Lead, Mercury, Arsenic in Your Body—10 Tips to Flush the Toxins Out

Monday Nov 24 | BY |
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We’re all exposed to heavy metals—learn how to protect yourself.

Lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic—these are the four most concerning heavy metals when we’re talking about human health.

This, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and several studies. In 2003, researchers noted that even though we now know that exposure to these metals can be dangerous, “exposure to heavy metals continues, and is even increasing in some parts of the world.”

Here are some examples:

  • Cadmium is used in rechargeable batteries, and is also present in emissions (fumes, dust), cigarette smoke, plastics, and food (grains, cereals, leafy veggies). Studies have recently indicated that the health effects of cadmium may occur at lower exposure levels than previously believed. Related problems include bone effects, fractures, kidney damage, gastrointestinal symptoms, headaches, respiratory problems, lung and other cancers, hypertension, low birth weight, and heart problems.
  • Mercury is found mainly in fish and in dental amalgams. Groups with high consumption of high-mercury fish (shark, swordfish, tuna, and fish taken from polluted waters, like pike, walleye and bass) may be at risk. Related problems include neurological damage and developmental defects, and potentially cancerous tumors. For fetuses and children, exposure can affect the cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, and spacial and fine motor skills.
  • Lead is present in the air and in food, primarily in lead-contaminated water, soil, paint chips, and dust, and in foods that contain lead from soil or water. Researchers note that during the last century, lead emissions have caused considerable pollution, mainly due to lead emissions from petrol. Children are particularly susceptible. Lead in petrol has decreased over the last decades, but it’s still present in some lead-based paints, and in some food containers. Related problems include fatigue, loss of appetite, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, nerve damage, increased blood pressure, hearing and vision impairment, reproductive problems, developmental delays, and cancer, as well as brain damage and behavioral problems in children.
  • Arsenic is present in food, drinking water, and cigarette smoke, as well as in computer chips, feed additives (for poultry and swine), wood preservatives (though this is being phased out), and in some pesticides. Related health problems include skin cancer, lung cancer, other cancers, skin lesions, pigmentation changes, birth defects, cardiac arrhythmias, immune suppression, hormone imbalance, and muscle tenderness and weakness.

According to a 2013 study, heavy metals find their way into our food from “natural sources like soil, air and water, and through wastewater irrigation, solid waste disposal, mining, smelting, sludge applications, vehicular exhaust, fertilizers, fungicides and industrial activities.” An earlier study adds that the problem comes up because of the “increased uses of fertilizers and other chemicals to meet the higher demands of food production for human consumption.”

Heavy metals also find their way into the air during combustion, extraction, and processing, and get into surface waters via runoff and releases from storage and transport. They make their way into our soils through ground water, pesticides and fertilizers.

In addition to potentially causing health problems, exposure to heavy metals can also deplete some essential nutrients in the body, which can deplete the immune system, and lead to other issues like malnutrition and even cancer.

We can protect our health by first, reducing our exposure, and second, by taking steps to flush out any heavy metals that make their way inside us.

How to Reduce Exposure

Several simple lifestyle changes can protect us from exposure to dangerous heavy metals. These include the following:

  • Avoid those things that contain heavy metals, including high-mercury fish, treated lumber, conventional meats, and polluted areas.
  • Stop smoking. Cigarettes are a source of heavy metals, so avoiding smoking and staying away from smoking areas can reduce exposure.
  • Test drinking water. Look for cadmium and other heavy metals, and consider installing a filter that will capture these.
  • Seek out grass-fed, organic meats. Heavy metals are often in animal feed, so seeking out wholesome, grass-fed options can help ensure you aren’t exposed. See our article on grass-fed beef for more information.
  • Avoid non-stick cookware, which can leach toxic metals into your meals. Use ceramic cookware, or try cast-iron cookware (more on that here).
  • Test your home for lead. If you find it, look for reputable companies that will help you remove it.
  • Be cautious when shopping for furniture. Look for locally made items rather than cheaply made items that may contain treated wood. If you can, leave any new pieces outside or in the garage for a few days to air out before bringing them into your home.
  • Consider blood tests. Ask your doctor about getting a blood test to check for heavy metals in your system.
How to Flush the Toxins Out

Once the toxins are in your body, your liver and kidneys work to flush them out. You can give them a helping hand with the following tips:

