Heavy metals may pose a serious health risk, yet we don’t talk about it enough. So I’ve committed to talking about it. Over the past weeks, I shared several articles about the potential risks of heavy metal exposure, including the problems with heavy metals in food, lead exposure, and mercury exposure.
It’s time to talk about cadmium. In this article, you will learn about the problems of exposure, symptoms and health issues related to cadmium exposure, and my top strategies to improve your health. Let’s get into it.
What Are Heavy Metals?
Heavy metals, or toxic metals, are natural materials that offer no benefits to the human body. On the contrary, toxic heavy metals can pose adverse effects on our environment and living organisms, including your body. They can disrupt normal biological processes. They may bind to proteins in your body that, under normal circumstances, would be activated by beneficial minerals, such as magnesium or zinc. They may also increase oxidative stress and inflammation, which can lead to chronic symptoms and health issues (2).
The main heavy metals include arsenic (As), cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), and mercury (Hg). Aluminum (Al) is technically a light metal but often included due to its toxic effects similar to heavy metals.
In this article, I will discuss cadmium exposure and cadmium-related nutrient deficiencies and health issues. If you are interested in learning more about heavy metal exposure in general and its effects on mast cells and histamine, I recommend reading this article. If you are interested in learning about heavy metals in food, I recommend checking out this article. To learn more about the risks of lead exposure, check out this article.
What Is Cadmium
Cadmium is a natural element. It’s found in small amounts in the soil, air, water, and food. It is also found in cigarette smoke, coal and mineral fertilizers, and some products, including batteries, plastics, pigments, and metal coating. Volcanoes and forest fires may also release cadmium. As with other heavy metals, cadmium can be very harmful to human health. It may irritate the stomach, lungs, kidneys, and bones. It may also be carcinogenic (3, 4).
Sources of Cadmium Exposure
You may be exposed to cadmium in various ways.
Sources of cadmium exposure may include:
- Cigarette smoke
- Mineral fertilizers
- Metal coating
- Occupational exposure
- Contaminated hands from occupational exposure
- Forest fires
The Problem with Cadmium Exposure
Cadmium is highly toxic to the human body. It may affect your respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal, neurological, reproductive, and cardiovascular systems and may also increase the risk of cancer among other chronic diseases (5).
According to a 2020 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research, cadmium may increase the risk of various cancers, including kidney, pancreatic, lung, prostate, breast, and nasopharynx cancer (6). The same reviews discussed that cadmium might be highly toxic to your kidneys and liver by increasing oxidative stress (6). Cadmium may also increase the risk of osteoporosis (6).
Cadmium may also increase the risk of mitochondrial dysfunction and related problems (6). Moreover, it may lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues (7). Like the toxic metal lead, cadmium is considered “vasculotoxic”, meaning it can damage blood vessels. In smokers or through inhalation, cadmium may lead to lung damage and lung health issues.
Symptoms of Cadmium Exposure
The inhalation of higher levels of cadmium may cause:
- Shortness of breath
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest pain
- Lung damage
- Fever and chills
- Flu-like symptoms
The ingestion of high levels of contaminated foods may lead to:
- Stomach irritation
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
- Headaches or migraines
- Swelling of the throat
- Throat irritation
- Tingling hands
- Flu-like symptoms
Long-term cadmium exposure may also increase the risk of bone disease, lung cancer, kidney damage, liver damage, high blood pressure, heart issues, and cancer. Cadmium has estrogen-like activity in the body, as a mechanism for increasing cancer risk. This applies to the prostate in men and breast tissue in women, for example.
Exposure to cadmium in pregnant women may increase the risk of lower birth weight babies. High levels of cadmium in breastfeeding women may affect their babies. Symptoms of cadmium exposure in children may be similar to symptoms in adults.
Who Is At Risk of Health Issues from Cadmium Exposure?
For the general population, cigarette smoke and foods contaminated with cadmium pose the biggest risk for cadmium exposure and cadmium-related health issues. For those working at places that make products with cadmium, occupational exposure is also a risk.
Strategies to Improve Symptoms of Cadmium Exposure
Completely avoiding cadmium and other heavy metals is impossible. Your risk of health issues depends on a variety of factors, including the level and length of exposure and your personal health. Unfortunately, cadmium has a very long biologic half-life (10-30 years), meaning it will stay in the body for a very long time after exposure. Here are some of my tips to reduce your risk of health issues related to cadmium or other heavy metals and improve symptoms of cadmium-related nutrient deficiencies and other heavy metal-related issues.
Reduce Your Risk of Cadmium Exposure
To reduce your risk of cadmium exposure, one of the most important things you can do is stop smoking, or if you are not a smoker, don’t start now. Cadmium may be absorbed through your lungs, which may have detrimental effects. Since inhaling cadmium can also be harmful to your health, avoid second-hand smoke as much as possible.
