Did you brush your teeth this morning? Fill up your water bottle from a tap? Get on a train or use a cell phone today? You may have increased your exposure to heavy metals without even realizing it.
In today’s world, heavy metals are commonly used in almost every facet of life. Without the ability to detox this increase in heavy metal levels, our health is compromised and disease levels are at an all-time high. Sounds scary? It is. But there is a lot you can do to protect yourself and take control of your health.
We’ll walk through how to identify heavy metals, diagnose toxicity levels, outline clear steps to detox and valuable preventative measures.
What Are Heavy Metals?
Heavy metals are defined as those metals which have high density and atomic weight or atomic number. Chemists categorize heavy metals as elements that are at least five times denser than water. These metals are naturally present in the Earth’s crust, but over time and through various human activities, their geochemical cycle and balance are altered. Some chemicals are essential minerals and pose no threat while others (arsenic, anyone?) are highly toxic even in small quantities.
Among those most common in our water supply are lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. So, what’s so bad about these metals, why should we be aware of them and how can we use a heavy metal detox effectively?
What Are Toxic Metals?
Lead is a toxic metal, even in small quantities.
Sources: Lead is often found in automobiles, paints, hair dyes, PVC pipes, and most commonly in the corrosion of household plumbing systems. Smelters and pesticides also emit lead.
- Physical or mental development delays in children
- Kidney problems and high blood pressure in adults
- Shortage of memory and can even deplete the IQ level
- A decrease in sperm production and increased chances of miscarriage
Rat poison? Yep, same stuff.
Sources: Arsenic was once used to coat wood to keep it from rotting. That practice ended in 2002, but it is still used in the manufacturing of glass, semiconductors, paints, dyes, drugs, soaps, and pesticides, which is one of the main ways it enters our water system through runoff. It’s even found in small traces in beer (kill me now!)
- Arsenic produces neurological problems, especially in children
- Arsenic causes cancer, specifically skin and lung cancer
- It can cause circulatory system damage and affects the peripheral nervous system
Mercury is found in traces in the air, but when it gets into water, it mixes with natural bacteria and converts to methylmercury which is toxic.
Sources: Oil refineries, coal-burning plants, runoff from landfills, erosion of natural deposits, combustion of diesel and medical wastes, are common sources of mercury.
- It can cause brain damage, blindness, and deafness
- It may lead to digestive problems and kidney damage
- It can affect the mental development of a developing fetus in pregnant women
It is another dangerous heavy metal that finds its way to the human body.
Sources: Found in the corrosion of galvanized pipes, metal refineries, runoff from waste batteries and paints, sewage discharge, and mining operations.
- Serious damage to the kidneys, liver, and bones
- Results in kidney disease, brittle bones, and in some cases death
Thallium is a soft, malleable gray metal naturally found in the Earth’s crust but is also highly toxic. It is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.
Sources: Rat poison, insecticides, cigarette smoke, medical imaging.
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- May cause serious nervous system damage that may cause loss of reflexes, convulsions, muscle wasting, headaches, numbness, dementia, psychosis, and even coma
- It can cause hair loss (alopecia)
Aluminum is the most plentiful metal in the earth’s crust. It is also present in the environment and while exposure to aluminum is usually not harmful, high levels can cause serious health problems.
Sources: Found in the air, food, water, and soil. Exposure is almost inevitable, but high levels may come from drink or ingest substances containing high levels of aluminum, aluminum dust in workplace air, aluminum mines, or hazardous waste.
- Confusion, seizures, or speech problems
- Muscle weakness, bone pain, fractures, and deformities
Uranium is a naturally occurring element that is radioactive.
Sources: Found in very small amounts in rocks, soil, surface and underground water, air, and plants and animals. Toxicity effects found most commonly in mine, industrial, or underground workers.
- Also known as radiation sickness and starts with nausea and vomiting
- Depending on the level of exposure, may also cause headache, fever, dizziness, fatigue, hair loss, infection, low blood pressure
One of the few metals that can occur in nature in a directly usable metallic form very high thermal and electrical conductivity and used naturally in the human body.
Sources: Copper is found mostly in our diet, sometimes in copper piping, copper cooking materials, or copper IUDs in women.
- Copper can have a profound effect on mental and emotional conditions including depression, anxiety, violence, OCD, bipolar disorder, phobias, Tourette’s syndrome, schizophrenia, epilepsy, ADD, ADHD, autism, delayed mental or emotional development, panic attacks, migraines, spaciness, brain fog, mind racing, insomnia, nervousness, and irritability.
- Reproductive Disorders specifically for women.
- Connective tissue problems including arthritis, osteoporosis, stretch marks, joint problems, scoliosis, kyphosis (bad posture), poor skin, hair and nail conditions.
- A sluggish liver due to copper toxicity which causes slow metabolism, chronic infections, and hepatitis C.
