Heavy metal toxicity is a very general subject and people experience widely varying symptoms in response to heavy metal poisoning.
There are many individual metals causing varying degrees of illness based on acute and chronic exposures. Heavy metals is the term used for a group of elements that have particular weight characteristics. They are on the "heavier" end of the periodic table of elements. Some heavy metals – such as cobalt, copper
, strontium, and zinc
– are essential to health in trace amounts. Others are non-essential and can be harmful to health in excessive amounts. These include cadmium, antimony, chromium
, mercury, lead, and arsenic – these last three being the most common in cases of heavy metal toxicity.
Causes and Development
Sources of toxicity can include environmental, water supply, industrial, hobbies, and others, thus a full history of the person's work and living habits can help pinpoint potential heavy metal sources.
Causes of arsenic toxicity include ingestion of arsenic (found in insect poisons), skin contact (e.g. some linseed oils) and even drinking water.
Signs and Symptoms
As an example of the scope of a heavy metal's toxicity, lead can affect the nervous system
system, blood production, kidneys
, and reproductive system.
Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include mental confusion, pain in muscles and joints, headaches, short-term memory
loss, gastrointestinal upsets, food intolerances/allergies, vision problems, chronic fatigue
, and others. The symptoms are so vague that it is difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone.Arsenic
Symptoms include nausea
or vomiting, abdominal pain
, garlic odor on breath, excessive salivation, headache, vertigo
, kidney failure
, progressive blindness, and mental impairment. Signs include mottled brown skin, hyperkeratosis
(increased pigmentation) of palms and soles, cutis edema
, transverse striate Leukonychia, perforation of nasal septum, eyelid edema, coryza, limb paralysis and reduced deep tendon reflexes. Mental symptoms include apathy, dementia
, and anorexia
Signs and Symptoms include combinations of gastrointestinal complaints, hypertension
, fatigue, hemolytic anemia
, abdominal pain, nausea, constipation
, weight loss, peripheral neuropathy
, cognitive dysfunction, arthralgias, headache, weakness, convulsions, irritability, impotence, loss of libido, depression
, depression of thyroid
function, chronic renal failure
. A patient with lead poisoning may have a combination of symptoms – or no symptoms at all until the condition has progressed. Mental symptoms include restlessness, insomnia, irritability, confusion, excitement, anxiety
, delusions, and disturbing dreams.Mercury
Mercury toxicity has been linked to, among other things, mercury dental fillings, particularly when people have a large number of them. Symptoms include a metallic taste in the mouth, excess salivation, gingivitis
, stomach and kidney
troubles. Mental symptoms include shyness, irritability, apathy and depression, psychosis, mental deterioration, and anorexia.
Diagnosis and Tests
If a specific diagnosis cannot be made, a general approach to metal toxicity may be beneficial. The list of heavy metals includes mercury, lead, aluminum, antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, chromium
, cobalt, copper
, silver, zinc
and tin. Mercury poisoning will be dealt with separately as "Mercury Poisoning (Amalgam Illness)".Arsenic
Useful lab tests include Urinalysis (Oliguria
, Hemoglobinuria); Complete Blood Count
and Peripheral Smear (Macrocytic Anemia
); Tissue Exam (reveals arsenic deposits – urine, nails, hair) and Serum Arsenic levels.
Treatment and Prevention
The first step in treating any heavy metal toxicity is to identify the toxic elements and begin the removal process. The easiest screening process is a Hair Analysis
. Additional testing involves the use of chelating drugs along with a 24-hour urine collection to determine levels of heavy metals. From here, treatment is based on the individual and will usually involve the use of metal chelating drugs or intravenous EDTA chelation
. For many patients, intravenous Vitamin C
and replacement mineral infusions are also recommended to support the body through the metal removal process. Once laboratory tests indicate that the heavy metals are undetectable, treatment is considered complete. Often many – if not all – symptoms previously experienced will have resolved, though some may linger, indicating residual damage to organ systems. Therapies can then be targeted to these systems and any specific problems remaining.
Symptoms will often begin to improve within weeks or even days of commencing treatment. Therapy may last from 6 months to 2 years.
Although complete cure is possible, many people suffer the effects of toxicity for extended periods. Some of the damage, for instance to the liver
or brain, may not be fully reversible. Others find that their food intolerances will not be completely remedied. Only time will answer that question.
Cadmium may promote skeletal demineralization and increase bone fragility and fracture risk.