Ideally, you want to avoid occupational exposure to cadmium. If you are working at an occupation or have a hobby that involves handling cadmium, wearing personal protective equipment is critical. I also recommend working with a doctor to look at your cadmium levels regularly.
Reduce your exposure to cadmium batteries. Generally speaking, alkaline batteries don’t contain cadmium. Nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries in laptops, cell phones, digital cameras, and cordless tools do have cadmium in them. It is important that if you have to dispose of these batteries, take them to waste disposal sites specifically for this.
Follow a healthy, nutrient-dense diet, and avoid cadmium exposure from food as much as possible. Choose an organic diet to avoid cadmium exposure from fertilizers. Shellfish, liver, and kidney may have higher levels of cadmium than other foods. Due to our contaminated soil, leafy greens, potatoes, cereal grains including rice and wheat, and some other vegetables may also contain small amounts. Amounts in food vary depending on geographic area. Avoiding cadmium from food completely is near impossible, thus, the next strategies in this article are incredibly important.
Consume Foods That May Help to Counteract Cadmium-Related Issues
Consuming an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense whole foods diet is critical to reducing your risk of cadmium-related health issues. Avoid or at least reduce foods that may be at risk of cadmium contamination. Counteract any problems from exposure that may occur from consuming these foods. You may learn more about this in this article. In summary, the following foods may help to counteract heavy metal toxicity:
- Foods high in vitamin C: Vitamin C may help to decrease the harmful effects of heavy metals (8). Oranges, strawberries, grapefruit, kale, and red peppers have high Vitamin C content.
- Sulfur-rich foods: Sulfur-rich foods may help your body’s detoxification processes (9). Cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and onion are examples of sulfur-containing foods.
- Pectin-rich fruits and vegetables: Pectin is a soluble fiber that may increase heavy metal excretion (10). It may be found in pears, green apples, citrus fruits, cabbage, beets, and carrots.
- Foods containing amino acids: Amino acids are considered natural chelating agents (11). They can be found in corn, whole grains, spinach, carrots, turnips, plums, grapes, and pomegranates.
- Fermented foods: According to a 2020 review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research, microbial fermentation may also reduce the risk of cadmium toxicity from food exposure (6). Fermented foods may also help to rebalance the gut microbiome and decrease inflammation. Fermented foods, however, are not appropriate if you have histamine intolerance, as they are high in histamine.
Supporting detoxification is essential to help your body cleanse itself from any cadmium exposure. I recommend that you hydrate your body well to support hydration, elimination through urine, and detoxification through sweating. Use an infrared sauna and exercise regularly to increase detoxification through sweating (12, 13).
Cadmium can be particularly harmful for your liver and kidneys. Support kidney and liver health and detoxification by eating grapefruits, prickly pear, cranberries, other berries, and olive oil, and add n-acetyl cysteine, glutathione, and liver-friendly herbs (14, 15). Try rebounding, exercise, and dry brushing for lymphatic flow and cleansing.
Improve your gut microbiome health and reduce gut inflammation with daily probiotic supplements and foods rich in pre and probiotics (16). Under the guidance of your healthcare professional, you may use toxin binders, such as activated charcoal, to help remove cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and other toxins (17).
Supplements to Try to Reduce the Effects of Cadmium Exposure
You may also use certain supplements to support detoxification from cadmium and other heavy metals, lower the effects of cadmium exposure, and decrease your risk of cadmium-related issues. Here is what I recommend:
- Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal is a great toxin binder that may help to remove toxic heavy metals from your body (18). It is not intended for long term use.
- Glutathione: Glutathione helps to detoxify and decrease oxidative stress, liver problems, cellular damage, and the risk of various health issues (19, 20, 21).
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C allows for better detoxification and can support cellular and immune support (22).
- N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): NAC is a fantastic antioxidant that may also support liver and kidney detoxification (23).
- Zinc: Zinc is a fantastic supplement for immune health and may also help to reduce the effects of cadmium accumulatoin (24).
Look Into Chelation Therapy
IV chelation therapy may decrease the negative effects of cadmium and other heavy metals (25, 26). According to a 2017 review published in the Caspian Journal of Internal Medicine, chelation therapy may help to reduce cadmium toxicity (27). I recommend a solution mix that contains significant amounts of vitamin C and a chelator (EDTA) that removes heavy metals (26). This mix is infused in a medical setting for select patients. It may also be beneficial for heavy metal-related heart issues.
You may learn more about the potential benefits of IV chelation therapy for heart health in this article and the evolving understanding of the connection between heavy metals and heart disease here. If you are in our area, we offer chelation therapy depending on your medical history and test results. Make your appointment here.
Cadmium exposure is not the only risk for heavy metal-related issues. There are many toxic heavy metals that may lead to symptoms and health issues. If you are dealing with symptoms of heavy metal exposure, I invite you to schedule a consultation with me here to see if you can benefit from the strategies listed in this article.
If you are dealing with any chronic health issues, for advice on how to improve your nutrition and health, I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further personalized guidance. You may book your consultation here.