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“Detox” is one of the most popular buzzwords in the health world these days. It can mean anything from eating extra greens and sipping apple cider vinegar to fasting and taking a pile of supplements. In addition, external detox methods I’ve tried and love are epsom salt baths, detox foot soaks, and dry brushing.
I’ve tried plenty of ways to detox but never considered more serious regimens designed to detox heavy metals. I mean, isn’t that serious stuff that only happens to people living next to a chemical plant?
What Are Heavy Metals?
First of all, scientists debate the exact definition of a heavy metal, which depends on several factors like density, atomic weight, and chemical makeup. In a nutshell, heavy metals are dense metallic or semi-metallic elements naturally occurring in the earth. They occur naturally in the soil and leach into water sources, but there are plenty of man-made sources as well.
Certain heavy metals aren’t a problem in small doses and are even necessary to the body, but the harmful ones like lead, mercury, and the lesser known (but just as problematic) cadmium can bioaccumulate in the body faster than our bodies can detox them.
Sources of Heavy Metals
Here are some of the heavy metals causing toxicity in our modern environment and their common sources:
- lead (auto exhaust, root canals, building materials, water, some teas)
- mercury (dental fillings, vaccines, contact lens solution, seafood)
- cadmium (cigarettes, batteries, hydrogenated oils, coffee)
- arsenic (conventional poultry and eggs)
- aluminum (deodorant, vaccines, cookware, some teas)
- thallium (added to gasoline)
- bismuth (makeup, medicines)
The list certainly goes on, but these are a few of the key players.
Limiting heavy metals exposure is just one of the reasons to consume meats and seafood from good sources, use holistic dentistry, make natural deodorant and beauty products, and avoid hydrogenated oils.
Unfortunately, we may not have as much control over other things on the list.
Why Are Heavy Metals a Problem?
So why are some heavy metals so bad for the body?
There are about 23 heavy metals in total that can be especially toxic. These substances actually “intrude” and interrupt normal cellular processes by binding with protein sites and replacing the metals that naturally occur in the cell. This affects the functioning of mitochondria, or the energy makers of our cells, leading to symptoms like fatigue (and much worse with long-term exposure).
Doing all we can to limit exposure is half of the battle, but there are certain steps we can take to help our bodies process and eliminate heavy metals.
You guessed it … detox!
Do We Need to Detox Heavy Metals?
Unfortunately, heavy metals toxicity isn’t isolated to a few acute cases. Take this rather stunning statement from my podcast interview with Wendy Myers, detox expert and founder of Liveto110.com, on the topic of heavy metals:
Definitely I believe that toxic metals are a primary driver of disease today. We’re seeing health issues and diseases we didn’t see 30 years ago, and it’s because of the increasing introduction of these toxins into our environment.
Primary driver of disease today? Clearly, heavy metal poisoning goes beyond an Erin Brockovich scenario!
Of course, our bodies have amazing detoxification mechanisms that allow us to take in a certain amount without harm. I’m not suggesting we invent health problems that aren’t there. Still, kids, pregnant women, and those with conditions that impair detoxification are especially vulnerable.
More from Wendy in our podcast conversation:
I’m definitely not a believer at all that our bodies detox just fine on their own. …Some people do have compromised liver function, the compromised ability genetically to detox, and a lot of other mitigating factors that cause them to accumulate toxic metals and chemicals that require them to take a more aggressive approach to detoxification.
How can we tell if we have a problem with heavy metals? There are some signs to look for:
Signs of Heavy Metal Toxicity
While signs of acute toxicity are easier to spot (severe cramping, vertigo, vomiting, difficulty breathing, impaired motor and cognitive skills, etc.), more subtle signs that you need to detox heavy metals are:
- poor digestion/bloating/gas
- compromised ability to digest fats
- female problems (hormones, infertility, preeclampsia)
- excess sweating
- gaining weight just around the waist
- severe food cravings
- middle-of-the-night insomnia
- aching joints
- mood swings
- and the list goes on …
Left unchecked heavy metal toxicity can cause not only misery but serious disease including Alzheimers, dementia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and cancer. A 2014 article in the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology explains:
Heavy metal toxicity can lower energy levels and damage the functioning of the brain, lungs, kidney, liver, blood composition and other important organs. Long-term exposure can lead to gradually progressing physical, muscular, and neurological degenerative processes that imitate diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and muscular dystrophy. Repeated long-term exposure of some metals and their compounds may even cause cancer (Jarup, 2003).
