Heavy Metals: What works and what doesn’t work to get rid of them!

As I’m starting into a more regular lifestyle again and have resumed my Liquid Detox Mondays to give my body a reset from too much food and too much sugar, I’m thinking about all the toxins that I can easily flush out with a regular dietary detox (yay)...and those I cannot get rid of so easily (ugh)…
Heavy metals fall into the latter category.
Did you know that the heavy metals we accumulate in our bodies cannot simply be dissolved but have to be “pulled out” with a binding agent?
Let’s face it: we all have some in us, as they come through air, water, soil, food and other sources, but we rarely think about these unwanted metallic villains and our standard detox and fasts do, well, not much to address them either!
So what's the solution?
Let's start by looking at the metals we want and those we don't want:
What makes heavy metals good or bad?
The good
Our human organism requires varying amounts of heavy metals like iron, cobalt, copper, manganese, molybdenum, and zinc, which are required for maintaining good health in specific and rather low doses. In larger amounts however, these same metals can become toxic and dangerous. 
Heavy metal toxicity can lower energy levels and damage the functioning of the brain, lungs, kidney, liver, blood composition and other important organs. If our body's soft tissues accumulate too much of heavy metals, the resulting poisoning can cause serious damage. 
The bad
Heavy metals that have no beneficial function in the body whatsoever and are outright toxic include lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium and aluminum (low density toxic metal) – these are the metals most commonly associated with heavy metal poisoning in the United States.
So it’s obvious that we should avoid the BAD list altogether – or find ways to get rid of them as naturally as possible, without adding other toxins in the process!
In this post you will discover:
  1. How heavy metals get into your body (and some sources may surprise you)
  2. How you recognize the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity and related disorders
  3. The natural ways and foods that help detoxing heavy metals from your body
  4. How you can avoid heavy metals as much as possible
So, once you know what to look for, you may like to start including some intentional and natural chelation agents to your healthy routine that can pull the nasty little metal heads from your body before they are causing any harm!
How heavy metals get into your body
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in Atlanta, Georgia (a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). We will use the acronym in our list below to show you the ranking of the bad guys.
Arsenic, number 1 on the ATSDR's "Top 20 List,” is the most common cause of acute heavy metal poisoning in adults. Arsenic is released into the environment by the smelting process of copper, zinc, and lead, as well as the manufacturing of chemicals and glasses. Arsine gas is a common byproduct produced by the manufacturing of pesticides that contain arsenic. Arsenic may also be found in water supplies worldwide, leading to exposure of shellfish, cod, and haddock. Other sources are paints, rat poisoning, fungicides, and wood preservatives.
Target organs are the blood, kidneys, central nervous, digestive, and skin systems.
Lead is number 2 on the ATSDR's "Top 20 List." Lead accounts for most cases of pediatric heavy metal poisoning. It is a very soft metal and was used in pipes, drains, and soldering materials for many years. Millions of homes built before 1940 still contain lead (i.e. in painted surfaces), leading to chronic exposure from weathering, flaking, chalking, and dust. Every year, industry produces about 2.5 million tons of lead throughout the world. Most of this lead is used for batteries. The remainder is used for cable coverings, plumbing, ammunition, and fuel additives. Other uses include paint pigments and in PVC plastics, x-ray shielding, crystal glass production, and pesticides.
Lead has long been known to be hazardous. Drinking water, old homes, and tobacco smoke are all potential sources of toxic lead exposure.
Lead can also be found in contaminated water, paint, household dust, water pipes, imported canned foods and hard candies, toys, soil and foods grown in contaminated soil, pottery, ceramics and crystal, eyeliner & lipstick, venison and game, batteries.
Lead targets the bones, brain, blood, kidneys, and thyroid gland. When lead enters the body, it goes into the bloodstream and starts depositing itself in the body- bones, soft tissue, and the brain.
Number 3 on ATSDR's "Top 20 List" is mercury. Mercury is generated naturally in the environment from degassing of the earth's crust, from volcanic emissions. It exists in three forms: elemental mercury, organic and inorganic mercury. Mining operations, chloralkali plants, and paper industries are significant producers of mercury (Goyer 1996). Atmospheric mercury is dispersed across the globe by wind and returns to the earth in rainfall, accumulating in aquatic food chains and lake fish (Clarkson 1990). Mercury compounds were added to paint as a fungicide until 1990. These compounds are now banned; however, old paint supplies and surfaces painted with these old supplies still exist.
