Could my headaches, mood swings, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, joint pains, tingling, or fatigue be from exposure to heavy metals? The answer is possibly.
Heavy metals, like mercury, arsenic, and lead, surround us in our environment. Our body’s internal detoxification process can handle a certain low level of exposure to heavy metals. If the level of exposure overwhelms our ability to excrete the metals, then we can be left with symptoms that require treatment.
In order to estimate the likelihood that you have been exposed to heavy metals, it is important to understand the common sources of metals in our environment.
MERCURY: The most common source of mercury is seafood in our diet. Larger fish (that eat smaller fish) tend to have more mercury. The EWG (environmental working group) has a great consumer guide to mercury in seafood. (http://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-good-seafood-guide). Other common sources of mercury include fossil fuel combustion, cement plants, waste incineration, steel production, thermometers, preservative thimerosal in multi-dose vaccines, and amalgam fillings for teeth.
ARSENIC: Arsenic is a metal present in the earth’s crust, and can leach from soil and rocks into drinking water. It can be found in some soil-derived foods like rice and grains. Shellfish and seafood from arsenic contaminated water. Pesticides and herbicides can contain arsenic (another reason to choose organic, no-spray produce). Chicken that has been fed arsenic supplements for intestinal parasites (another reason to eat organic, free-range chicken). Pressure treated wood and fossil-fuel combustion are also sources.
LEAD: In the USA, the main sources are contaminated water or soil, lead paint, lead pipes, brass plumbing fixtures, and lead solder on copper pipes. The plumbing sources cause lead-contaminated drinking water. Lead is also in leaded gasoline, batteries, ammunitions, cables, wires, kohl eyeliner, glazes on some ceramics, and sometimes contaminated products from overseas.
You might have just one or multiple signs and symptoms of heavy metal toxicity. Signs and symptoms of mercury exposure can include headache, insomnia, mood swings, nervousness, irritability, tremors, weakness, tingling, skin rashes, abnormal kidney or lung function. Signs and symptoms of arsenic toxicity include numbness, tingling, weakness, drowsiness, confusion, white lines in fingernails, darkening of skin, diarrhea, abnormal liver and kidney function tests, or cancer of skin, bladder, kidney, or lung. Signs and symptoms of lead toxicity include irritability, fatigue, sluggishness, loss of appetite, learning difficulties, developmental delay, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, numbness, tingling, hearing loss, or joint pain.
The CDC recommends using blood levels or 24-hour urine collection levels to determine your how much heavy metals are in your body. I recommend adding a heavy metal panel to your annual blood work if you eat fish more than twice a week, or if you have any concern about heavy metals in your environment. Provoked urine tests in which a chelating agent is given prior to urine collection, are not recommended as they will show too many false positives.
Treatment is needed for anyone who is symptomatic or whose labs reach a certain threshold. Treatment must start with removing the source of the heavy metals in your environment. This might entail eating less seafood, choosing low-mercury fish, having your mercury amalgam fillings removed and replaced with resin-based composite fillings. Investment in a water filtration system for your tap water is worth every penny, to ensure you are not drinking heavy metals. Filtered tap water is preferable over water bottled in plastic due to plastic chemicals leaching into water, as well as the environmental impact of plastic waste.
A comprehensive heavy metal detox plan is available at the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine. Depending on your symptoms and labs, you might require chelation medication to help pull the metals out of your system. Supporting the channels of elimination during the detox period is important in order to effectively reduce your metal burden. Recommended supportive treatment includes supplements to boost glutathione which is the most important detoxifying molecule in your body, supplements to support the health of your liver which will be sent to task getting rid of your metals, a natural supplement to help bind the metals prior to elimination, fiber support to help you eliminate the metals effectively in your stool, colonics to remove toxic residue from your colon after the detox process has begun, and intravenous Myers cocktails with glutathione to optimize your immune system and hydration during the process of detoxification.
If you are interested in having your heavy metal labs checked or treated, you can call the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine at 310-451-8880. You can read about the Akasha Center at www.akashacenter.com.