Heavy metals are naturally found in nature, but if they build up too much in our body they can become toxic and inflammatory. Over the past 70 years or more, human exposure to heavy metal toxins has increased dramatically. Every day we are exposed to heavy metal toxins in the air we breathe, the water and food we consume, along with other products we use.
Their toxicity depends on several factors including the dose, route of exposure, and chemical species, as well as the age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals. Because of their high degree of toxicity, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury rank among the priority metals that are of public health significance. We can all tolerate small amounts and are all exposed to heavy metals in our daily environment, but when we can’t metabolise these toxins due to poor lymph, kidney and cellular clearance, that’s when we run into problems.
These metallic elements are considered systemic toxicants that are known to induce multiple organ damage, even at lower levels of exposure. They are also classified as human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the US Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (1).
Health practitioners have started to recognise that heavy metal toxicity is a genuine threat to our health and may also be a common culprit driving chronic health conditions. Heavy metal toxicity is commonly overlooked as a driver of chronic health conditions in particular, conditions that have a neurological, hormonal or immune effect. Heavy metal toxicity is becoming increasingly common due to environmental toxins in water and air, pesticide use, improper food containers, cookware, fish consumption and mercury amalgam fillings.
Signs and Symptoms of Acute and Chronic Toxicity.
There are two types of heavy metal toxicity: acute and chronic. Symptoms of acute toxicity are easy to recognize because they are usually quick and severe in onset. They include:
- Cramping, nausea, and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Impaired cognitive, motor, and language skills
On the other hand, chronic exposure produces different symptoms, which can be easily confused with symptoms of different illnesses. Symptoms include impaired cognitive, motor, and language skills, learning difficulties, nervousness and emotional instability, insomnia and nausea.
Toxic metals can affect the absorption and utilisation of essential minerals, which can in itself lead to a cascade of symptoms that gradually get worse over time. Below is a more specific checklist of symptoms of metal toxicity poisoning:
- Chronic pain throughout the muscles and tendons or any soft tissues of the body
- Chronic malaise — general feeling of discomfort, fatigue, and illness
- Brain fog — state of forgetfulness and confusion
- Chronic infections such as Candida
- Gastrointestinal complaints, such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, heartburn, indigestion heartburn, and indigestion
- Food allergies
- Migraines and/or headaches
- Visual disturbances
- Mood swings, depression, and/or anxiety
- Nervous system malfunctions — burning extremities, numbness, tingling, paralysis, and/or an electrifying feeling throughout the body
WHO: 10 chemicals of major public health concern
including heavy metals
- Air pollution
- Dioxin and dioxin-like substances
- Inadequate or excess fluoride
- Highly hazardous pesticides 
How do I know if I have a heavy metal toxicity?
Hair mineral analysis is a screening test to measure the levels of up to 60 essential minerals and toxic metals. Hair is an excellent biopsy material, is easy to sample, easily preserved and transported, represents a soft tissue of the body, and is a storage and eliminative tissue.
As hair grows it forms a permanent record of the body’s nutritional deficiencies or excesses. Minerals screened include electrolytes – calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and phosphorus and trace minerals – copper, manganese, chromium, selenium, iron, molybdenum, lithium, cobalt,and zinc. Toxic metal screening includes lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, and aluminum.
Extensive research established that scalp hair element levels are related to human systemic levels. The strength of this relationship varies for specific elements, and many researchers consider hair as the tissue of choice for toxic and several nutrient elements. Unlike blood, hair element levels are not regulated by homeostatic mechanisms. Thus, deviations in hair element levels often appear prior to overt symptoms and can thereby be a valuable preliminary tool for predicting the development of physiological abnormalities.
Hair element analysis provides important information which, in conjunction with symptoms and other laboratory values, can assist the physician with an early diagnosis of physiological disorders associated with aberrations in essential and toxic element metabolism.
As protein is synthesized in the hair follicle, elements are incorporated permanently into the hair with no further exchange with other tissues. Scalp hair is easy to sample, and because it grows an average of one to two cm per month, it contains a “temporal record” of element metabolism and exposure to toxic elements.
Toxic elements may be 200-300 times more highly concentrated in hair than in blood or urine. Therefore, hair is the tissue of choice for detection of recent exposure to elements such as arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, lead, antimony, and mercury. The CDC acknowledges the value of hair mercury levels as a maternal and infant marker for exposure to neurotoxic methylmercury from fish.
Hair element analysis is a valuable and inexpensive screen for physiological excess, deficiency or maldistribution of elements. It should not be considered a stand-alone diagnostic test for essential element function, and should be used in conjunction with patient symptoms and other laboratory tests. For more information.