Mercury continues to be used in thermometers, thermostats, and dental amalgam. (Many researchers suspect dental amalgam to be a possible source of mercury toxicity [Omura 1996; O'Brien 2001].) Medicines, such as mercurochrome and merthiolate, are still available.
Algaecides and childhood vaccines are also potential sources. Inhalation is the most frequent cause of exposure to mercury. The organic form is readily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract (90-100%); lesser, but still significant amounts of inorganic mercury are absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract (7-15%).
Mercury targets the brain and kidneys.
As your body has no use for mercury, exposure at any amount is toxic. Mercury can seriously affect the nervous system and lead to violent muscular spasms and even death. Pregnant and nursing women should also be cautious as mercury can contaminate breast milk.
Cadmium, number 7 on ATSDR's "Top 20 list," is a byproduct of the mining and smelting of lead and zinc. It is used in nickel-cadmium batteries, PVC plastics, and paint pigments. It can be found in soils because insecticides, fungicides, sludge, and commercial fertilizers that use cadmium are used in agriculture. Cadmium may be found in reservoirs containing shellfish.
Cigarettes also contain cadmium. Lesser-known sources of exposure are dental alloys, electroplating, motor oil, and exhaust. Inhalation accounts for 15-50% of absorption through the respiratory system; 2-7% of ingested cadmium is absorbed in the gastrointestinal system.
The human body doesn’t need cadmium in any amount and even low levels are toxic. Cadmium is slow to exit the body and the negative effects of cadmium are disastrous, affecting the cardiovascular and reproductive systems, kidneys, liver, lungs, brain, bones, eyes, and placenta.
Although aluminum is not a heavy metal, it makes up about 8% of the surface of the earth and is the third most abundant element. It is readily available for human ingestion through the following sources: a component of foil, cans and cookware, buffered aspirin, drinking water, antacids, nasal spray, antiperspirant, processed cheese, food additives, automobile exhaust, tobacco smoke, ceramics, and fireworks.
About 30 years ago, researchers began to find what they considered to be significant amounts of aluminum in the brain tissue of Alzheimer's patients. Although aluminum was also found in the brain tissue of people without Alzheimer's disease, recommendations to avoid sources of aluminum received widespread public attention. As a result, many organizations and individuals began to dispose of all their aluminum cookware and storage containers, and become wary of other possible sources of aluminum (eg, soda cans, personal care products, and drinking water).
Aluminum targets the central nervous system, kidney, brain, lungs, liver, thyroid, and digestive system.
How you can recognize the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity and what disorders are caused by it?
Toxic metals can bio-accumulate in the body and in the food chain. Therefore, a common characteristic of toxic metals is the chronic nature of their toxicity. This is particularly notable with radioactive heavy metals such as radium, which imitates calcium to the point of being incorporated into human bone, although similar health implications are found in lead or mercury poisoning.
The exceptions to this are barium and aluminum, which can be removed efficiently by the kidneys.
Heavy metal toxicity can result in:
damaged or reduced mental and central nervous function, lower energy levels, damage to blood composition, lungs, kidneys, liver, and other vital organs.
Long-term exposure may result in:
slowly progressing physical, muscular, and neurological degenerative processes that mimic Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.
Allergies are not uncommon, and repeated long-term contact with some metals (or their compounds) may cause cancer.
Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity
Symptoms indicative of acute toxicity are usually severe, rapid in onset, and associated with a known exposure or ingestion. They include: cramping, nausea, and vomiting; pain; sweating; headache; difficulty breathing; impaired cognitive, motor, and language skills; mania; and convulsions.
Symptoms of chronic exposure are impaired cognitive, motor, and language skills; learning difficulties; nervousness and emotional instability; and insomnia, nausea, lethargy, and feeling ill. These are also easily recognized; however, they are much more difficult to associate with their cause.
As metals toxicity expert Roy Dittman explained, a blood test alone cannot accurately determine your level of metals toxicity. Many metals quickly pass from your blood to your tissues, where they may lodge and cause serious long-term health problems such as:
• Iron lodged in your heart tissue can cause heart disease
• Aluminum lodged in your brain tissue can cause Alzheimer's or clinical insanity
• Mercury lodged in your brain can cause autism spectrum disorders
• Lead lodged in your bones can interfere with red blood cell production and even white blood cell production
To get tested, find a local doctor or naturopath who can run these tests and offer you an intelligent diagnosis. Get your tests done, review your results, and then decide your next course of action.
