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Understanding Heavy Metals
by Dr. Wendy Wells, NMD
Editor's Note: Many patients with chronic health conditions may find that heavy metals are one of the main underlying cause. Read on to understand the symptoms and conditions that can be helped with proper diagnosis and treatment of heavy metal toxicity.
Toxicology presents us with the idea that there must first be exposure, then assimilation into the body, and then retention of a toxin before one can conclude there is toxicity in an individual. There is acute exposure and chronic sub-clinical exposure to consider. In chronic sub-clinical metal toxicity (SCMT), there is a long term low-level exposure. In each individual, the ability of the body to detoxify the toxins they are exposed to, determines the “body burden” of toxins. The retention of toxins is determined then by the level of exposure over time vs. the body’s ability to eliminate the toxins. Toxicity becomes evident in symptoms, when the body burden or net retention exceeds body elimination capabilities. Each individual has a genetically-based ability to detoxify. Other contributing factors include nutritional status, antibiotic use, drug use and lifestyle.
Health conditions associated with heavy metal toxicity include: autoimmune disease, liver and kidney disease, Crohn's disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, colitis, IBS, fibromyalgia, leaky gut syndrome, and neuromuscular disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease.
Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include: alcohol intolerance, allergies (environmental and food sensitivities), anxiety, brain fog, chronic pain, coated tongue, cold hands and feet, dark circles under eyes, depression, digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, frequent colds/flus, intolerance to medications, and vitamins, low core body temperature, metallic taste in mouth, muscle twitches, loss of memory, night sweats, sensitive to perfumes, candles, smoke, other chemical odors, sensitive teeth, skin problems.
Where do these heavy metals come from? The most common sources of metals are as follows: mercury found in amalgam fillings, and tuna; aluminum found in soda cans, cookware, and baking powder; arsenic found in tap water, coffee, and car exhaust; cadmium found in cigarette smoke, gasoline, and steel cookware; Copper found in piping, cookware, and hard water; lead found in dyes, gasoline, paint, plumbing, crayons, and mascara.
How do we test for these metals in our bodies? The best way to objectively assess the body’s burden of toxic metals is through urinalysis tested both before and after a provoking agent is taken internally. These provoking agents are well-established chelating agents such as EDTA, DMPS, or DMSA. They pull the metals from storage in the body out into the urine. Support for this approach is given by a recent statement by the ATSDR or Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. (1) Measuring lead toxicity following an injection of calcium disodium EDTA has been used successfully in adults (2-5) and children (6,7). Hair analysis can also be used as a screening test for recent metal exposure, within the last 3 months time. Administration of these one or more chelating agents must be overseen by a physician. Basic blood work including kidney function should also be checked prior to urine toxic metal testing.
As a clinician, one must make a clear distinction between current exposure and stored toxic metals, retained in the tissues. The pre and post urine challenge clearly delivers these results.
For more information contact Dr Wendy Wells at 480-607-0299 or visit her website at www.drwendywells.com. Dr Wells has a degree in chemistry and is a licensed naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, AZ. She specializes in treating patients with chronic disease. Her natural holistic approach combined with research-based treatments and modalities, helps bring her patients’ successfully back to optimal health and well-being. She also offers free 15 minute consultations.
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About the Author
Dr. Wendy Wells, NMD, ATH Co-Editor of Naturopathy, is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She is a Licensed and Board certified physician by the Arizona Naturopathic Board of Medical Examiners, a member of Naturopaths International, a non-profit organization helping those in other countries with naturopathic medical care. Dr. Wells is also a Medical Advisor for Doctor’s for Nutrition, a national organization providing nutritional supplements to benefit health. In Dr. Wells' practice, WellSource Naturopathic Medical Center, she specializes in finding the cause to your health issues. She is constantly working to bring the best of alternative and conventional medicine together for your benefit. Dr. Wells has a focused interest in GI issues and chronic illness.
1. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Toxicological profile. Available at: www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp13.html#. Accessed April 11, 2007.
2. Biagini G, et al. Renal morphological and functional modification in chronic lead poisoning. In: Brown SS, ed. Clinical Chemistry and Chemical Toxicology of Metals. Amsterdam: Elsevier/North-Holland Biomedical Press; 1977:123-126.
3. Lilis RM, et al. Nephropathy in chronic lead poisoning. Br J Ind Med. 1968;25:196-202.
4. Wedeen RP, et al. Occupational lead nephropathy. Am J Med. 1975; 59:630-641.
5. Wedeen, RP. Removing lead from bone: Clinical implications of bone lead stores. Neurotoxicol. 1992; 13:843-852.
6. Chisolm J, et al. Interrelationships among blood lead concentration, quantitative daily ALA-U and urinary lead output following calcium EDTA. In:Nordberg GF, ed. Proceedings of Third Meeting of the Subcommittee on the Toxicology of Metals Under the Permanent Commission and International Association on Occupational Health, November 1974, Tokyo, Japan. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Publishing Co.; 1976: 416-433.
7. Markowitz Meet, et al. Zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu) metabolism in CaNa2 EDTA-treated children with plumbism. Pediatr Res. 1981;15:635.