Have you ever thought about how your health might be affected by what types of contaminants are in the food you eat, the water you drink, the air you breathe or the products you put on your skin? Aside from chemicals, what do all of these have in common? Heavy metals, like aluminum and mercury, are frequently laden in many personal products, pesticides, and are found in the water from our faucet. Could these be contributing to your symptoms of chronic fatigue, memory loss, or other neurological symptoms?

So, what’s the big deal with heavy metals? Heavy metals vary in the degree to which they might have an effect on our systems. Certain metals are known to cause much damage at high levels, where others are recognized as “safer” or less likely to cause a known reaction. However, any heavy metals that are high in the body should be addressed and removed through detoxification and support of the detox organs, like the liver and kidneys.

Our bodies are smart. When they recognize that a harmful substance is present, they force them to be stored in our fat tissues so that they are not free floating in the bloodstream where they can cause major damage. Unfortunately, since our brains are made up mostly of fat, many of these metals are known as “neurotoxins” and they directly affect the brain. This can cause symptoms that  include brain fog, fatigue, memory problems, dizziness, muscle weakness, headaches and migraines, and more. Over the long term, this exposure could lead to degenerative disorders including dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, and some cancers.

The major culprits include:

Mercury

Mercury is widely known as a neurotoxin and is very dangerous when built up in high levels. Consumption of fatty fish should be limited to no more than three times per week and less for pregnant women. Certain fish that are higher up on the food chain (like shark, swordfish, tile fish, and albacore tuna) should be avoided. Mercury has also been found in vaccines, amalgam fillings, batteries, some over the counter skin cremes, and tattoo ink. Occupational exposure is always a possibility for those working in factories, construction, and other industry.

Aluminum

Aluminum has recently been recognized as the “new mercury” because of its possible health concerns. Aluminum has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease and certain cancers, including breast cancer. Aluminum is found in deodorant and other personal products, certain medications, baking powder, baby formulas, tin cans, tin foil, vaccines, coffee creamers, and many other processed foods. Aluminum is more “silent” than mercury. The symptoms may not be as severe, but it ultimately causes an equal amount of damage over the long term.

Lead

Although lead exposure is not as common as it once was, it is still a risk factor for those working industrial and construction jobs. Lead has also been found in municipal water, increasing the need for a water filtration system for drinking and bathing. Lead has been linked to neurological symptoms, cognitive dysfunction, and kidney disease.

Arsenic

Arsenic is used mainly as a pesticide in the farming industry and can cause contamination through conventionally grown produce, runoff in water, living near a farm, or through occupational exposure. Arsenic has been shown to increase risk of cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, liver and prostate. Arsenic is often found in well water. If your home uses well water, it would be best to have it tested for all heavy metals, especially arsenic.

Other heavy metals include: antimony, barium, beryllium, bismuth, platinum, tin, iron, nickel, thallium, silver, titanium, and uranium. Many of these are found in our drinking water, cigarette smoke, occupational exposures, and even environmental pollution. These metals are less researched than some of the others, but still have been tied to elevated blood pressure, cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and neurological symptoms.

How to Minimize Your Exposure

Let’s start to minimize your exposure to heavy metals by finding a clean water source. The Berkey Water Purification System removes all heavy metals, including arsenic and fluoride, as well as pharmaceuticals and other chemicals in your water. Berkey also makes a shower filter to help further reduce your exposure of chlorine and other chemicals during bathing.

Changing out your personal products and opting for natural or organic products will help reduce your exposure to metals like mercury and aluminum, as well as other harmful chemicals and additives within these products. Deodorants and anti-antiperspirants are the number one culprit for exposure to aluminum and should be swapped out for a natural alternative. We like Milk and Honey’s Deoderant Cream or Primal Pit Paste.

Choose only organic foods that are grown without the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides. Avoid exposure to cigarette smoke (even second hand), and consider learning more about minimizing exposure if you work in a setting where you may be exposed to dangerous chemicals and inhalants. Remember, heavy metal toxicity happens over the course of months or even years. Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms now, these toxins may be affecting your overall health and putting you at risk for the development of health problems in the future.

At Integrative Wellness Group, we have a few programs in place to help assess your heavy metal exposure and reduce your overall toxin load. The functional medicine program uses specific analysis to learn more about your toxin exposure and uses specific agents to help chelate and remove heavy metals.