Is it heavy metal toxicity or a symptom of a chronic illness?
How can you differentiate between heavy metal toxicity or chronic illness?
Heavy metal toxicity is the accumulation of heavy metals in the body and can cause symptoms labelled as chronic illness. In low amounts, some metals are essential. Too much can result in oxidative stress, disrupt mitochondrial function, and impair the activity of numerous enzymes causing inflammation.
Over the past 70 years or more, human exposure to heavy metal toxins has increased dramatically. At same time, chronic disease diagnosis is rising year on year. We are exposed to heavy metal toxins in the air we breathe, the water/ food we consume and other products we use such as aluminium in deodorant.
Why are heavy metals dangerous in high levels?
Heavy metal toxicity depends on several factors including the dose, route of exposure, chemical species, age, gender, genetics, and nutritional status of exposed individuals.
Because of their high degree of toxicity, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury rank among the metals that are of public health significance.
We can tolerate small amounts and are all exposed to heavy metals in our daily environment. But when we can’t metabolise these toxins due to poor lymph, kidney and cellular clearance, we run into problems. Heavy metal toxicity can masquerade as chronic illness. Think rain barrel effect. If you continue to fill your rain barrel with no escape, it will overflow and cause problems.
These metallic elements are considered systemic toxins and may induce multiple organ damage, even at lower levels of exposure. They are also classified as human carcinogens (known or probable) according to the US Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (1).
The link with chronic illness
Integrative Health Practitioners recognise that heavy metal toxicity is a genuine threat to our health.
Heavy metal toxicity is commonly overlooked as a driver of chronic health conditions. In particular, conditions that have a neurological, hormonal or immune impact. High levels of heavy metals have been found in research in patients with autism, Parkinson’s, ADHD, insomnia, arthritis, auto immune, kidney disease, asthma and many more.
Heavy metal toxicity is becoming increasingly common due environmental exposure s in water and the air, pesticide use, improper food containers, cookware, fish consumption and mercury amalgam fillings.
Signs and Symptoms of Acute and Chronic Heavy Metal Toxicity
What are the signs and symptoms of acute and chronic toxicity?
There are two types of heavy metal toxicity: acute and chronic.
Acute heavy metal toxicity is easier to recognize than chronic exposure, as symptoms are usually quick and severe in onset.
- Cramping, nausea, and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing
- Impaired cognitive, motor, and language skills
Chronic Exposure or Chronic Illness?
Exposure of heavy metals can be confused with symptoms of different chronic illness. Symptoms include impaired cognitive, motor, and language skills, learning difficulties, nervousness, emotional instability, insomnia and nausea.
Toxic metals can affect the absorption and utilisation of essential minerals, which can lead to a cascade of symptoms that gradually get worse over time. Below is a more specific checklist of symptoms of metal toxicity poisoning:
- Chronic pain throughout the muscles and tendons or any soft tissues of the body
- Chronic malaise — general feeling of discomfort, fatigue, and illness
- Brain fog — state of forgetfulness and confusion
- Chronic infections such as Candida (yeast/ thrush)
- Gastrointestinal complaints – diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, heartburn, indigestion
- Food allergies
- Migraines and/or headaches
- Visual disturbances
- Mood swings, depression, and/or anxiety
- Nervous system malfunctions — burning extremities, numbness, tingling, paralysis, and/or an electrifying feeling throughout the body
Chronic toxic metal exposure can come from many sources. Chronic mercury exposure is most commonly the mercury vapor from amalgam (silver) fillings used by dentists to fill cavities. The low level exposure from 8 amalgam fillings (which the average individual has) can be about 120 micrograms per day.
If you are ever considering having your amalgam filings removed, make sure you go to a Biological Dentist who is experienced in this procedure.
WHO: 10 chemicals of major public health concern
- Air pollution
- Dioxin and dioxin-like substances
- Inadequate or excess fluoride
- Highly hazardous pesticides 
How do I know if I have a heavy metal toxicity?
You can test for some heavy metals in blood samples, hair or urine. Blood samples do not show if there has been chronic exposure over a period of time. So, unlike blood, hair element levels are not regulated by homeostatic mechanisms.
The hair analysis is considered by most to be a very reliable and accurate tool for telling us if heavy metals are being stored in fat, tissues, organs and cells and how much is being stored.
Hair mineral analysis is a screening test to measure the levels of up to 60 essential minerals and toxic metals. Hair is an excellent biopsy material, easy to sample, easily preserved and transported. It represents a soft tissue of the body, as a storage and eliminative tissue.
As hair grows it forms a permanent record of the body’s nutritional deficiencies or excesses.
Extensive research established that scalp hair element levels are related to systemic levels. The strength of this relationship varies on specific elements. Many researchers consider hair as the tissue of choice for testing toxic and several nutrient elements.
What is tested?
Electrolytes – calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and phosphorus
Trace minerals – copper, manganese, chromium, selenium, iron, molybdenum, lithium, cobalt,and zinc.
Toxic metal screening includes lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, and aluminum.
Why should I take a hair test for heavy metals?
- Hair analysis is a useful tool in getting to the root cause of symptoms highlighting mineral and electrolytes status which may be impacting on symptoms.
- Deviations in hair element levels often appear prior to symptoms. It is a valuable preliminary tool for predicting the development of physiological abnormalities if exposure continued.
- Hair element analysis provides important information. In conjunction with symptoms and other laboratory values the practitioner can identify detection of physiological disorders associated with alterations in essential and toxic element metabolism.
- Normal scalp hair growth is easy to sample and grows an average of one to two cm per month. It contains a “temporal record” of element metabolism and exposure to toxic elements.
- Toxic elements maybe 200-300 times more highly concentrated in hair, than in blood or urine.
- Hair is the tissue of choice for detection of recent exposure to elements such as arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, lead, antimony, and mercury.
- Hair element analysis is a valuable and inexpensive screen for physiological excess, deficiency or maldistribution of elements.
It should not be considered a stand-alone diagnostic test for essential element function, and should be used in conjunction with patient’s symptoms and other laboratory tests. If you have symptoms of chronic illness and are concerned about heavy metal toxicity, a hair test is a good place to start.
I do not have affiliate links with the following but have used them for hair mineral testing in the past and happy with their services.
Within the EU: Detox Metals
Within the UK: Mineral State
To see an example of the interpretation of report, see here.
To see an example of a report see here.
If you are not sure where to start or would like some more guidance, see my services page for more information and health and spiritual coaching.