Heavy metal toxicity is an issue that exists alongside many other health conditions and diagnoses. Many of my autistic-spectrum patients have heavy metal toxicity, many of my Lyme disease patients have heavy metal toxicity, but I would bet that many people without any official diagnosis have high levels of heavy metals in their bodies that may be affecting their neurological function. With the pollution surrounding us today, heavy metals are a part of the environment. Reversing heavy metal toxicity can provide a massive boost in one’s overall health levels.
There are a few key sources of heavy metals in the body. Mercury has come through vaccines (via thimerisol which is used as a preservative), amalgam fillings (which leech significant amounts into the body for many years) and through the air (coal-burning power plants produce high levels of mercury). As mercury is pumped into the oceans as industrial waste, fish are contaminated, and that is another significant source. I can attest to that as after eating quite a bit of seafood for one year, my mercury levels jumped up from 0.9 in March one year to a scary 37 in November in the same year on a lab test, where the normal level is less than 4. If you think it’s kinda of scary that a naturopathic doctor has such high mercury levels, you would be correct in thinking that – it scared me too … but thankfully I knew what to do about it and it’s now sorted!! It just goes to show that everyone needs to be diligent about it.
Lead is the other heavy metal that often shows elevation. In the past there was lead in gas, paints, pipes and so on. Even though many of those sources have been eradicated today, high lead levels still present themselves. The San Diego drinking water was once sent off for evaluation and came back high in lead, so tap water might be one possible source. Older homes might still have lead-based paint and pipes, another potential source. Again, food/ water/ air are not quite what they used to be.
Fortunately, there are good testing methodologies we can use to assess the damage, and good protocols to remedy it. Testing-wise, my favorite is the provoked urine test. We know that metals don’t stay in the blood stream for very long, so a regular blood level won’t give useful information unless there has been a recent or acute exposure.
I used to order hair tests but gave up on that for one primary reason. I was listening to doctors’ interpretation of results … if the levels showed high, it meant that the individual had high levels of mercury because look how much was coming out. If the results were really low, it meant that the individual had high levels of mercury because look how little was coming out (the implication being that the metals weren’t being adequately excreted and were subsequently building up in that individual). So while the hair test is non-invasive and might be a good preliminary screen, to me if you can give the same interpretation to opposite results, then its flawed methodology.
The provoked urine test involves taking a dose of a heavy metal chelator (an agent that helps to bind and excrete metals from the body) and then collecting urine for a defined period of time afterwards (I typically recommend a six hour collection). DMSA is my provoking agent of choice. So while it’s still not a perfect science because we don’t have a measure of exactly how much metal is in the body, it does give us a good indication of total load, as the more metals in the body, the more the body tends to dump on that provocation test. I like to repeat the same test every two months during treatment also to make sure levels are steadily coming down.
In terms of addressing heavy metal issues, I usually choose one of three routes.
The first is oral DMSA, rotated in a 3 days on/ 7-10 days off cycle. This is effective if mercury seems to be the predominant issue rather than lead, and if the individual is not highly sensitive. Other detox support (amino acids, herbs, binding agents) are usually given along with the DMSA, and extra minerals given on off days. It is very important any time one is chelating to provide extra minerals on non-chelation days, as chelating agents can bind the essential minerals such as magnesium and zinc as well and we want to make sure not to deplete those.
The second option is EDTA in the form of suppositories. This is my first choice if lead seems to be more of an issue than mercury, but I have seen mercury levels come down nicely with EDTA also. Detoxamin (the EDTA suppositories I recommend) can be safely used in children or adults, and is typically done on an every other day basis. Again, minerals are given on non-chelating days.
The third option would be a more slow and steady approach, using a supplement called Chelex. Chelex (by Xymogen) contains cilantro, chlorella, alpha lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine and garlic. It can be used in conjunction with other chelators, but it is a great stand-alone remedy for more gentle chelation, which is often necessary in highly sensitive individuals and those with chronic illnesses such as Lyme disease. It is also somewhat more simple in dosing, which can make compliance better.
My favorite supplements to take along with a chelation program are Toxi-HMF by BioGenesis, which contains liver support as well as binders/ fibers such as apple pectin and bentonite clay. Making sure the bowels are working well is key when doing chelation therapy as you want to make sure the mobilized metals are being swept out rather than sitting dormant in the intestines where they might be reabsorbed. So an extra tablespoon a day of ground flax seeds in a smoothie is a good idea. Multiple mineral formulas are essential – there are many good ones around. And of course, my favorite … glutathione! Glutathione is great for helping the body detox heavy metals.
Heavy metal toxicity can cause everything from joint pain to brain fog to fatigue to memory loss to inability to focus/ concentrate. Metals such as mercury, lead and aluminum are known neurotoxins, and can be highly problematic in other issues such as autism, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, Parkinsons, and any illness with neurological involvement. Assessing heavy metal load and remedying high levels is one of the best things a woman can do before conception also.