The natural ways and foods that can help detoxing heavy metals from your body
Chelation Therapy
Oral chelation therapy with EDTA binds to the heavy metals so they can be excreted in the urine.
Chelation is a chemical process with applications in many areas, including medical treatment, environmental site rehabilitation, water purification, and so forth. In the medical environment, chelation is used to treat cardiovascular disease, heavy metal toxicity, and remove metals that accumulate in body tissues.
Chelation therapy is the process by which a molecule encircles and binds (attaches) to the metal and removes it from tissue. Depending on the drug used, chelating agents specific to the metal are given orally, intramuscularly, or intravenously. Once the bound metal leaves the tissue, it enters the bloodstream, is filtered from the blood in the kidneys, and then eliminated in the urine.
The side effect is that chelates also bind minerals like calcium and vitamins like vitamin E, which therefore need to be supplemented during a chelation therapy.
Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is a fine, odorless, black powder that is produced when a source of carbon like wood or coconut shells,is burned. The high temperature eliminates all of the oxygen and leaves a highly absorbent material that has countless tiny pores. These tiny pores capture, bind and remove heavy metals, chemicals, and poisons.
Activated charcoal has been used since the 1800s to remove ingested toxic substances from the body. To this day, activated charcoal in form of powder mixed with water is still used in emergency departments to counteract the effects of accidental poisoning or drug overdose, as long as the substance has not yet entered the bloodstream via the gut.
In the intestines, charcoal works through a process of adsorption, which has to do with the electrical attraction of toxins to the surface area of negatively-charged particles (like the particles of activated charcoal) in the intestinal tract. Charcoal is not absorbed by the body and will eventually exit through the bowels, along with the toxic substances it has attracted to it.
Foods that aid in heavy metal removal
·        Eat a clean, highly alkaline, organic diet whenever possible
·        Aim to include lots of fresh salads, green smoothies and raw plant-based soups to reduce the amount of toxins going into your body and help magnetize out old acidic waste that is stored in your body
Chlorella is a single cell green algae sea vegetable that grows in fresh water. Algae not only contain nearly every required vitamin and mineral, but also have the effect of increasing oxygen while reducing nitrogen and carbon. Chlorella appears to bind to heavy metals to both detoxify and remove them. Studies in Japan following the nuclear disasters at Hiroshima andNagasaki in 1945 showed that 8 grams of Chlorella daily caused a five-fold increase in the amounts of uranium, lead and cadmium that were eliminated.
Some of the best chlorella reserves have come from Japan; however, use caution when buying Japanese chlorella due to possible exposure to radiation from Fukushima.
Too much chlorella can produce side effects, mostly in the digestive tract, where it works best to bind to mercury, eliminating it. Start with the lowest quantity and work up slowly for a gentle detox.
Cilantro contains the antioxidants camphor, carvone, elemol, geraniol and limonene. A natural deodorizer, cilantro relieves nausea, indigestion and bloating. Consuming cilantro (the seeds of which are the spice coriander) helps reduce cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Cilantro kills salmonella and removes heavy metals such as mercury from the body. It has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and can be easily grown in the home garden.
Cilantro is best used in conjunction with chlorella because it can mobilize more toxins than binding them to carry them out of the body, so having a lot of cilantro by itself may flood the connective tissue with metals that were previously stored away. That’s why you need an intestinal binding agent like chlorella in order to avoid retoxification and its unpleasant side effects.
Fruit pectin is probably the most gentle method of detoxing contaminants. Pectin comes from the fibrous portion of fruits and is most commonly found in the pith of limes, lemons and other citrus fruit as well as in apples. Other sources are bananas, grapes, carrots, and cabbage. Pectin helps to release heavy metals, chemicals and other substances into the blood stream, where it binds to them and flushes them from the body. Simply eating fruit high in pectin will help to cleanse your system, or you can add a pectin product to a glass of water to speed the detox process. Beware of pectin sold in grocery stores, as some brands may contain MSG. Check health food stores for the best products.
Bentonite (Clay)
Bentonite is absorbent aluminium phyllosilicate clay. It is named after Fort Benton, Wyoming where its largest sources are found. Bentonite clay is a form of volcanic ash that has the ability to physically remove from the body up to 25 times its weight in impurities through adsorption. Bentonite has laxative properties and contains high levels of iron, magnesium and silicon. Bentonite clay has a negative charge, meaning that it can bind to positively charged metals such as lead. Bentonite is additionally reported to decrease cadmium induced cytotoxicity and genotoxicity in Nile tilapia fish. Generally, it seems that bentonite is a reliable treatment for metal poisoning.
