Heavy Metal and Toxin Overview
Reviewed By: Dr. Kurt Kloss, MD
Last Reviewed Date: Feb 14, 2019
Last Modified Date: Feb 14, 2019
Published Date: Dec 10, 2018
Is your Body Toxic? Three Ways to Find and Eliminate Body Toxins
In today's very industrialized world, we are exposed to numerous toxins on a daily basis. They invade our bodies via the air we breathe, the foods we eat and the water we drink, among many other sources. Our bodies work to expel these toxins using natural detoxification processes. However, when toxin exposure is high, it can overwhelm the body's ability to eliminate these substances, allowing them to build up to levels capable of affecting health and well-being. Here we'll discuss the top 3 ways to find and remove toxins in the body.
Finding Toxins in the Body
High levels of body toxins can be caused by a single, concentrated exposure to toxins, such as heavy metals (PDF) or harmful chemicals. Those who are affected by this sort of acute exposure to harmful substances generally know they have been exposed and will typically experience clear and immediate symptoms, such as breathing difficulty, headache, nausea or confusion, among others.
However, high toxin levels are also often caused by chronic daily exposure to low levels of toxins, allowing them to slowly accumulate in the system. Symptoms of this sort of toxicity are not as clear-cut, and may include issues like fatigue, muscle aches, forgetfulness, impaired immune function and digestive problems, among many other rather non-specific symptoms.
So how can you tell if your symptoms are due to toxin buildup in your body, or just a garden-variety cold or flu? Diagnosing high toxin levels begins with evaluating the type of symptoms you have, their severity and duration, and your potential for exposure to harmful substances in your everyday environment. If your doctor suspects that toxins may be at the root of those symptoms, finding out for sure will require a few lab tests.
Among the more common tests used to detect toxic substances in the body are heavy metals profiles, which are blood tests that look for toxic metals that include lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Nickel exposure can be detected via blood testing as well, as can toxic chemicals that are abundant in the environment, such as benzene, ethyl benzene, styrene, toluene, xylenes and carbon monoxide. Blood testing can also measure the levels of metals and minerals that the body needs in trace amounts, yet are toxic at high levels, such as manganese, zinc, selenium, iron and cobalt, among others.
The Top 3 Ways to Remove Toxins in the Body
If testing reveals a high level of one toxin or several of them in your body, lowering those levels is essential to your health and well-being. Methods for doing that will vary according to the amount and type of toxins in the body, among other factors, but 3 of the most common and effective treatments are:
- Reducing exposure – Locating the sources of chronic toxin exposure and reducing or eliminating that exposure can, in many cases, be the only treatment necessary. By preventing or reducing further exposure, the body is given the opportunity to focus on eliminating toxins it has already accumulated, lowering toxin levels gradually via its natural detoxification processes.
- Nutritional therapy and exercise – Dietary changes can offer crucial nutritional support to the liver, kidneys and digestive system, which all play key roles in removing toxins from the body. Generally, this will include increased intake of antioxidants, B-complex vitamins, flavonoids, fiber and other essential nutrients that promote detoxification. Regular exercise can also aid the detoxification process, since it helps release toxins stored in fat cells to be eliminated from the body and promotes sweating, another mechanism by which the body rids itself of toxins.
- Chelation therapy – A treatment that is generally used only in severe cases in which toxin levels are high enough to cause an imminent threat to health, chelation therapy involves the administration of agents – either orally or intravenously – that bond with specific toxins to hasten their elimination from the body.
Your doctor can help you decide which method or combination of them is best for you. If nutritional therapy is the approach you choose, avoid fad diets – they typically do more harm than good – and see a nutritionist for help in formulating a safe and effective detoxification diet plan (PDF). Lastly, chelation agents and therapies are offered from many sources, touted in advertisements and on websites. Using these products without medical supervision can be very dangerous, so make sure that you ask your doctor about any product that has caught your interest before you begin using it.
Can Metal Hurt Me? A List of Heavy Metals and How they Affect you
A variety of heavy metals are present in the environment. Some occur naturally, while others may be present due to pollution. Some, in small amounts, play important roles in the body, while others have no known beneficial purpose in terms of health. High levels of heavy metals in the body, both those that are nutritionally necessary and those that are not, is called heavy metal toxicity and can cause a long list of symptoms and health problems.
Heavy Metals List, And How We Are Exposed To Them
The most commonly encountered heavy metals include ones that the body needs, such as zinc, copper, chromium, manganese and iron. While they enhance health in trace amounts, they can become toxic at high levels. These metals are typically obtained from foods, a route by which it is extremely rare for toxicity to occur. Exposure to toxic levels of these metals typically occurs via overuse of dietary supplements, industrial/workplace exposure or medical issues that impair metabolism, such as liver or kidney disease.
Other heavy metals commonly encountered in the environment are metals that serve no purpose in the body, but may still collect in its tissues, such as mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic and aluminum. Common exposure sources include:
- Mercury – Exposure occurs via inhalation, skin absorption or ingestion. Common sources are air pollution, mercury amalgam dental fillings, mercury-based vaccine preservatives, cosmetics, and dietary exposure, most commonly via contaminated seafood. Fluorescent light bulbs and older, glass thermometers contain mercury, and if broken, can be a source of exposure.
