Heavy metals (like lead, mercury, nickel, cadmium, arsenic, aluminum, platinum, and metallic copper) have no function in the human body and can build up to toxic levels. They are stored in the bones and soft tissues (including organs and brain). Heavy metals impair multiple systems throughout the body giving symptoms that can easily be misdiagnosed.
Heavy metals can be harmful even in small amounts. They can negatively affect many functions of the body including the cardiovascular system, the immune system, the nervous system, as well as digestion, reproductive health, overall metabolism and energy production. These toxins can cause DNA damage, suppress the immune system, create oxidative stress, mess with hormones, and cause high levels of inflammation.
Heavy metals are an unavoidable part of life in a modern industrialized society. You are exposed daily to a variety of these industrial toxins. It is estimated that modern humans living in industrialized nations have lead levels 500 to 1000 times higher than those who lived in pre-industrial societies.
Heavy metals also occur naturally in the earth’s crust. Expressed in parts per million (ppm), aluminium is present at around 82,000 ppm, nickle is present around 100 ppm, lead is present from 10 to 14 ppm, cadimum appears around 0.1 ppm, and mercury at around 0.06 ppm. Heavy metals in the soil can enter the food chain and wind up in our bodies.
Symptoms of Heavy Metal Poisoning
Symptoms of heavy metal accumulation are similar to symptoms of many different diseases. The symptoms often develop slowly over many months, even years. Because of this identifying heavy metals as the cause can often be missed.
For example, lead poisoning presents itself through many different symptoms. Among these are:
- Development and learning delays in children
- Memory or concentration problems
- Joint and muscle pain
- Hearing loss
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Mood disorders or irritability
Heavy metals accumulations can cause serious illnesses, reduce your quality of life and eventually result in death. This is critically important for young people where heavy metals, especially lead, can have toxic affects on nearly every organ. We should be very concerned about the developing brains of young people because toxic effects can have life-long results. Subsequent attempts to remove the offending heavy metals from a young person’s brain tissue may not reverse the damage already done.
No matter what your age, you may have some of the above symptoms. Too often neither you nor your doctor would think of testing for the heavy metal concentration in your body. You may even be taking medications to reduce some of these symptoms without having identified heavy metal poisoning as the cause.
It may be time to learn if your body has stored heavy metals beyond what is considered a “safe” or “normal” level.
Testing for Heavy Metals in Your Body
If you want to know the level of heavy metals in your body there are several available tests. Typical tests analyze the heavy metals in your urine, blood, or hair.
Hair Test for Heavy Metals
Heavy metal hair analysis will show your body burden for relatively long term or chronic exposure. Hair analysis is usually the best indicator of your total body burden of heavy metals. You simply snip off some hair and send it to the lab. Your results are emailed to you.
Heavy Metal Urine Test Kit
Heavy metal urine analysis shows the level of heavy metals leaving the body through your urine. While there is a “steady state” elimination of heavy metals, this test can also measure the increased flow of heavy metals during detox. This is a good test for those cleansing their body through the use of chelating agents. A test before your start your detox program and another during chelation therapy will show you the how your chelating detox program is working.
Preventing Heavy Metal Poisoning
Prevention of continued heavy metal buildup is done basically two ways:
- Avoid exposure to heavy metals
- Remove heavy metals from the body
Heavy metals can enter the body through the skin, the mouth, or via the lungs. Exposure can come from the air, skin contact, your food, dental amalgams or your water. Inhalation of toxic air if often the most common route for heavy metals to enter the body.
Heavy metal removal involves taking chelating compounds that grab on to heavy metals and help remove them through your urine or feces.
Avoid Exposure to Heavy Metals
Often, heavy metal exposure comes from the occupational environment. Some such industries involve mining, plumbing, aviation, battery manufacturing, dentistry, electroplating, galvanizing, steel manufacturing, welding, PVC formulation, pottery making, timber treatment, scrap recovery and printing.