  1. Drink plenty of water. Your kidneys need it to move waste through your system.
  2. Get plenty of antioxidants. Fruits and vegetables rich in antioxidants can help protect your cells from the damage heavy metals can cause. Vitamin C and E are especially powerful antioxidants for protecting against the oxidative damage from heavy metals.
  3. Get enough fiber. Fiber helps move food through your system, reducing the risk that you’ll absorb the heavy metals.
  4. Get enough glutathione. It’s an antioxidant that helps protect against heavy metal toxicity. A 2004 study showed that it glutathione (GSH) protected the liver when exposed to things like mercury and chromium. Good sources of this nutrient include fresh (not cooked) fruits and vegetables, particularly asparagus, broccoli, avocados, squash, and spinach. You can also try supplements of N-Acetyl Cystein (NAC) and alpha lipoic acid.
  5. Try selenium. We need this mineral anyway, and studies have shown that it can help lower the effects of toxic heavy metals. A 2008 study, for example, found that selenium supplementation significantly eliminated the toxicity of toxic metal exposure.
  6. Eat more sauerkraut and other foods rich in probiotics. These health-promoting bacteria help trap and metabolize heavy metals in a way that prevents them from doing harm to the body. A 2014 study, for example, found that yogurt containing probiotics protected children and pregnant women against heavy metal exposure—specifically, mercury and arsenic.
  7. Consider chlorella supplements. Studies have shown that these can help the body eliminate toxins, and it also has a promising cancer-blocking activity. Read more about chlorophyll here. Another good option is modified citrus pectin, which has shown in studies to help increase the excretion of heavy metals.
  8. Get enough healthy fats. These help the body process and excrete toxic heavy metals. Without enough fat, the metals can hang around, accumulating in the tissues. Read more on which healthy fats to consume here. Consider a quality fish oil supplement, as well, as it can deliver healthy omega-3 fatty acids without the mercury content of some fish.
  9. Take care of your liver. It is the main hub of waste removal in your body. Eat more foods that support its function, like garlic and onions, beetroot, and artichokes. More on liver-healthy foods here.
  10. Get enough healthy minerals. Minerals like zinc, iron, calcium, and selenium all help block absorption of toxic metals like lead and cadmium. Make sure you’re getting enough of these healthy minerals in your daily diet. Good sources include eggs, mushrooms, organ meats, seafood, whole grains, and dairy products.

Are you concerned about heavy metal toxicity? What steps do you take to protect your health?

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Lars Jarup, “Hazards of heavy metal contamination,” Br Med Bull 2003; 68(1):167-182, http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content/68/1/167.full.

“Adverse Health Effects of Heavy Metals in Children,” WHO, October 2011, http://www.who.int/ceh/capacity/heavy_metals.pdf?ua=1.

Suneeta Chandorkar, Prachi Deota, “Heavy Metal Content of Foods and Health Risk Assessment in the Study Population of Vadodara,” Current World Environment, 2013; 8(2): http://www.cwejournal.org/vol8no2/heavy-metal-content-of-foods-and-health-risk-assessment-in-the-study-population-of-vadodara/.

Sajjad Khan, et al., “Health Risk Assessment of Heavy Metals for Population via Consumption of Vegetables,” World Applied Sciences Journal, 2009; 6(12):1602-1606, http://kenanaonline.com/files/0071/71999/health%20risk%20assessment%20of%20heavy%20metals%20for%20population%20via%20consumption%20of%20vegetables.pdf.

Oliveira M, et al., “Glutathione protects heavy metal-induced inhibition of hepatic microsomal ethoxyresorufin O-deethylase activity in Dicentrarchus labrax L.,” Ecotoxicol Environ Saf., July 2004; 58(3):379-85, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15223263.

Zeliha Selamoglu Talas, et al., “Antioxidative role of selenium against the toxic effect of heavy metals (Cd+2, Cr+3) on liver of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss Walbaum 1792),” Fish Physiol Biochem, September 2008; 34(3):217-22, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18665459.

Jordan E. Bisanz, et al., “Randomized Open-Label Pilot Study of the Influence of Probiotics and the Gut Microbiome on Toxic Metal Levels in Tanzanian Pregnant Women and School Children,” mBio, October 7, 2014; 5(5): e01580-14, http://mbio.asm.org/content/5/5/e01580-14.

“Heavy Metal Detoxification,” Life Extension, http://www.lef.org/Protocols/Health-Concerns/Heavy-Metal-Detoxification/Page-01.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. christine says:

    my step son had a very high level of lead poisoning as a child, he is now 18, he has very serious short term memory issues. Is it to late to detoxify his system?

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