- Lead – Common sources of toxic exposure include lead-based paints, which can be ingested as flakes or inhaled as dust, contaminated water and/or water pipes, air pollution, and workplace exposure. Some cosmetics contain lead, particularly lipsticks, improperly glazed ceramic dishes may leach lead, and it has been found in some toys, particularly imported plastic ones.
- Cadmium – Air pollution is the primary source of this metal, which settles to earth from the air to contaminate water and soil. It is in most foods, with heaviest contamination found in shellfish, liver and kidney meats, and is inhaled from contaminated air and tobacco smoke.
- Arsenic – Exposure can come from pesticides, treated wood, water, air pollution and workplace exposure. Some paints contain arsenic, as do certain fungicides and rat poisons. Fish and shellfish may contain arsenic from polluted waters, and many chicken producers use arsenic-based additives in chicken feed.
- Aluminum – Common sources of exposure include drinking water, antiperspirants, air pollution, aluminum cookware, aluminum foil, baking powders, processed cheeses, table salt and over-the-counter drugs, including many antacids, anti-diarrheal drugs and pain relievers.
While there is no way to avoid exposure to heavy metals altogether, it can be reduced significantly by limiting consumption of fish and seafood to no more than once or twice a week to avoid mercury, and looking into lead content of dishes, cosmetics and toys. Choosing organic foods can limit exposure through pesticides and arsenic-laced poultry, and using stainless steel or enamel cookware, avoiding use of aluminum foil, processed foods and aluminum-containing medications can help, as can installing a water purification system.
Heavy Metal Toxicity Symptoms
There are two forms (PDF) of heavy metal toxicity, acute toxicity that occurs when one is exposed to a large amount of metal at one time, and chronic toxicity, which occurs with long-term exposure to low levels of heavy metals.
Symptoms of acute heavy metal toxicity generally appear quite quickly after exposure and may include:
- Numbness or tingling in arms, hands, legs and or feet
- Excessive sweating
- Labored breathing
- Impaired motor or language skills
- Irregular heart beat
Chronic metal toxicity symptoms develop gradually and are more difficult to recognize. Among the most common are:
- Chronic muscle pain
- Chronic malaise, fatigue
- Forgetfulness or brain fog
- Headaches, migraines, visual disturbances
- Impaired immune function
- Gastrointestinal problems, such as bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, indigestion
- Mood swings, depression, anxiety
- Burning, numbness, tingling in extremities
Diagnosis and Treatment
Heavy metal toxicity is diagnosed by means of an evaluation of symptoms and heavy metal testing. A heavy metal test may look for specific metals in urine, blood or plasma to evaluate levels within the body. Depending upon the particular metal involved, blood tests may also be done to evaluate the function of organs like the liver and kidneys, or to look for anemia related to heavy metal toxicity.
If heavy metal toxicity is diagnosed, treatment in chronic toxicity begins with determining likely sources of exposure and eliminating them. For mild to moderate cases, avoiding further exposure may be enough to allow the body to eliminate toxins, or nutritional therapy may be used to aid the elimination process. Chelation therapy may be used in acute toxicity and more severe chronic toxicity cases, which uses specific agents to flush metals from the body.
Featured Tests And Packages
This 24 hour at home urine test kit may be used to screen or detect the presence of 22 different heavy metals in your body.
This 24 hour at home urine test kit may be used to screen or detect the presence of 22 different heavy metals plus an additional 16 nutritional metals in your body.
This is a blood test for lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic which are the most common types of heavy metal exposure. AVAILABLE AT LABCORP ONLY.
This is a urine test for lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic are the most common types of heavy metal exposure. AVAILABLE AT LABCORP ONLY
Lab Tests (A-Z)
This test is used to measure the level of Aluminum in the blood.
Measures the level of ammonia, a waste product
This aromatic solvent profile tests for levels of exposure to benzene, ethyl benzene, styrene, toluene, and xylenes. AVAILABLE AT LABCORP ONLY.
This test is used to measure the level of arsenic in the body.
This test measures levels of Cadmium in the blood.
This test measures levels of Cadmium in the urine.
This test measures the level of Carbon Monoxide in the blood.
Erythrocyte cholinesterase is used to measure possible organophosphate and carbamate toxicity and to detect atypical forms of the enzyme.
This chromium blood test is the prevailing test to measure dietary ingestion of trivalent chromium.
This test measures the level of Hexavalent chromium in the body by collecting a urine sample.
This test measures the level of cobalt in the body.
This test measures the amount of copper in your blood.
This test measures the level of Fluoride in the body.
This test measures the level of Fluoride in the body through a urine sample.
This test is used to measure the level of Lead in the body.
This test is used to measure and evaluate the level of manganese in the blood.
Blood test to measure the level of mercury in the body.
A urine test to measure the level of mercury in the body.
This blood test measures the level of Nickel in the body.
This test is for measuring the level of selenium in the blood.
This blood test measures the amount of titanium in the blood.
The Zinc blood test measures the level of zinc in your body.
This test is used to help monitor and detect exposure to lead in an industrial setting.
This test measures Zinc levels in Red Blood Cells.