The general public is also exposed to heavy metals. Such exposure can come from antacids, pots and pans, deodorants, antiperspirants, cosmetics, drinking water, nasal spray, toothpaste, ceramics, dental amalgams, medicines and vaccines, paints and pigments, tobacco smoke, fungicides, insecticides, pesticides, rat poisons, seafood, coal burning, rubber, polythylene, gun use, floor waxes and polishes.
As you can imagine, your chances for exposure to heavy metals is pretty high. So, care must taken to avoid as much exposure as possible. Some precautions include:
- Stop smoking or breathing second hand smoke
- Use antiperspirants and deodorants that do not contain aluminum
- Avoid non-stick and aluminum cookware as well as aluminum foil
- Use natural and organic personal care products
- Avoid unnecessary medications
- Reject silver-mercury amalgam tooth fillings and replace those you already have
- Buy organically grown food products
- Replace lead plumbing in your home
- Filter the air in your home
- Wear a mask in dusty environments
- Reduce the amount of soil tracked into your home
- Use a damp rag to dust your home to avoid stirring up dust
- Use a vacuum with a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter
Remove Heavy Metals From the Body
Chelation is a process in which ions and molecules in the blood called chelants, chelators, or chelating agents bind with or “grab” atoms or molecules of heavy metals. Chelation actually comes from the Greek word chelate that means “claw.” Chelating agents grab on to and removes the heavy metals from cells and primarily transport them to the kidneys where they can be eliminated in the urine.
Thus, during chelation we expect the heavy metal concentrations in the urine to increase as these toxic metals are eliminated from the body.
Some characteristics of good chelators include”
- Affinity for heavy metals
- Low toxicity
- Ability to penetrate cell membranes
- Rapid elimination from the body
- Highly soluble in water
The key here is to remove the heavy metals that can harm the body while leaving in place the minerals your body needs.
Here are some common chelators that have been investigated in clinical studies:
- Ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA)
- British Anti Lewisite (BAL) (2,3-dimercaptopropanol)
- DMSA (meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid)
- Monoisoamyl DMSA
- Monomethyl DMSA
- DMPS (d,l2,3-dimercapto-1-propanesulfonic acid)
- Deferoxamine mesylate l (DFO)
- Antioxidants (vitamins E & C, β-Carotene, α-Lipoic acid, Melatonin)
- Modified citrus pectin
The FDA states that all approved chelating drugs require a prescription. But, nevertheless, a number of compounds (like EDTA, modified cirtus pectin and antioxidants) are available to the general public.
Clinical Results of Heavy Metal Chelation
EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid) was actually the first chelation agent discovered. It was first used in Germany in 1931 on patients with severe lead poisoning. Its success with eliminating lead from the body prompted further investigations of EDTA and the search for other chelators.
It is an FDA approved chealator when used under the supervision of a healthcare practitioner. It has been used effectively to help reduce the body burden of many toxic heavy metals.
In a clinical setting, EDTA chelation therapy is usually provided by 20-30 or more intravenous infusions of EDTA and vitamin and mineral supplements given spread over a time span of weeks and months.
A study compared oral EDTA with intravenous EDTA and found intravenous EDTA to be more effective. In the intravenous group the urine levels of lead being eliminated from the body increased 10-40 time the pre-treatment levels. In the oral group the maximum urine content increased only 5-10 times the pre-treatment level.
The Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) was a robust double-blind study to determine if EDTA chelation therapy would benefit patients 50 years of age or older with prior myocardial infarction. The main experimental outcome observed was death from any cause. A secondary end point included cardiovascular death, non-fatal myocardial infarction, or non-fatal stroke.
The participants were divided into those with and without diabetes. Overall, it is expected that people with diabetes will die sooner than those who are more healthy (without diabetes).
The participants were randomized to either receive 40 intravenous infusions of the EDTA chelation solution or a normal saline and dextrose placebo.
The outcome of the study showed that for those with diabetes, EDTA chelation was a significant benefit. Very little difference was found for those without diabetes. Here is the graph of events for those with diabetes.
