Light metals may not lengthen lives but heavy metals can certainly shorten them. Toxicity due to heavy metals can inadvertently come about many ways: drinking slightly acid water that has passed through lead pipes, eating too much mercury-containing tuna and swordfish, eating flakes of lead paint that have dropped from the ceiling in an ancient kitchen, breathing fumes from a nearby smelter, oil-painting with cadmium red and yellow, and breathing mercury vapor from smashed fluorescent bulbs. A man named Orlando used to work in my granddad’s newspaper running a linotype machine back in the 30s in Detroit. Those machines had pots of boiling lead used to cast type, and Orlando was strange and crazy from breathing the fumes. Mercury used to be used extensively in shaping the felt used in hats and drove hatters to become mad, thus the phrase ‘mad as a hatter.” A few years back a test showed I had a high level of serum arsenic. That was probably from handling pressure-treated lumber restoring the deck in my summer home.
“Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include mental confusion, pain in muscles and joints, headaches, short-term memory loss, gastrointestinal upsets, food intolerances/allergies, vision problems, chronic fatigue, and others. The symptoms are so vague that it is difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone(ref).” Therefore I strongly recommend that any readers who believe they may be suffering from heavy metal poisoning should consult with a medical practitioner to obtain proper testing and treatment. And, of course, epigenomic deregulation and accelerated aging can result from the presence of heavy metals in the body. In extreme case, death may soon follow the poisoning.
Dangerous heavy metals include arsenic (found in insect and other pest poisons, in some industrial products and even in some drinking water), lead (found in old-fashioned paints, old plumbing pipes and even new soldered plumbing joints, old lead house paint, old toys and some toys from China, , and fumes from smelters), mercury (found in large ocean fish and some fish from contaminated waters, fluorescent light bulbs in vapor form, dental fillings, thermometers, fumes from some coal-burning power plants, mining ore processing and foods containing mercury residues from processing), and cadmium (contained in fumes and wastes from various industrial processing, silver soldering, nickel plating, engraving, electroplating, and used in nickel-cadmium batteries as well as cadmium vapor lamps.) These and other toxic heavy metals (there are about a dozen, all told) are also used in agriculture, in treating parasites in farm animals and often find their way into water and air associated with industrial or agricultural pollution.
Clearing out heavy metals
The sources of heavy metals are so universal that it may be impossible to avoid having some levels of one or more of them in one’s system, but yet the ideal body levels of all such metals is zero. So, what are the ways of getting rid of heavy metals from one’s body? I know of three approaches:
– Intravenous chelation
The standard medical treatment for acute heavy metal poisoning is intravenous chelation, usually with EDTA. A chelating substance can be thought of as chemical tongs which can grab toxic heavy metal molecules and escort them outside of the body. “The Chelation process is based upon the use of a water soluble molecule such as EDTA, that can essentially wrap itself around a heavy metal molecule that ISN’T water soluble, and gets trapped inside the body because it cannot pass through the mucous membranes of the kidneys, liver, GI tract, lungs or skin. — The word “CHELE” is Latin for the claw of a crab, and the Chelation process is essentially as if a “Crab claw” wraps itself around a heavy metal molecule, and then gives it free passage out of the body (similar to an illegal alien sneaking across the border in the trunk of a car)(ref). “ The calcium EDTA is dripped into a vein and the chelated metals pass out in the urine. The IV treatments may last 15-30 minutes each and, depending on the degree of toxicity present, a number of treatments may be required. Other intravenous chelators include DMPS and DMSA. The intravenous chelating process also removes desirable nutrients like zink, vitamins C and E which must be replenished.
Intravenous EDTA treatment is FDA-approved for certain indications, generally regarded to be safe and is usually the treatment of choice in case of acute heavy metal poisoning. However, its widespread use by some practioners of alternative medicine is highly controversial. These practioners believe that even minor heavy metal toxicity may be responsible for a wide variety of illnesses, including circulatory diseases, and suggest repeated use of intravenous chelation(ref). They make claims like “EDTA Chelation has been proven effective in the elimination toxins and dangerous arterial plaque in hundreds of medical studies conducted by many of the world’s most highly respected medical institutions over 50 years(ref).” Twenty, thirty or more sessions of this therapy may be recommended, often to be done in clinics owned by such practioners themselves.
However, many cardiovascular experts associated with mainline medicine believe that such research claims are vastly exaggerated and question the efficacy of this approach for other than treating acute poisoning(ref). The paper EDTA chelation therapy for cardiovascular disease: a systematic review concludes “The best available evidence does not support the therapeutic use of EDTA chelation therapy in the treatment of cardiovascular disease. Although not considered to be a highly invasive or harmful therapy, it is possible that the use of EDTA chelation therapy in lieu of proven therapy may result in causing indirect harm to the patient.”
– Oral supplements that are chelators
As already well-stated in my treatise “While acute poisoning with excessive blood serum levels of PCBs, lead, arsenic, cadmium or mercury requires intravenous chelation and other aggressive treatments, supplements can play a role in ongoing control of serum levels of these substances in healthy individuals and on the biological impacts of the presence of such toxins. L-carnosine is an important element of my firewall defense against toxic heavy metals like cadmium, lead, and mercury since it has an ability to chelate them (literally, to grab on to and combine with the molecules of these metals so the kidney and liver can excrete them). Further, according to animal experiments, certain antioxidants already in this firewall, vitamin C, alpha tocopherol, melatonin and alpha-lipoic acid in particular, can play roles in reducing the toxicity of heavy metals and PCBs, in some cases reducing it dramatically. Other components of the firewall defense against toxic metals are mineral supplements that compete for absorption and compete metabolically with such metals. For example, copper and selenium antagonize mercury. Calcium helps reduce lead and zinc helps reduce cadmium. Magnesium also appears to be very important for protecting cells from heavy metals.” And, pyridoxamine is also a chelator.
Although I had a few sessions of intravenous chelation many years ago, I now rely on the supplements to do the job. If I were inadvertently exposed, say, to mercury or arsenic fumes, I would consider a few sessions of IV EDTA treatment.
– Toxic metal removal by raising body heat and sweating
In a recent blog commentary, reader Jayne pointed out the use of sweating in saunas as a way of getting rid of heavy metals, an approach I had not heard of until then. There are lots of research citations relating to the role of raising body heat and sweating in elimination of “good” minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium and zink(ref)(ref). In fact, that’s why people who exercise drink Gatoraade to replenish their electrolytes. There are also mentions in Internet of the use of saunas for “detoxification,” particularly detoxification after exposure to PCBs or solvents(ref)(ref). I found a couple of casual mentions of the use of saunas for heavy metal removal in the medical literature(ref), and several mentions on commercial sauna sites(ref). My limited searching has failed, however, to reveal any systematic studies relating sauna use to heavy metal detoxification. So, I am unable to determine how effective this approach to detoxification may actually be, how hot the sauna has to be, how long to stay in it, safety precautions, etc.
Beyond saunas, sweat lodges rituals involving intense heat are processes with native-American origins that are supposedly detoxifying. I went through a few of those a couple years back and the heat stress was so great that I was glad to emerge alive. A few weeks ago a news report said that three people were killed and nearly two dozen more required hospital treatment due to participating in such a ritual. So, my fears were not entirely unjustified. Intense sustained heat can be very dangerous.
Any of you readers out there who are members of the sauna or sweat lodge cultures might want to chime in on this. I have a large sauna at home but family members have gradually filled it with storage boxes. The same has happened to my sauna at the lake house. If I were sufficiently motivated I would mobilize efforts to clear them out and start using them again.