Do you know which heavy metals are lurking in your environment or in your body? Perhaps it's time to find out, especially if you've been noticing more fatigue, memory problems or joint pain lately. These can be signs that heavy metals are starting to wreak havoc.
“It's important that people know the spectrum of illnesses that toxic metals can cause or contribute to,” advises John Hibbs, ND, a core faculty member at Bastyr University and a clinic superviser at its Seattle teaching clinic, Bastyr Center for Natural Health. These include chronic fatigue syndrome, autism and various neurological disorders.
Toxic metal exposure is not a rarity, as was once thought, and it's important to rid your body of them, and also to avoid further exposure. A few of the leading culprits are lead, aluminum and mercury, and here's what you should know about them:
Homes built before 1978, even if they've been repainted, can have lead dust particles on the floor and windowsills. And if you live in an older home while it's being remodeled, you have a high risk of lead exposure. Drinking unfiltered water, especially in older buildings, both public and private, can cause significant lead accumulation too, says Dr. Hibbs. Lead can be present in dirt near the sides of roads, and children are exposed to it when they play in the dirt in busy city areas. To reduce your exposure to lead, drink filtered water, vacuum, wash your hands a lot, and remove your shoes at the door so you don't track in lead from dirt.
Aluminum, says Dr. Hibbs, has been underattended and underprioritized. “We are becoming an aluminum-poisoned society,” he notes. Many people don't realize that you can overindulge in aluminum by drinking out of aluminum cans, but you can, especially when the can contains something carbonated or fruity. The acidity in these drinks leaches aluminum into the beverage. You should also avoid taking antacids that contain aluminum and cooking acidic food in aluminum pans. Cooking with foil is also a no-no, since aluminum vaporizes when heated.
Vaccinations used to be a leading cause of mercury poisoning, although most vaccines now contain greatly reduced levels. Warns Dr. Hibbs, “Anyone who received a full vaccination panel prior to three or four years ago has been exposed to a significant amount of mercury.” In many cases, it's wise to remove amalgam, but only by a dentist who takes metal poisoning seriously and will take precautions to avoid re-release into the body.
A holistic approach to your health needs to go beyond avoidance of metals. The best bet is to get tested and to work to eliminate metals from your body. The good news is that the liver and kidneys both work to clean out the body's excess metals, says Dr. Hibbs, and although they generally do a pretty good job, they don't eliminate everything. And keep in mind that any measurable level of lead or mercury in the bloodstream might be enough to cause a health problem.
So what about testing? There's no perfect test for metal toxicity, but certain tests can provide a general indication of their presence. A comprehensive treatment plan for metal toxicity usually involves something called chelation treatment, a high fiber diet, and using binding agents to help with the elimination of toxins. Liver-supporting supplements are helpful as well. The treatment doesn't have to be complicated. “If all people do is eat lots and lots of fiber, they will get rid of metals,” says Dr. Hibbs. Another reason to eat your fruits and veggies, in case you needed one! To assess your current status and risk of heavy metal toxicity, make an appointment at Bastyr Center by calling (206) 834-4100.
Sources: John Hibbs, ND; Centers for Disease Control; Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)