Are you aware of your environmental toxin exposure? What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘heavy metals’?
No one living in the modern world is immune to toxins, including heavy metals. While heavy metals are naturally found in the Earth’s crust, most human exposure is through environmental contamination from a combination of industrial, agricultural, technological, pharmaceutical, and domestic applications as well as geological processes. Heavy metal pollution is present in our surroundings, food, water, and air regardless of where you live, due to the extensive production and use of lead, arsenic, zinc, copper, nickel, and mercury just to name a few. In small amounts, some are essential for our health (AKA trace minerals), while others can cause toxicity / poisoning and irreversible damage if not treated properly.
Heavy metals can disrupt hormones and metabolism and wreak havoc on overall health
Heavy metals are quite literally heavy, they are metallic elements that are 5x (or greater) the density of water. The heavier the metal the more toxic it becomes in the human body. For example, heavy metals can impair the absorption of calcium and iron as they bind easier to structures in bone and hemoglobin leading to degenerative conditions like osteoporosis and anemia, respectively. Meanwhile, nutritional deficiencies of these same minerals also increases absorption and decreases excretion of heavy metals creating a vicious cycle. Hormone balance can be negatively affected in numerous ways, such as:
- Mercury from large ocean fish (and impure fish oils) as well as dental amalgams inhibits both thyroid and growth hormones
- Mercury, cadmium, and lead block the conversion of thyroid hormone from the inactive to the active form
- Cadmium and nickel mimic estrogen and disrupt receptor signalling, which has implications in breast cancer and other estrogen sensitive disorders
The role of detoxification: Innate and intentional efforts to relieve the body’s burden
Under normal circumstances, the body can excrete heavy metals on its own. But, when your system becomes inundated by incoming toxins and unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices, there is no time to keep up–let alone work at optimal capacity. Through occupational exposure, some of you may come into contact with relatively large amounts of heavy metal dust at regular intervals. However, a much larger majority of people will be subjected to low quantities of a wide mix of heavy metals over a long period. This more common pattern tends to reduce one’s awareness and perception of the hazards. Completing the Brio Metabolic Detox Questionnaire and a properly designed metabolic detox program, which provides adequate nutrients and addresses all the organs of detoxification, can make the potential link between your symptoms and toxicant / xenobiotic exposures more apparent.
Long-term consequences of ineffective detoxification
When there is no possibility of recuperation, heavy metals build up. They circulate in the bloodstream and accumulate in bone and soft tissue if they cannot be excreted through urine or the gastrointestinal tract. Heavy metals have a long half-life, especially in bones; they can be remobilized and recirculated during periods of hormonal fluctuations, natural aging, and illness (e.g., pregnancy, lactation, menopause / andropause, extended bed rest, hyperparathyroidism, etc.). For instance the half-life of lead is 30 days in blood vs. 10 – 30 years in bone! Heavy metals are more harmful to children because they have much higher rates of absorption and their brains and nervous systems are still developing. Significant levels of exposure can cause anemia, weakness, hypertension, kidney, liver, and brain damage and even death at any age. Further it can affect fertility and even contribute to poor birth outcomes (miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and low birth weight).
Optimizing detoxification pathways with regards to heavy metals
Reducing or terminating exposure is the main treatment for heavy metal toxicity. Secondarily, support through the use of oral or IV chelation agents (e.g., DMSA, DMSO, EDTA, etc.), which help the body bind and remove toxins, is offered by some naturopathic doctors. Further, every day actions and choices like eating a more alkaline high-fiber diet rich in (or supplementing with) antioxidants, detoxifying agents, and clean protein; supporting the liver and lymphatic system, and other recreational and therapeutic activities like exercise, sauna, massage, and hydrotherapy all play a part in unburdening our hard working organs of detoxification.