Everyday source of heavy metals
Heavy metal toxicity is becoming a modern-day health concern amongst many individuals and health practitioners alike. We are routinely and innocently exposed to harmful chemicals, and this long-term exposure is having negative ramifications on our health. We asked our expert naturopath and nutritionist, Amanda Harasym, all about heavy metal toxicity. Amanda’s informative and explanatory article on heavy metal sources and how you can help yourself, is featured below.
Everyday sources of heavy metals
Many heavy metals, such as zinc, copper, magnesium, and iron, are essential for human health in small quantities. These micro-minerals are compulsory for various biochemical and physiological body functions and inadequate supply may lead to ill health (Tchounwou et al., 2012). However, research has found that low-dose, chronic, or even acute exposure to certain heavy metal elements (and I’m not talking about music!) has been shown to be dangers to human health.
Heavy metals are stored within the Earth’s crust but indiscriminate human actions from anthropogenic activities, such as mining and smelting operations, industrial production use, and agricultural use of metals and metal-containing substances, have allowed for unnecessary and increased human exposure. Environmental contamination can also occur via metal corrosion and atmospheric deposition; weathering and volcanic eruptions contribute to environmental contamination. This leads to heavy metals being leached into the air, food, and water supply (Tchounwou et al., 2012).
According to Tchounwou et al., (2012) arsenic, cadmium, chromium (in large doses), lead, and mercury are systemic toxicants that are known to induce multiple organ damage, even at lower levels of exposure. Heavy metals affect the cellular organelles and their associated components, such as those responsible for metabolism, detoxification, and repair. Toxicity from inappropriate heavy metal exposure can lead to DNA damage and structural changes that may cause modification to a cell’s cycle, such as over-proliferation, leading to carcinogenesis.
Everyday exposure of heavy metals
Below is a list of common heavy metals, the industrial uses for each metal and the associated negative health impacts (NORD, 2006).
- Arsenic: Used in the manufacturing of pesticides; arsenic gas also has some industrial uses. Over-exposure may cause headaches, drowsiness, confusion, seizures, nerve damage, gastrointestinal upset, destruction of red blood cells (anaemia), and low blood pressure.
- Cadmium: Used in electrical batteries, vapour lamps, and some solders. Negative health symptoms include fatigue, nausea, vomiting, fever, poor lung function, anaemia, rapid heart rate, kidney and liver damage.
- Lead: Lead production workers, welders, solders, and batteries are all common sources. Lead is stored in the bone, can deplete calcium levels, but has the strongest negative impact on the nervous system.
- Cobalt: Used in making jet engines. Exposure may cause nausea, loss of appetite, nerve damage, respiratory disease, thyroid and kidney damage.
- Mercury: Used by the dental industry and chemical workers. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include depression, fatigue, sluggishness, thyroid dysfunction, irritability and kidney damage.
Exposure to heavy metals is not limited to industrial or agricultural uses. You may be surprised to find heavy metals lurking in your kitchen cupboards. Aluminium may be found in baby formula, deodorants, antacids, aluminium pots and pan, shampoos, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, and skin creams; cadmium is found in automobile seat covers, evaporated milk, furniture, fungicides, white flour, and floor coverings; and lead may be found in some canned food items, ceramic dishes, lead paint in older homes, lead water pipes, refined chocolate, and vehicle emissions (CARE2, 2017).
Concerned about the possible exposure you’ve had to heavy metals?
There are several methods for examining human exposure, including the use of hair mineral analysis, blood and urine tests, and photo-spectrometry sensing technologies. Once levels are assessed and established, guidance can be given on how to limit everyday exposure. Furthermore, specific and gentle chelation therapies, using nutritional supplemental and herbal formulas, can be targeted to remedy the situation. A detailed patient history will be taken into consideration, along with an assessment of an individual’s current circumstance, to identify main contributing factors to the case.
CARE2. (2017). 32 surprising sources of toxic heavy metals. Retrieved from http://www.care2.com/greenliving/31-surprising-sources-of-toxic-heavy-metals.html on 21 March 2017.
National Organisation for Rare Disorders (NORD). (2006). Heavy metal poisoning. https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/heavy-metal-poisoning/ on 21 March 2017.
Tchounwou P, Yedjou C, Patlolla A, Sutton D. EXS Author Manuscript. Heavy metals toxicity and the environment. 2012;101:133-164. Doi: 10.1007/978-3-7643-8340-4_6. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4144270/ on 21 March 2017.