Every day you are exposed to heavy metals from environmental factors like the food you eat and the air you breathe. Heavy metals, including mercury, lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, zinc, copper and iron are used in many modern-day applications, such as agriculture, medicine and industry. 

Although some of these metals, like zinc, copper and iron, are essential in small amounts, overexposure can lead to heavy metal poisoning. Heavy metal poisoning occurs when your body’s tissues absorb too much of a particular metal. This can trigger a number of harmful side effects and if left untreated it can be life-threatening. 

You are more susceptible to heavy metal poisoning if you are exposed to high levels of heavy metals daily. For example, smokers have a higher risk of cadmium poisoning, living in a home with lead-based paint causes a higher risk of lead poisoning and many more.  

Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning 

The symptoms of heavy metal poisoning vary depending on the type of metal you are overexposed to.  

Common acute symptoms across several types of heavy metal poisoning include nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, shortness of breath, chills and fatigue.  

Symptoms of severe cases of chronic heavy metal poisoning include chronic infections, brain fog, visual disturbances, insomnia and paralysis. 

Certain types of heavy metal poisoning can cause additional symptoms, for example mercury poisoning causes muscle weakness, hearing and speech difficulties, nerve damage in your hands and face and trouble walking. Some heavy metals can cause serious heart problems such as atherosclerosis, peripheral artery disease or central nervous system inflammation. 

What treatments are available? 

Chelation therapy, also known as heavy metal detox, is a method of removing heavy metals from the blood and is one of the standard treatments for heavy metal poisoning.

Chelation involves giving medication, known as chelators, through an intravenous drip. When the chelators enter the bloodstream, they bind to the heavy metals in a process called chelation. The metals are then removed from the body as waste. The heavy metal detox restores the body’s chemical balances that have been depleted by these metals. 

Chelation is preferable intravenously than when taken orally because the supplements are absorbed better. Additionally, the oral supplements can irritate the digestive system.  

Changes in diet can also reduce elevated levels of heavy metals in the bloodstream. Some foods electrically attract metals, bind to them, and remove them from the body in the digestive process. Some of these foods include coriander, garlic, blueberries, curry, green tea, tomatoes and probiotics. Eating foods high in vitamins and minerals can also reduce the level of heavy metals in the blood. 

Processed foods and excess fats slow decrease your body’s rate of detoxification because they absorb toxins which should be removed from your body. Other foods to limit or avoid include brown rice as it often contains arsenic; larger or longer- living fish (particularly tuna) as they tend to contain more mercury; alcohol and non-organic food.