Many strange and seemingly unrelated bodily symptoms can be are due to heavy metal toxicity.What are heavy metals and what are some of the symptoms they can produce in our bodies?
Definition:Heavy metals are so named because of their specific gravity (the weight of a substance as compared with an equal volume of water).Some examples of heavy metals include aluminum, arsenic, antimony, cadmium, chromium, copper, gold, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, silver, tin, titanium and zinc.
General Symptoms: Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity vary widely because these metals can enter every type of cell in the body: the brain, lungs, lymph, thyroid, heart, liver, pancreas, gall bladder (contributing to formation of gall or kidney stones), kidney, small and large intestine, joints, muscles, nerves and reproductive organs.Heavy metals overload the immune system, making it more susceptible to a range of invaders, including viruses and parasites.Toxic metals are reported to be one of the factors consistently present in people with cancer.
The types of symptoms usually reflect the degree of exposure, including exposure over time.Adults often report the first symptoms begin with generalized muscle weakness, fatigue. These symptoms are probably due to the way heavy metals act to “short out” the electricity in our cells.Other symptoms include headaches, feeling irritabile, and inability to concentrate.If toxicity progresses,these are followed by numbness and tingling sensations around the lips, fingers and toes (called paresthesia). A stumbling gait and difficulty in articulating words is the next progressive symptom, along with a constriction of the visual fields, ultimately leading to tunnel vision and impaired hearing. In severe cases, tremors or jerks are present. If toxic exposure continues, neurological effects of toxic metals can result in coma and death.
Nervous System Symptoms:Heavy metals affect both the voluntary (central) and involuntary (automatic or autonomic) systems.Someone experiencing heavy metal toxicity may feel anxious, nervous, irritable and hyper-reactive emotionally. Inorganic mercury is capable of producing symptoms which are indistinguishable from those of multiple sclerosis.Aluminum toxicity has been implicated in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and in mental retardation.A study of dentists by Joel Butler, Ph.D. of the University of North Texas, reported sub optimal neurological functions evident in ability to shift tasks, attention span, ability to concentrate, recent memory deficits, visual recall, control dyspraxia (painful functioning), tremor and perceptual accuracy in judgment. Psychological problems included irritability, impatience, tension, frustration and conflict.
Symptoms in Women:Women under the influence of toxic metals may be infertile. They may have symptoms of wildly fluctuating hormone levels that are actually due to toxic metals. Their unborn children download heavy metals from their pregnant mothers, which may be why female dental personnel, exposed to mercury vapor in their work, have a higher incidence of spontaneous abortion, premature labor and perinatal mortality. Recently, pregnant women have been advised to limit consumption of tuna to twice a week for this very reason - that heavy metals concentrate in the developing fetus and mercury levels now contained in these fish are dangerous. The FDA also advises pregnant women and women of childbearing age who may become pregnant also to limit their consumption of shark and swordfish to no more than once a month. Fetuses are susceptible to the toxic effects of high methyl mercury exposure levels especially in the first trimester because their developing nervous systems are so sensitive.Because methyl mercury easily crosses the placenta, the mercury concentration in the baby’s red blood cells can rises to 30 percent higher than in those of its mother.
Toxic metals, and not actual hormone deficits or excesses can also be at the root of women’s hot flashes.
Symptoms in Men:In addition to general toxic metal symptoms, men may experience symptoms of benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH) with all its inherent fear and discomfort. Additionally, toxic metals can produce male infertility, due to heavy metals in their prostate.
Symptoms in Children.The neurological symptoms of lead poisoning have long been known as children have eaten lead paint. Recently, studies of a poisoning incident in
have provided limited data about what effects low levels of methyl mercury exposures to the fetus have on the infant. In the fall and winter of 1971-72, wheat seed intended for planting--and which had therefore been treated with an alkyl mercury fungicide--was mistakenly used to prepare bread; more than 6,500 Iraqis were hospitalized with neurological symptoms and 459 died. The vast majority of the mothers experienced exposures that resulted in hair levels greater then the lowest levels associated with effects in adults. One effect, for example, is lateness in walking.
To see whether or not you have symptoms that could be from heavy metal toxicity, you can use the following checklist, compiled by toxic metals specialist David Minkoff, M.D.:
_____Persistent hot flashes that seem impossible to control
_____Acne, eczema, psoriasis
_____Weakened connective tissue, fascia and ligaments
_____Numbness and tingling beginning in the fingers and toes and moving centrally
_____Difficulty thinking/ learning disorders
_____Loss of balance and or coordination
_____Ringing in the ears
_____Inability to concentrate
_____Attention deficit/ behavioral disorders
_____Foul intestinal gas (the metals can kill off the friendly flora in your gut)
_____Brittle bones/ osteoporosis(toxic metals are stored in bones,where they knock out calcium and magnesium)
_____Weakened heart or even cardiovascular disease
How Much Exposure is Safe? That these problems occur at all is because the buildup of toxic metals in the human body is cumulative.This is a fact not currently taken into account in the Food and Drug Administration’s policy on safe levels in food.Their present definition of “safe” is under 1 part per million (PPM). However, people in
who ate highly contaminated fish in the 1960’s died from doses as low as 40ppm. That means that if someone ate fish containing just under 1ppm and it accumulated, they could experience lethal levels soon after having 40 such meals over time.
Certain species of very large tuna, typically sold as fresh steaks or sushi, can have levels over 1 pp. while canned tuna, which is made of skipjack and albacore, which are smaller species of tuna, averages 0.17 ppm. The average concentration of methyl mercury for commercially important species, mostly marine in origin, is less than 0.3 ppm.Spot-caught predator fresh-water species like pike and walleye sometimes have methyl mercury levels in the 1 ppm range. Other fresh-water species also have elevated levels, particularly in areas where mercury levels in the local environment are elevated.The FDA suggests sports fishers check with state or local governments for advisories about water bodies or fish species. These advisories provide up-to-date public health information on local areas and warn of areas or species where mercury (or other contamination) is of concern.
For More Information: The FDA's Outreach and Information Center number is 1-888-SAFEFOOD. The automated hot line and Flash Fax service are available 24 hours a day. Information specialists can be reached at the number from
Eastern time, Monday through Friday.
(The second article in this series will focus on sources of heavy metal contamination, while the last presents methods for testing for heavy metals exposure and modes of detoxification.)
Copyright 2004 by Pamela Levin, R.N. All rights reserved.
Pamela Levin, R.N. is a local health practitioner specializing in clinical nutrition.She wrote “Perfect Bones, A Six Point Plan to Promote Healthy Bones” to detail the process she used for herself and her clients to rebalance the body and regain bone health.Published by Celestial Arts, it is at amazon.com, www.perfectbones.com.She can be reached at (707) 462 2217.