The toxicity level of a few heavy metals can be just above the background concentrations that are being present naturally in the environment. Hence thorough knowledge of heavy metals is rather important for allowing to provide proper defensive measures against
their excessive contact (Ferner, 2001). (Jaishankar 2014)
Not much good news here, but not to despair … there are ways to detox heavy metals that enter the bloodstream and help flush them out before they cause chronic disease.
Basically, if you generally live a healthy lifestyle but still experience many of the above symptoms, it may be time to dig deeper.
How to Test for Heavy Metals Toxicity
Granted, this list probably sounds pretty familiar to other issues like thyroid disorders, or autoimmune disease, even leaky gut and many others. Testing is needed to find out if heavy metals actually are the culprits.
A hair mineral analysis test is a great place to start. In addition to toxic metal levels, this test can give clues to overall health factors like metabolic rate, inflammation, blood sugar levels, and more. Wendy Myers covers the ins and out of testing for heavy metals in this informative post.
Is It Dangerous to Detox Heavy Metals?
Yes, detoxing heavy metals out of the body requires special caution, but there are safe ways to help our bodies’ natural detoxification processes along. However, since different heavy metals require different methods to get them out of the body, professional testing and supervision is definitely recommended for the safest and most effective detox.
Basically, you don’t want to get heavy metals moving around in your body unless you also have a way to make them exit or they can cause even more serious problems. There are two important steps in the process when it comes to ridding the body of heavy metals:
Step 1: Mobilize
Certain supplements and detoxification methods “unlock” heavy metals where they are accumulating and get them moving. However, releasing heavy metals can cause even worse problems without Step 2:
Step 2: Bind and Eliminate
This second step grabs on to heavy metals and ensures they are supposed to exit the body as quickly as possible!
Natural Ways to Detox Heavy Metals (You Can Do on Your Own)
There are some things we can safely do at home to improve our body’s detoxification mechanisms and lessen our chances of ending up with a more serious problem:
- Get hair mineral and other testing (EverlyWell is a lab test you can use at home)
- Drink plenty of filtered water
- Exercise to induce sweating and improve elimination
- Use a binding/mobilizing supplement. I use CytoDetox (or see Wendy’s recommendations below).
- Support the liver with a nourishing, anti-inflammatory diet
- Spend time in an infrared sauna (and take CytoDetox or PectaSol-C after)
Here are two safe supplements Wendy recommends for anyone concerned about heavy metal accumulation:
- BioSil – Take 5-10 drops or 1 capsule daily to mobilize heavy metals.
- PectaSol-C – Take 5 grams daily or more, depending on tolerance.
Important note: This is a two-part recommendation: don’t take one without the other!
Ultimately, while testing and supplements aren’t inexpensive, these supplements might be a lifesaver and prevent some terrible (and even more costly) health issues down the road.
The Bottom Line
Heavy metals exposure is unavoidable, so I think it’s best to remember why we’re striving for health in the first place (and not worry too much!). Being educated is the first step to knowing what to do if problems arise for you or a loved one.
For other ways to detox heavy metals and other detox supplements recommended by Wendy Myers, take a listen to her Wellness Mama podcast episode about toxic metals or see her Mineral Power Detox Program. I might do a hair mineral analysis just out of curiosity and I’ll be sure to share the results if I do!
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Lauren Jefferis, board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Are you concerned about heavy metals in the environment causing health problems? Have you ever done a heavy metals detox? Please share!