Heavy Metal Toxicity: An Introduction to the Problem

This post is the first in a series on the facts and effects of heavy metal toxicity and/or burdens.

More than two years ago, Flint, Michigan made headlines when cost-cutting measures caused the city to switch water sources, which left thousands of adults and children alike unknowingly affected by water contaminated with dangerous amounts of lead. The detrimental health effects of lead, especially on the growing bodies of children, have been known to the public for several decades. In the 1970s, the addition of lead to gasoline as well as paint was banned, but the lead already released into the atmosphere from car exhausts remains today, as well as the lead in the paints and pipes of older homes. Lead is also naturally present in soil, in varying quantities depending on location.

In other words, although Flint is a shocking and unusual case, it’s not just the residents of Flint who are being affected by lead and other metals. The fact is that toxic heavy metals are virtually impossible to avoid. They are not only found in the water that we drink, but also in the food we eat, the products we use, the paint in some homes, the soil in certain areas, and the air that we breathe.

Within our bodies, heavy metals can change forms (from solid, to liquid, to gas) without actually being eliminated. Heavy metals– including lead, mercury, arsenic, aluminum, and cadmium– build up in our bones and tissues. Overtime, they leak from our bones into the bloodstream, and can lead to a series of health problems including autoimmune disorders, clogging of the arteries (which can lead to heart attacks or strokes), damage to the nervous system, chronic fatigue syndrome, and digestive problems, to name a few.

How Are We Being Exposed?

Exposure to toxic heavy metals through our food and water supply cannot be completely avoided. However, it is possible to limit our exposure by becoming aware of additional sources such as the following:

1. Dental fillings: One example of exposure to heavy metals that you might be familiar with is mercury toxicity from amalgam fillings. Many people who are made aware of their exposure to mercury from their “silver fillings” have them removed and replaced with white composite fillings. Removing amalgam fillings– although it’s a good step– is unfortunately not enough to rid the body of the mercury burden, as much of the mercury will already have leached out into the bloodstream before the filling is removed.

2. Your medicine cabinet: Hairspray, toothpaste, deodorant, antacids, some pharmaceutical drugs, shampoos, skin creams…all of these products can contain aluminum, for which the body has no use and which can lead to cognitive impairment with excessive exposure.

3. Paint and pipes: Older homes and buildings that have not been renovated are likely to be fitted with plumbing and faucets that contain lead, as well as lead-containing paint.

4. Pots and pans: Aluminum cookware will leach the toxic metal into food that you cook with it.

5. Chemicals and cleaning products: Far from the only reason to limit use of chemical-containing products, toxic heavy metals are often found in cleaning solvents, furniture and floor polishes, pesticides, and insecticides.

This post is part of a series on the facts and effects of heavy metal toxicity and/or burdens. Make sure to follow Markham Integrative Medicine on Facebook and never miss a post.

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