Invisible Threats: Heavy Metals, Part 1

Updated: Aug 27

Besides Rona threatening us all everyday (go away, Rona!), we are exposed daily to invisible toxins.  I've posted previously about environmental toxins but wanted to revisit the topic as it relates to chronic diseases since that post was just a taste of what we need to realize about our exposures to toxins.



 During conversation recently I mentioned that I was doing a detox and was asked to explain. Since it is  almost second nature to me I forget that folks may not be familiar with how toxins build up in our bodies and cause diseases. 

So first you need to know that you don't have to live next door to a chemical plant to be exposed to toxins but if you do you will definitely be much more exposed and likely to develop all sorts of issues.

Instead of talking about all the long list of organic pollutants, today I am taking a deep dive into the hazards of heavy metal exposure. 

Heavy metals accumulate in our bodies because of exposure due to a person's work or proximity to industrial exposure but also due to contamination of our food, water and air.

Today I'm highlighting Arsenic and Cadmium. My data comes from publications by the Doctors Data lab, The Toxin Solution by Dr. Pizzorno and from the Clinical Environmental Medicine textbook by Drs. Crinnion and Pizzorno. According to available research, toxic metal body burden symptoms are often not expressed until we begin to experience rapid aging and the symptoms may be nondescript. 

We do know that certain conditions can be directly linked to exposure to toxic metals (like the neurologic and learning disabilities associated with exposure to lead in the Flint, MI drinking water).

So first up is Arsenic. I may have mentioned it before in a post about toxins so some of you may already know that Arsenic is present in water, rice and fish. It is also in cigarette smoke. It is estimated that more than 50% of the American population has a body burden of Arsenic capable of increasing our risk of disease. 

Diseases associated with Arsenic include diabetes, cardiovascular disease, COPD, shingles, cancers of the lung, pancreas, liver, prostate and skin and cognitive decline or neurologic impairment

Ongoing exposure can be measured with a first morning voided urine. Doctors Data also offers a drinking water analysis (especially needed if you use well water) here.

Your body has built in mechanisms to try and get rid of the arsenic. Your liver will methylate arsenic to create a compound called MMA and then potentially pass it back through for a second methylation cycle to produce DMA which is 300 times less toxic than MMA.  So improving methylation can help lessen the toxic effects of exposure to arsenic. I'll list helpful ways to improve methylation below.

If you decide to get tested you should remember that some foods contain organic arsenic which has a short half life. Seafood and rice have the highest amounts of organic arsenic so should be avoided for 3 days before a urine test for toxic (inorganic) arsenic. 

Inorganic arsenic is present in certain pigments used in glassmaking so individuals working in or living around facilities making glass using those pigments are heavily exposed. Cigarette smoke is also a source of toxic arsenic exposure and a pesticide containing arsenic was used for over 100 years in orchards in our country. So air and soil in those orchard communities is also a source of exposure. 

Groundwater arsenic is the form of exposure most often used in studies about arsenic toxicity, along with exposure to arsenic in foods. Several studies have linked increased risk of lung cancer to low levels of arsenic in groundwater. An increase in the rate of kidney disease with prolonged groundwater exposure has also been reported. Decreasing cognitive function has also been found.**

Check out a map of the arsenic levels in groundwater in your area here. Scroll down past recent articles to get to the map of the U.S. My peeps in Georgia and Louisiana need to get your well water tested!

Besides avoidance you can help your body reduce toxicity and eliminate arsenic by adding supplements to enhance methylation. S-adenosyl methionine, folate, methylfolate, methylcobalamine (B12) and l-methionine have all been shown to increase methylation of inorganic arsenic. 

If you have already been tested and have a high level of arsenic then work with a Functional Medicine practitioner like myself or one of my partners to figure out a supplement regimen appropriate for you. If you need to get tested, we can help. Contact us here for more information on testing. 

Generic supplements known to reduce blood arsenic levels include folic acid 800mcg/day, liposomal glutathione, daily consumption of brassica vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, etc) may prevent cellular damage, intake of curcumin (up to 1000mg daily) can improve both methylation and excretion of arsenic and regular daily intake of green or black tea has been shown to modulate cellular toxic effects.** Also recommended is intake of 30 grams of lean protein daily to increase kidney excretion - work with a nutritionist to do this safely. As always, hydrate with filtered non-contaminated water.

I also wanted to talk about cadmium since it causes similar effects and many of us have likely been exposed and don't know it. I've seen an increase in poor kidney function in the past year and want everyone to be aware that toxic metals should always be considered as a cause.

It is estimated that over 50% of the U.S. population has a body burden of cadmium which increases our risk of disease. The following are associated with cadmium exposure: kidney disease, osteoporosis, cancers of lung, prostate and pancreas, periodontal disease, hypertension, diabetes, increased cardiovascular disease mortality, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, decreased telomere length, hearing impairment, cognitive decline and reproductive issues like endometriosis and miscarriage and male infertility. Higher urinary cadmium was also associated with an increase in gestational diabetes.**

Exposure to cadmium can be from cigarette smoke, living near a municipal waste incinerator or coal-burning plant, consumption of tofu and other soy foods, and proximity to facilities making colored glass. Occupational exposures include metal smelting, battery manufacturing, also production of pigments, coatings, plastics and metal plating.

Other foods that contain measurable cadmium include sunflower seeds, spinach, liver, potato chips (and other potato dishes like fries and baked potatoes), peanuts and peanut butter, shredded wheat, pasta and shrimp. Food and tobacco may have higher amounts of cadmium depending on where and how they are grown.

Cadmium is stored in the kidney and its half-life in the kidney is 10-40 years!

It is also measured in a first morning voided urine. It is removed with careful chelation (either intravenously or orally) so make sure to work with someone like myself with specific training in metal chelation therapy. 

Besides chelation there are additional ways to improve cadmium excretion and protect the kidney cells from damage. The first line of treatment is to reduce and eliminate exposure. Then you can include low temperature saunas to increase sweat production (or just go sit in your car after it has been sitting outside on one of these broiling summer days in the south!),  N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) 1000-2000 mg daily along with alpha lipoic acid (ALA) 300-600mg a day, alkalinizing the urine, Magnesium up to 500mg a day, liposomal glutathione 500mg/day, black or green tea daily, quercetin (found in onions), ginger (I like ginger tea) and blueberries (anthocyanins which reduce oxidative stress).   

I like the Essential GSH (a liquid liposomal form of glutathione) from Wellness Pharmacy and can obtain it for my patients on request (more about their glutatione here).  Other supplements can be found on the Elevate Functional Medicine Fullscript page here

Now you know your air, water and food are sources of toxins that can cause chronic disease. Reduce your exposure with clean air filters in your car, home and office (or your home office during Rona). Have your water tested. Get yourself tested and stay safe!


Look out for the next post - more on how toxic heavy metals can contribute to disease.


Namaste.

**References on pp. 128-131 in Crinnion & Pizzorno's Clinical Environmental Medicine textbook.


Karen Miller, MD is an OB/GYN and Certified Functional Medicine provider who specializes in integrative women's health and complex medical illness. She is medical director and co-owner of Elevate Functional Medicine.

4485 Tench Road, Suite 740, Suwanee, GA 30024

Phone: 470-266-1380    Fax: 470-447-1809   

Email: admin@elevatefunctionalmedicine.com

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