Some heavy metals that cause toxicity occur naturally in the body, like copper. Metals in the body become toxic when they accumulate to unhealthy levels. However, some metals are not good for the body in any amount. They are not meant to be digested or used for human consumption at all. When present in the human body, these metals can cause irreparable damage. A heavy metal detox is the best way to remove these metals if they become present through outside sources.
Where Do Heavy Metals Come From?
Most heavy metals are naturally occurring and exist almost everywhere in the world around us. Exposure to heavy metals comes from traffic fumes, air pollution, water contaminants, radiation, dental fillings, poor-quality diet, household products and chemicals in everyday products. A heavy metal detox helps the body to naturally eliminate these toxins from our internal organs.
How Are Heavy Metals Accumulated?
Our bodies are able to naturally detox heavy metals, but due to a poor diet or compromised systems, metals can accumulate in our bodies. If you’re over-exposed, or unable to cleanse properly, you’re at risk for heavy metal accumulation.
What is Heavy Metal Toxicity?
There is an important distinction between the levels of heavy metals in the blood and how they affect the body.
- Poisoning: You can get acute poisoning from heavy metals by ingesting a lot all at once. For example, this may happen if a child swallows a toy made with lead. Symptoms are clear and come on fast and maybe confusion, numbness, vomiting, or passing out. Acute poisoning is an emergency situation and any individual with metal poisoning should be taken to the hospital immediately.
- Toxicity: This is the degree to which the heavy metal is present and/or harmful.
- Accumulation: The slow buildup of heavy metals over time. This is a process that takes years because the body doesn’t ever eliminate metals on its own, accumulation happens naturally. The only way to prevent accumulation is to prevent heavy metals in the first place.
What Are the Side Effects of Heavy Metal Toxicity?
These dangerous heavy metals actually “intrude” and interrupt normal cellular processes. Heavy metals can bind with protein sites and replace the metals that naturally occur in the cell with toxic levels. Some experts attribute the primary driver of all diseases today to heavy metals. We’re seeing health issues and diseases at rates we didn’t see 30 years ago, because of the increase of these toxins into our environment. This has also lead to an increased need for heavy metal detox.
Long Term Exposure Symptoms
Heavy metal toxicity can seriously impact the body. At best, they cause lower energy levels and fatigue. At worst, heavy metal damage affects the proper functioning of the brain, lungs, kidney, liver, blood composition and other important organs.
According to a 2014 article in the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology, long-term exposure can lead to gradually progressing physical, muscular, and neurological degenerative processes that imitate diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, muscular dystrophy and maybe even cancer.
How Do You Test for Heavy Metals?
Testing is important to find out if heavy metals actually are the culprits of your health concerns. Heavy metal testing is most effective in either a provocation test with a chelation agent or a hair mineral analysis.
- HTMA: A Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis is one of the best ways to check for heavy metal toxicity. The hair is one of many places the body eliminates minerals and heavy metals, making it a reliable source for testing.
- Blood Test: A blood test can be done, but is often less reliable than a hair analysis. By the time blood test results show positive metal toxicity, the individual is usually very obviously ill.
These tests will give you a baseline so you know exactly how much metal you have in your system. You can request these tests from a functional medicine doctor.
What Is a Heavy Metal Detox?
The goal of a heavy metal detox is to first remove accumulated heavy metals from the brain and nervous system. The most common way is through chelation, which should be performed by a doctor. Chelation involves the administration of agents that bind heavy metals to molecules and help to dissolve them and excrete through urine. A more relaxed method of heavy metal detox is through dietary changes, herbs, and supplements. This effective detox method breaks down metals into smaller molecules so they can be removed more easily through your urine, feces, and sweat.
What Are the Benefits of a Heavy Metal Detox?
Even if you haven’t been medically tested for heavy metal toxicity, you’ll be surprised how good you’ll feel after a heavy metal detox. In addition to clearing your brain and nervous system, a heavy metal detox benefits the functioning of the kidneys, liver, heart, lymphatic system and respiratory system. Just a few of the benefits of a heavy metal detox include:
- Reduced stress
- Improvements in energy levels
- Enhanced immunity
- Better gut health and digestive function
- Improvements in attention, memory, learning, and cognitive function
- Improved skin health
- Better protection against diseases and disorders
How to Do a Heavy Metal Detox
Before you start any type of heavy metal detox plan, it’s important to eliminate the source of metals first. If you are drinking water from copper pipes, have mercury amalgam fillings, are exposed to high levels of lead or you work with or near toxic metals. If you don’t eliminate the source, the chances of successful detox are slim to none. Once you can identify and eliminate the source, you can successfully detox your body and experience true healthy living.
Diet: One of the easiest ways to start a heavy metal detox is to change what you’re putting into your body. A few heavy metal detox friendly foods that should be a staple in your diet include:
- Rich Vitamin C fruits
- Leafy green vegetables
- Herbs and spices like Italian spices as well as ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and thyme
- Flax and chia seeds
- Garlic and onions
- Bone broth
There are also foods that you should avoid, which include:
- Farmed fish
- Food allergens
- Food with additives
- Non-organic food
Water: Although water is part of a healthy diet, it is a category all its own because of its importance in heavy metal detox. Be sure you are getting plenty of water to assist in the detox process. Ensure your water is free of all heavy metals by using a reliable water filtration system.
