Lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic - these are the four heavy metals of greatest concern when it comes to human health.
This, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and various studies. In 2003, researchers noted that, while we now know that exposure to these metals can be dangerous, "exposure to heavy metals continues and is even increasing in some parts of the world."
Here are some examples:
It is used in rechargeable batteries and is also present in emissions (fumes, dust), cigarette smoke, plastics and food (grains, cereals, leafy vegetables). Studies have recently indicated that the health effects of cadmium can occur at lower exposure levels than previously believed. Related problems include bone effects, fractures, kidney damage, gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, respiratory problems, lung and other cancers, hypertension, low birth weight, and heart problems.
It is found mainly in fish and dental amalgams. Groups with high consumption of fish high in mercury (shark, swordfish, tuna, and fish taken from polluted waters, such as pike, walleye, and sea bass) may be at risk. Related problems include neurological damage and developmental defects, and potentially cancerous tumors. For fetuses and children, exposure can affect cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and fine motor and spatial skills.
It is present in the air and in food, mainly in lead-contaminated water, soil, paint chips, and dust, and in lead-containing foods in soil or water. The researchers note that over the past century, lead emissions have caused considerable pollution, primarily due to lead emissions from gasoline. Children are particularly susceptible. Lead in gasoline has decreased in recent decades, but it is still present in some lead-based paints and some food packaging. Related problems include fatigue, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, nerve damage, increased blood pressure, hearing and vision impairment, reproductive problems, developmental delays, and cancer, as well as brain damage and behavior problems in children. .
It is present in food, drinking water, and cigarette smoke, as well as in computer chips, feed additives (for poultry and pigs), wood preservatives (although this is being phased out), and in some pesticides. Related health problems include skin cancer, lung cancer, other cancers, skin lesions, pigmentation changes, birth defects, cardiac arrhythmias, immune suppression, hormonal imbalance, and muscle tenderness and weakness.
According to a 2013 study, heavy metals are introduced into our food from “natural sources such as soil, air and water, and through wastewater irrigation, solid waste disposal, mining, smelting, sludge applications, vehicle exhaust, fertilizers, fungicides and industrial activities. ". A previous study adds that the problem arises due to the increased use of fertilizers and other chemicals to meet the increased demands of food production for human consumption.
Heavy metals also find their way into the air during combustion, extraction, and processing, and reach surface waters through runoff and releases from storage and transportation. They make their way into our soils through groundwater, pesticides, and fertilizers.
In addition to causing health problems, exposure to heavy metals can also deplete some essential nutrients in the body, which can deplete the immune system and lead to other problems such as malnutrition and even cancer.
We can protect our health first by reducing our exposure, and second, by taking steps to eliminate heavy metals that get inside us.
How to reduce exposure
Several simple lifestyle changes can protect us from exposure to dangerous heavy metals. These include the following:
- Avoid things that contain heavy metals, such as high-mercury fish, treated wood, conventional meats, and contaminated areas.
- Stop smoking. Cigarettes are a source of heavy metals, so avoiding smoking and staying away from smoking areas can reduce exposure.
- Drinking water test. Look for cadmium and other heavy metals, and consider installing a filter that captures them.
- Look for organic grass-fed meats. Heavy metals are often found in animal feed, so looking for healthy grass-fed options can help ensure you're not exposed.
- Avoid nonstick cookware, which can leach toxic metals into your food. Use ceramic cookware, or try cast iron cookware.
- Test your home for lead. If you find it, look for reputable companies to help you remove it.
- Be careful when buying furniture. Look for locally made items rather than cheap items that may contain treated wood. If you can, leave some new parts outside or in the garage for a few days to air out before bringing them home.
- Consider blood tests. Ask your doctor about having a blood test for heavy metals in your system.
How to remove toxins
Once toxins are in your body, your liver and kidneys work to remove them. You can help them out with the following tips:
- Drink plenty of water. Your kidneys need it to move waste through your system.
- Get lots of antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can help protect your cells from damage that heavy metals can cause. Vitamin C and E are especially powerful antioxidants to protect against oxidative damage from heavy metals.
- Get enough fiber. Fiber helps move food through your system, reducing the risk of it absorbing heavy metals.
- Get enough glutathione. It is an antioxidant that helps protect against heavy metal toxicity. A 2004 study showed that glutathione (GSH) protected the liver when it was exposed to things like mercury and chromium. Good sources of this nutrient include fresh (uncooked) fruits and vegetables, particularly asparagus, broccoli, avocado, pumpkin, and spinach. You can also try N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) and alpha lipoic acid supplements.
- Try selenium. We need this mineral anyway, and studies have shown that it can help reduce the effects of toxic heavy metals. A 2008 study, for example, found that supplementation with selenium significantly eliminated toxicity from exposure to toxic metals.
- Eat more sauerkraut and other probiotic-rich foods. These health-promoting bacteria help trap and metabolize heavy metals in a way that prevents them from damaging the body. A 2014 study, for example, found that probiotic-containing yogurt protected children and pregnant women against exposure to heavy metals, specifically mercury and arsenic.
- Consider chlorella supplements. Studies have shown that these can help the body eliminate toxins, and it also has promising cancer-blocking activity. Another good option is modified citrus pectin, which in studies has been shown to help increase the excretion of heavy metals.
- Get enough healthy fats. These help the body process and excrete toxic heavy metals. Without enough fat, metals can stay and accumulate in tissues. Also consider a quality fish oil supplement, as it can provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids without the mercury content of some fish.
- Take care of your liver. It is the main waste disposal center in your body. Eat more foods that support your function, such as garlic and onions, beets, and artichokes.
- Get enough healthy minerals. Minerals like zinc, iron, calcium, and selenium help block the absorption of toxic metals like lead and cadmium. Make sure you get enough healthy minerals in your daily diet. Good sources include eggs, mushrooms, organ meats, shellfish, whole grains, and dairy products.