The authors of the study conclude that the results do not warrant using chelaton therapy for all diabetic patients with myocardial infarction. Rather they recommend further clinical trials to validate these findings.
Many clinics are touting EDTA as a miracle for vascular disease, hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, senility, cataracts and so on, but the evidence for these claims is not clear with some studies showing positive results and other studies showing no significant results.
Modified Citrus Pectin
Citrus pectin comes from the white pulp of citrus peels. It is a complex polysaccharide (a long chain of sugar molecules bonded together). It is an established food additive that is generally regarded as safe. Modified citrus pectin is citrus pectin that has been broken into shorter chains that more easily enter the bloodstream.
Although many studies have been done with modified citrus pectin, it is not approved by the FDA as a chelating agent.
Modified citrus pectin has been shown to help remove toxic heavy metals and inhibit metastasis of cancer and reduce tumor growth rates. It also has good effects of cholesterol reduction and may boost the immune system.
A major benefit of modified citrus pectin in chelation is that while it binds to and helps eliminate toxic heavy metals, it does not disturb essential minerals that the body needs and has no adverse side effects. Thus, it is safe to use on a long term, ongoing basis to help reduce the body burden of toxic heavy metals.
One study took place at a children’s hospital in China. Lead toxicity is a public health crisis in many urban area of China. Seven children with high lead exposures were participants in this study. Modified citrus pectin was the only chelating agent used in this study.
Each patient received 15 g of modified citrus pectin administered in three 5 g doses each day. Urinary and blood concentrations of lead were monitored weekly until the blood concentrations were below 20 mg/dL and they were discharged. Patients reached this “safe” level after two, three, and four weeks. No adverse effects were noted in these children.
You can see from the following graph how modified citrus pectin increased the elimination of lead through the urine in each patient.
Another study looked at the effects of modified citrus pectin on normal, healthy adults with “normal” body burdens of heavy metals. Each subject took 15 g of modified citrus pectin in three equal doses each day for 5 days and a dose of 20 g in four equal doses on day 6.
After the first day of treatment the amounts of heavy metals eliminated in the urine showed dramatic increases. Cadmium elimination rose 230%, lead elimination rose 560%, mercury elimination rose 150%, both arsenic and tin elimination rose 130%.
This clinical trial provided evidence that even in otherwise healthy adults, modified citrus pectin helped eliminate toxic heavy metals while not interfering with essential minerals.
Conclusions You Can Use
Most people should work to avoid as much exposure to heavy metals as possible. And, if the body burden of heavy metals become too high, use a chelating agent to help reduce the levels in the body. The gentle yet effective modified citrus pectin is becoming more popular as research results become more widely known.
- Heavy Metal Sources, Occupational Exposures, And Symptoms from the CENTER FOR THE HEALING ARTS, PC
- Exposure to heavy metals in the workplace as published in the Proceedings of a Seminar on Heavy Metals in the New Zealand Environment
- Heavy metal induced oxidative stress & its possible reversal by chelation therapy as published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research
- THE ROLE OF MODIFIED CITRUS PECTIN AS AN EFFECTIVE CHELATOR OF LEAD IN CHILDREN HOSPITALIZED WITH TOXIC LEAD LEVELS as published in Alternative Therapies
- Kill or cure: Misuse of chelation therapy for human diseases as published in the Coordination Chemistry Reviews
- EDTA Chelation Therapy Research Papers written by Vanderbilt University students providing scientific reviews of topics related to health and well being
- Effect of Chelating Agent on Urinary Lead Excretion. Comparison of Oral and Intravenous Administration. published in the Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine
- The Pharmacology of Chelation Therapy by Dr. Wallace Sampson, M.D.
- The Effect of an EDTA-based Chelation Regimen on Patients With Diabetes Mellitus and Prior Myocardial Infarction in the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT) as published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes
- The Effect of Modified Citrus Pectin on Urinary Excretion of Toxic Elements as published in Phytotherapy Research
- Integrative Medicine and the Role of Modified Citrus Pectin/Alginates in Heavy Metal Chelation and Detoxification – Five Case Reports