Bladderwrack (Sea vegetable)
Bladderwrack is a type of brown seaweed found in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Bladderwrack cleanses the digestive tract. A primary source of alginic acid, it binds with heavy metals that may be found in the intestines, such as barium, cadmium, lead, mercury, zinc, and even radioactive strontium. These metals will not be absorbed by the body when alginic acid is present, thus helping to bind and draw out toxins stored in the body.
Burdock Root
A potent blood purifier, burdock root removes heavy metals such as mercury along with other toxins. Containing up to 45% inulin along with arctiopicrin, arctiin, tannins and volatile oil, burdock is used to treat skin conditions such as acne. Burdock helps to purify the liver and is used as a natural cancer treatment. Burdock has antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-tumor properties.
Sulphur-containing foods like alliums (garlic, onion) and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower)
Given that toxic metals have great affinity for sulphur-containing peptides, diets rich in sulphur-containing foods such as alliums and brassicas have shown hopeful results.
Garlic contains the antioxidant allicin, which is formed from alliin and allinase when the cloves are crushed. Garlic helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol while cleansing the liver. It has antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Garlic prevented cadmium-induced kidney damage and decreased the oxidative damage due to lead in rats.
Glutathione (GSH)
Glutathione is a type of amino acid chain called a tripeptide. Glutathione modulates the order of cell life, a process called homeostasis. Glutathione is essential for handling environmental toxins as it detoxifies carcinogens (in particular arsenic) and helps the body to remove heavy metals such as cadmium, iron and mercury. This helps the metabolism and immune system by removing dead weight. GSH also has antioxidant properties.
Alpha lipoic acids
Alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that regenerates other antioxidants (e.g., vitamins E and C, and reduced glutathione) and has metal-chelating activity. Both fat and water soluble, it is readily absorbed from the gut and crosses cellular and blood-brain membrane barriers. It can be found in in spinach, broccoli, yams, potatoes, yeast, tomatoes, carrots beets, rice bran and Brussels sprouts.
Selenium (Mineral)
Selenium is an essential trace mineral that functions as an antioxidant and promotes a healthy immune system. Required in remarkably small amounts, selenium is highly toxic in larger amounts. Selenium has strong anti-cancer effects and is known to help detoxify the body and remove heavy metals including mercury.
How can you avoid heavy metals?
First, establish where you’re at. Toxic metal tests can be done by many chiropractors or natural healthcare practitioners using hair, blood or urine analysis. A sauna is great for heat therapy, which dissolves toxins in the blood and lets you sweat them out. Find a holistic dentist who has experience and knowledge removing mercury fillings and have your mercury amalgam fillings removed immediately. Avoid antiperspirants, cookware and utensils that contain aluminum. Avoid food or drink in aluminum cans. Think twice about vaccinations for things that are no longer common.
Avoid seafood
Fish, especially ones that live for a longer time, absorb mercury from the water they live in. Larger fish, such as tuna and swordfish, tend to have higher levels of mercury.
Check your dental work
Silver-colored fillings are usually made with a mercury amalgam, which may break down over time. If you still have these fillings, you may want to talk with your dentist about a replacement of these with tooth-colored resin fillings.
Ask for mercury-free vaccines or avoid vaccines
While the mercury-based preservative thimerosal has been removed from most vaccines, there are still some that contain the controversial chemical, such as flu shots. There are usually thimerosal-free alternatives available; you just have to ask for them, if you are intending to get vaccinated.
Look out for pollution
Pollution in our water and air can be a major source of harmful heavy metals. Steer clear of industrial areas when possible, and drink filtered water. Check the heavy metal contamination of your drinking water:
Beware of old paint
As recently as the 1970s, paint was made with lead. So, if you live or work in an older structure, there's a good chance there is lead-based paint somewhere beneath the most recent layer. Be mindful of places where paint might be chipping, and definitely keep small children from putting paint chips in their mouths.
If you are worried about lead exposure, see your doctor for a lead test.
As you can see above, a healthy lifestyle and a regular detox routine along with fresh plant-based foods are  great ways to avoid metal toxicity in the first place and allow you to get rid of what you may already carry!
So, long live heavy metal – but only in the music world and not in our bodies!
To your great health!
Ina Mohan
Founder & President
Health, Healing & Happiness LLC