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Heavy Metal Toxicity – how it's affecting your health

Cheryl Wright, RNCP, RHN, BA

Almost all Canadians have some form of heavy metal toxicity. Even though most people are aware that lead and mercury poisoning are dangerous, few people realize heavy metals are entering our bodies on a daily basis.

Heavy metals are trace metals which are natural components of the Earth's crust. These metals were present in our environment in only tiny amounts until the last century, when industrial mining became common. Now heavy metals have entered our environment through the air, leached into our drinking water, and into the soil our food grows in (never mind all of the man-made chemicals and products produced with them).

Heavy metal poisoning tends to occur over time, as toxicity builds up in the body. At the beginning symptoms are often vague including headaches, fatigue, upset stomach, skin problems, irritability, constipation, muscle and joint pain. This leads most people to ignore the cause, and practitioners to overlook the possible heavy metal connection. In fact, heavy metal toxicity may not show physical symptoms during the early stages at all, making it even more difficult to diagnose. Even though physical symptoms may not appear, your body is still being damaged. Over time, heavy metal toxicity affects many vital functions in the body including; brain function; neurotransmissions, and liver function.

Heavy metals can be taken into the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. If they accumulate in the body tissues faster than our body's detoxification system can dispose of them, than a gradual build-up can occur. It's surprising (and a little scary) to find all the common ways that heavy metals can enter our system. Below are the most common toxic heavy metals and some of the ways they can enter the body:

  • Aluminum - cookware, aluminum foil, antiperspirant, antacids, buffered aspirin, baking powder, canned acidic foods, processed cheese and refined flour.
  • Arsenic - weed killers, contaminated meats and seafood (especially clams and oysters), and well water.
  • Cadmium - cigarette smoke, refined grains, soft water, shellfish, coffee and tea.
  • Lead - paints from before 1971, water from leaded pipes, lunch meats, cigarettes, pottery, and lipstick.
  • Mercury - cosmetics, vaccines, fungicides, pesticides, fish, tattoos, fabric softeners, and dental fillings.

What is even more terrifying, is that you do not need to be exposed to a high concentration of metals to become toxic. Miniscule amounts can accumulate and over time even a very low level of exposure can reach toxic levels in the body. Your best option is to avoid heavy metal exposure as much as possible, however in our toxic society that is not always possible. If you have been exposed to any of the above (and most of us are on a daily basis), it is imperative that you work to remove them from your system.

There are natural ways to remove heavy metals from the body. One of the most effective ways are herbal heavy metal cleanses. These cleanses work to remove heavy metals through a process known as chelation. Chelation comes from the Greek word ‘to claw' which basically means ‘to grab hold of'. When heavy metals are chelated, they are grabbed from tissues and organs and removed from the system.

Herbs like cilantro can be used to move metals (like mercury) out of the central nervous system, organs and tissues, and into the bloodstream. Sea plants and algae like kelp, spirulina, chlorella, and sodium alginate ‘chelate' the metals while they are in the bloodstream. From there, they are processed by the liver and can be eliminated by the body through its normal channels of detoxification - the kidneys and colon. The binding nature of chelating agents results in some vitamins and minerals being bound and removed from the body as well. Therefore, it is important to find a cleanse that not only has chelating herbs, but also includes a vitamin / mineral supplement to replace the ones that may have been removed during the chelation process.

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