, take 1 to 3 times a day.
milk thistle-anastore

– Probiotics

Probiotics can help improve intestinal detoxification and boost immunity.

Other treatments for heavy metal poisoning

Heavy metal poisoning treatment methods to use include:

– Chelation therapy

Of all the heavy metal detoxification solutions, chelation therapy is probably one of the most effective ways to reduce exposure to heavy metals, particularly lead, mercury, aluminum and arsenic.

Chelation therapy involves a chemical solution called EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), which is administered into the body, usually directly (by injection) into the bloodstream.

EDTA chelation therapy helps remove metals by binding salts to molecules. Once EDTA attaches itself to the heavy metals, they move together to the kidneys, where they are eliminated via the urinary tract.

The number of chelation sessions required to achieve concrete results depends on the individual case, and can range from 5 to 30 sessions.

Although this therapy is generally considered safe and risk-free, some side effects are possible.

These include injection stings, vomiting, dizziness, fever, headaches, nausea, symptoms of hypoglycemia and changes in blood pressure.

– Activated charcoal

Activated charcoal is a treatment that removes metals and toxins via adsorption, or via chemical reaction when the elements bind to its surface.

Activated charcoal’s porous surface has a negative electrical charge that causes the charged toxins to bind positively to the gas.

Charcoal is so powerful that it is used as an emergency treatment to eliminate poisons from the body very quickly.

It’s full of carbon and can help eliminate heavy metals and other toxins.

Look for activated charcoal made from coconut shells or identified wood species that have ultra-fine grains.

Follow the instructions for the specific type you have chosen.

Whenever you take activated charcoal, it is imperative to drink 12-16 glasses of water a day.

– Bentonite clay

Clay is used to absorb toxins, acting as a sponge or magnet for chemicals and metals inside the body. [10].

Due to its poly-cationic nature, bentonite clay absorbs negatively charged toxins.

Most clays are intended for topical use only (not for ingestion).

However, some high-quality organic clays can be used internally, although you should be very careful about this (contact the manufacturer to find out if it’s safe to consume the clay).

Historically, many cultures ate clay to obtain minerals and help cleanse their bodies of parasites and other microbes.

– Triphala

This is a traditional Ayurvedic herbal formulation made from the dried powder of three different fruits containing strong antioxidants: gallic acid, ellagic acid and chebulinic acid. [11].

Triphala has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and anti-diarrhoeal properties.

Consuming triphala can help cleanse the digestive tract, relieve constipation and produce regular bowel movements, which are important for eliminating metals, bacteria and excess fatty acids from the body.

Triphala can be taken as a tea, powder, liquid tincture or capsule.

To maximize its effect, take it on an empty stomach, ideally about two hours before bedtime.

– Homemade anti-itch cream

If you experience skin irritation or itching before or during heavy metal detox, apply an anti-itch cream to help soothe the inflammation.

This cream can be made from coconut oil and shea butter to boost hydration, essential oils to fight infection and aid healing, and ingredients like apple cider vinegar and bentonite clay to cleanse and detoxify the skin.

Spread the cream over itchy skin irritations 2-3 times (avoid if you have an allergy to any of the ingredients).

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