To learn more about the best filters to purify your water, read our review of the best heavy metal water filters.
Smoothies: This can be a great way to incorporate healthy detox ingredients like kale, barley grass, aloe vera juice, or Atlantic dulse that are difficult to consume on their own. Combine these important ingredients with fresh organic fruits and you’ve given your body a head start to detox.
Juice Fasting: One day juice fasting can take your detox up a notch. A heavy metal detox juice should consist of celery, cucumbers, and apples. This juice combination gives you a proper balance of mineral salts, potassium, and natural sugar to keep your glucose levels stable as your body cleanses itself of toxic heavy metals. Drink 16-20 ounces of juice every 2-3 hours with water in between for 24 hours. Consider a juice fast every two weeks to achieve impressive detox results. I would recommend buying a book by the “Medical Medium” that is all about the celery juicing cleanse you might have heard about. Quite a few people have raved about their results. You can check it out on Amazon here.
Saunas: Sweating is a natural way to get rid of toxins through the skin. Exercise is a good way to get started, but a sauna can jumpstart your efforts. An infrared sauna doesn’t get as hot so it allows you to sweat longer. Make sure to replenish with filtered water. Read more about the best saunas for detoxing.
Detox Bath: A heavy metal detox bath is a great way to remove toxins from the body while helping you to relax. There are several recipes for different detox baths, most of which use natural ingredients like salts, essential oils, and/or apple cider vinegar.
Lymphatic System Boost: There are several things you can do to keep your lymphatic system working optimally. A few to consider include dry brushing, massage, and exercise. Learn more about how to detox your lymphatic system.
Supplements: Heavy metals often like to find a cozy spot in the body and stay put while they accumulate. Supplements are a good way to unlock those metals and escort them towards the exit. Sometimes, this can actually exacerbate symptoms temporarily as the metals are moving throughout the body. A binding agent combination like Biosil and PectaSol taken together helps your body to eliminate the metals as soon as possible so the side effects don’t linger.
- BioSil – Take 5-10 drops or 1 capsule daily to mobilize heavy metals.
- PectaSol-C – Take 5 grams daily or more on an empty stomach, depending on tolerance.
Important note: This is a two-part recommendation: don’t take one without the other!
You might also want to look into doing a Vitamin C flush. This is a really great way to detox heavy metals especially if you had an acute exposure to them or think you might have a heavier load in your system.
Side Effects of a Heavy Metal Detox
If you don’t know what to expect during a heavy metal detox you could be in for a shock to the system. A heavy metal detox may actually make you feel worse before you feel better. The symptoms that are caused by the levels of metal in your blood can increase as those metals are mobilized in the body.
Take your heavy metal detox method slow by starting with making sure you start with the healthy habits first and then moving into stronger detox methods. Regular bowel movements and plenty of water are critical components to a successful detox.
How Can You Avoid Continuing to Accumulating Heavy Metals?
The first step is to get your water tested. It’s hard to know what you’re dealing with unless you actually test the water and see exactly what is in your area. There are some things you can do to avoid heavy metal accumulation in other areas of your home as well:
In Your Diet:
- Avoid seafood with high levels of mercury – this includes specifically swordfish and marlin (eat wild-caught and low mercury fish like salmon, shrimp, and cod)
- Maintain a healthy diet of high-quality protein and healthy fats
- Eliminate processed foods and excess fats from your diet (these slow the detox process because they can soak up the harmful substances you want to remove)
- Replace aluminum pots and pans for cast iron or ceramic
In Your Home:
- Avoid old dishware and imported food cans where the ceramic may contain lead and impact your food
- Replace old thermometers that use mercury and replace them with digital ones
- Use extreme care when using herbicides and choose products that do not contain heavy metals
- Check the contents of the medicines you take
- Avoid PVC Items, especially for children
- Make sure that the house you live in does not have lead paint on its walls
- Check for copper pipes in your homes plumbing
- Use air filters and water filters in your home
In Your Habits:
- Use natural deodorant
- Dry brush before bathing
- Use magnesium oil on organs and belly
- Get amalgams taken out by a certified dentist
- Put your phone on airplane mode while sleeping (reduce EMFs)
- Exercise regularly
Keep the Heavy Metals to the Music
It’s not a matter of if you are affected by heavy metal toxicity, but rather how are you affected? In today’s world, you can hardly eat, sleep, or breathe without some type of exposure to heavy metals.
Avoiding the daily onslaught of heavy metals is tough, but protecting yourself is not. Taking control of your body and your health through a heavy metal detox is the best way to ensure you are not being compromised by heavy metal toxicity.
Your body wants to heal but sometimes may need additional help to get a boost. These tips and tricks deliver an all-star team of heavy metal detoxifiers to help you get back to the vibrant life that you deserve.