Heavy metals are environmental pollutants that are naturally found on the earth and are used in many applications including agriculture, medicine, and industry. Despite their various uses, they are also harmful and thus considered toxins.
Heavy metal contamination has increased dramatically in recent decades because of technological advancements and so they’ve been gaining a considerable amount of attention. Because of their toxicity and ability to persist in the environment (they’re non-degradable) and the body, they pose high environmental and health risks. Here we’ll specifically look closer into heavy metal toxicity- what it means, what the symptoms are, and how it can be naturally cured.
Heavy metals aren’t only found naturally in the environment- even our bodies naturally contain them. Zinc, iron, and copper, for example, are heavy metals necessary (in minute amounts) for the proper bodily functions. Issues arise when certain heavy metals are present in toxic amounts. When we are exposed to high levels, heavy metals accumulate in the soft tissues of the body such as fat, muscle, blood vessels, and nerves [R].
Mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium are some of the most common heavy metals that the body can absorb in toxic amounts. When exposed to metal-contaminated food, air, water, medicine, certain seafood, food containers with improper coating, lead-based paint, and cigarette smoke, levels of heavy metals in the body may become toxic, resulting in potentially serious conditions.
Heavy metals mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium are metals who are most commonly associated with heavy metal toxicity because they can cause harm even in very low quantities. Interestingly, the reason why heavy metals can cause harm to the body is that they compete with, and even replace, essential minerals in the body and therefore affect the functioning [R]. They also induce high levels of oxidative stress on the body, leading to damage to cells, proteins, and DNA.
High levels of exposure to heavy metals lead to some very serious symptoms and each heavy metal can cause different poisoning symptoms. For example, mercury, which is historically used by dental assistants and hygienists, can affect the lungs, kidneys, and brain causing fatigue, depression, irritability, and headaches [R]. Other heavy metal toxicity symptoms include lung damage, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, rashes, hypertension, kidney failure, sperm damage, birth defects, miscarriages, and severe neurological abnormalities such as behavioral changes, anxiety, tremors, and reduced muscle coordination [R].
The main, and most obvious, treatment of heavy metal toxicity is the removal of the source. There are also various drugs, called chelating agents, which can bind to heavy metals and excrete them through the urine. However, these drugs can come with some severe side-effects of their own.
Luckily, there are some natural remedies.
Garlic, for example, helps alleviate some of the heavy metal toxicity symptoms and has been shown to provide protection against cadmium toxicity [R]. Green tea also has a protective effect against both lead and cadmium. Curry leaves contain flavonoids and phenols that can actually act as natural chelating agents that bind to heavy metals and “escort them” out of the body [R].
Fruits, and in particular grapes, are also effective. The high levels of polyphenols found in grapes may help fight the oxidative stress induced by cadmium and lead toxicity. Tomato is thought to be one of the most powerful antioxidants and has been shown to significantly reduce the accumulation of lead, cadmium, and mercury in the livers of rats [R] which can be very indicative of their healing powers for humans.
Probiotics are also beneficial against heavy metal poisoning. Lactic acid bacteria species are capable of binding to heavy metals in the body, thereby neutralizing them. Moreover, they’re also strong antioxidants, which provides further protection against heavy metal toxicity [R]. Finally, two of my favorite heavy metal remedies are cilantro and spirulina. When the two are combined, their heavy metal detoxification abilities can be very effective. If you’re looking for a tasty way to get these two superfoods into your daily diet, try our Heavy Metal Detox Smoothie below!
1 cup unsweetened dairy free milk
2 scoops of Watermelon seed protein (watermelon is very high in glutathione which aids in the detox process)
¼ bunch of cilantro with the stems on
1 cup organic frozen berries (we love wild frozen blueberries because they are delicious, but any organic berry would work here).
½ tsp cinnamon
Blend and enjoy!