The Heavy Metal Hazard
Some metals are naturally found in the body and are essential to human health. Iron, for example, prevents anemia, and zinc is a cofactor in over 100 enzyme reactions. They normally occur at low concentrations and are known as trace metals. In high doses, they may be toxic to the body or produce deficiencies in other trace metals; for example, high levels of zinc can result in a deficiency of copper, another metal required by the body.
Heavy or toxic metals are trace metals with a density at least five times that of water. As such, they are stable elements (meaning they cannot be metabolized by the body) and bio-accumulative (passed up the food chain to humans). These include: mercury, nickel, lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, platinum, and copper (the metallic form versus the ionic form required by the body).1 Heavy metals have no function in the body and can be highly toxic.
Once liberated into the environment through the air, drinking water, food, or countless human-made chemicals and products, heavy metals are taken into the body via inhalation, ingestion, and skin absorption.2 If heavy metals enter and accumulate in body tissues faster than the body's detoxification pathways can dispose of them, a gradual buildup of these toxins will occur.3 High-concentration exposure is not necessary to produce a state of toxicity in the body, as heavy metals accumulate in body tissues and, over time, can reach toxic concentration levels.
Heavy metal exposure is not an entirely modern phenomenon: historians have cited the contamination of wine and grape drinks by lead-lined jugs and cooking pots as a contributing factor in the "decline and fall" of the Roman Empire;4 and the Mad Hatter character in Alice in Wonderland was likely modeled after nineteenth-century hat makers who used mercury to stiffen hat material and frequently became psychotic from mercury toxicity.
Human exposure to heavy metals has risen dramatically in the last 50 years, however, as a result of an exponential increase in the use of heavy metals in industrial processes and products. Today, chronic exposure comes from mercury-amalgam dental fillings, lead in paint and tap water, chemical residues in processed foods, and "personal care" products (cosmetics, shampoo and other hair products, mouthwash, toothpaste, soap). In today's industrial society, there is no escaping exposure to toxic chemicals and metals.
In addition to the hazards at home and outdoors, many occupations involve daily heavy metal exposure. Over 50 professions entail exposure to mercury alone. These include physicians, pharmaceutical workers, any dental occupation, laboratory workers, hairdressers, painters, printers, welders, metalworkers, cosmetic workers, battery makers, engravers, photographers, visual artists, and potters.5
The Effects of Heavy Metal Toxicity
Studies confirm that heavy metals can directly influence behavior by impairing mental and neurological function, influencing neurotransmitter production and utilization, and altering numerous metabolic body processes. Systems in which toxic metal elements can induce impairment and dysfunction include the blood and cardiovascular, detoxification pathways (colon, liver, kidneys, skin), endocrine (hormonal), energy production pathways, enzymatic, gastrointestinal, immune, nervous (central and peripheral), reproductive, and urinary.6
Breathing heavy metal particles, even at levels well below those considered nontoxic, can have serious health effects. Virtually all aspects of animal and human immune system function are compromised by the inhalation of heavy metal particulates.7 In addition, toxic metals can increase allergic reactions, cause genetic mutation, compete with "good" trace metals for biochemical bond sites, and act as antibiotics, killing both harmful and beneficial bacteria.8 Much of the damage produced by toxic metals stems from the proliferation of oxidative free radicals they cause. A free radical is an energetically unbalanced molecule, composed of an unpaired electron, that "steals" an electron from another molecule to restore its balance. Free radicals result naturally when cell molecules react with oxygen (oxidation) but, with a heavy toxic load or existing antioxidant deficiencies, uncontrolled free-radical production occurs. Unchecked, free radicals can cause tissue damage throughout the body; free-radical damage underlies all degenerative diseases. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E curtail free-radical activity.
Heavy metals can also increase the acidity of the blood. The body draws calcium from the bones to help restore the proper blood pH. Further, toxic metals set up conditions that lead to inflammation in arteries and tissues, causing more calcium to be drawn to the area as a buffer. The calcium coats the inflamed areas in the blood vessels like a bandage, patching up one problem but creating another, namely the hardening of the artery walls and progressive blockage of the arteries. Without replenishment of calcium, the constant removal of this important mineral from the bones will result in osteoporosis (loss of bone density leading to brittle bones).
Current studies indicate that even minute levels of toxic elements have negative health consequences, however, these vary from person to person. Nutritional status, metabolic rate, the integrity of detoxification pathways (ability to detoxify toxic substances), and the mode and degree of heavy metal exposure all affect how an individual responds. Children and the elderly, whose immune systems are either underdeveloped or age-compromised, are more vulnerable to toxicity.9
How can we Protect Ourselves from Heavy Metals?
Logic dictates that, once the potential harm from heavy metals is understood, their production and use should be phased out and toxic storage heavily regulated. As is obvious from the list of exposure sources above, logic is not the guiding principle here, except in the case of lead, the use of which has been curtailed.
Even if all heavy metal production were to stop today, however, enough heavy metals have been released into our environment to cause chronic poisoning and numerous neurological diseases for generations to come. There are presently 600,000 toxic waste contamination sites in the United States alone, according to the U.S. Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Of these, less than 900 have been proposed by the EPA for Superfund cleanup and approximately 19,000 others are under review. While some of these toxic messes were likely caused by accidents or ignorance, the majority came from illegal dumping by hazardous product or waste distributors, manufacturers, transportation companies, or waste management companies.10 Such practices have not ceased, as focus on profit continues to override concerns about health, the environment, and a more promising future for all of our children.
With the government doing little or moving very slowly to protect the public from the hazards of heavy metals, it is up to individuals to take measures to protect themselves. According to conventional medicine, there is nothing a person can do to address aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, or nickel exposure, aside from avoiding known sources. Given the prevalence of these toxins in our lives, this is impossible.
Fortunately, there is a way to get these harmful substances out of the body. Intravenous and oral chelation, detoxification protocols, and specific nutritional therapies can remove heavy metals and chemical toxins and reduce the toxic load our bodies endure on a daily basis.
EDTA Chelation: Intravenous vs. ORAL
- Harte, J., et al. Toxics A To Z: A Guide To Everyday Pollution Hazards (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991), 103.
- Harte, J., et al. Toxics A To Z: A Guide To Everyday Pollution Hazards (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1991), 34-6.
- Kellas, B., Ph.D., and Dworkin, A., N.D. Surviving the Toxic Crisis (Olivenhain, CA: Professional Preference Publishing, 1996), 186.
- Lewis, H. Technological Risk (New York: W.W. Norton, 1990), 125.
- Walker, M., D.P.M., and Gordon, G., M.D. The Chelation Answer (Atlanta, GA: Second Opinion Publishing, 1994), 149.
- Kellas, B., Ph.D., and Dworkin, A., N.D. Surviving the Toxic Crisis (Olivenhain, CA: Professional Preference Publishing, 1996), 187, 217, 230-34.
- Casdorph, H., M.D., and Walker, M., D.P.M. Toxic Metal Syndrome (Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing, 1995), 95.
- Kellas, B., Ph.D., and Dworkin, A., N.D. Surviving the Toxic Crisis (Olivenhain, CA: Professional Preference Publishing, 1996), 177.
- Weiner, M. The Way of the Skeptical Nutritionist (New York: Macmillan, 1981). Elemental Analysis (Asheville, SC: Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratories, 1999),
- Brown, P., and Mikkelsen, E. No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1990), 182-183.