Mechanism and health effects of heavy metals toxicity in humans

We have known for some time the intimate connection between our health and the environment. By supporting our natural ecosystems, promoting green spaces, and preserving crop farming, we can actively improve population wellbeing.

However, the environment does not simply comprise plants, animals, and water. Naturally occurring elements such as heavy metals are found ubiquitously and, at normal levels, are part of the background environmental infrastructure. Unfortunately, human activity has led to increased levels of heavy metals which have damaging effects on our health as well as the environment.

How does heavy metal toxicity occur?

Heavy metals have widespread use in multiple industries; from medical technology to agriculture, industrial companies and car emissions, heavy metals are found in everyday items and processes. As a result, they accumulate in various reservoirs such as water sources, plants, animals, the air and- ultimately- in us [1]. 

When heavy metals are allowed to build in our bodies, they cause damage to cells and organs which can have a variety of effects including organ dysfunction, metabolic disturbance and mutations that potentially lead to cancer. [2] The key process is the production of reactive oxygen species which are high-energy and highly damaging to cell proteins and DNA which explains how heavy metals can affect almost any body system [3].  

Which heavy metals are toxic to humans?

There are various “domains” that make up health but, given the complex interplay between these factors, adopting healthier mental health strategies will have positive knock-on effects on these other domains. Everything from social interactions to diet, sleep and stress management can be improved and addressed with the overall goal to be a positive holistic picture of health.

Although there are many heavy metals, the main ones implicated in human and environmental health are lead, cadmium, chromium, arsenic, and mercury [1].

These heavy metals can be found in many areas. For example, mercury is generally found in high levels in water and fish, whilst cadmium is found in cigarette smoke. Although there have been steps taken to reduce exposure (such as unleaded petrol and water filtration) the sheer scale of processes that release heavy metals into the environment means levels continue to accumulate.

What are the symptoms of heavy metal toxicity?

Damage to cell proteins and DNA can lead to general metabolic dysfunction and, therefore, produce a complex array of symptoms such as chronic fatigue, poor healing and worsening of existing symptoms. Neurological dysfunction is well-studied (particularly with mercury) but a common early symptom can be non-specific brain fog, whilst the gut can be damaged leading to poor absorption, food allergies and poor bowel habits.

Reactive oxygen species cause significant oxidative stress to the body, ultimately inhibiting natural processes and promoting cancer. In addition, the accumulation of damage in major organs can lead to complications such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and diabetes [4].

Supporting your patients

It is impossible to avoid exposure to heavy metals and their widespread effect on bodily processes means they produce a significant health burden. However, the nature of heavy metals means they can be quickly identified with bio-impedance devices.

The Wegamed Test Expert Plus uses a small voltage applied to the skin to rapidly identify changes in bio-energetic activity. For your patients this can represent heavy metal toxicity as well as a variety of other issues such as allergies or infection.

The painless results eliminate the need for invasive blood tests and deliver fast results, empowering your patients and identifying their underlying issues.

Test Expert Plus

Author: Hardeep Lotay (Final Year Medical Student at Cambridge University, blogger, writer)

Bibliography

[1] Tchounwou PB, Yedjou CG, Patlolla AK, Sutton DJ. Heavy metal toxicity and the environment. Exp Suppl. 2012;101:133-64. doi: 10.1007/978-3-7643-8340-4_6. PMID: 22945569; PMCID: PMC4144270.

[2] Järup L. Hazards of heavy metal contamination. Br Med Bull. 2003;68:167-82. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldg032. PMID: 14757716.

[3] Fu Z, Xi S. The effects of heavy metals on human metabolism. Toxicol Mech Methods. 2020 Mar;30(3):167-176. doi: 10.1080/15376516.2019.1701594. Epub 2019 Dec 17. PMID: 31818169.

[4] Rehman K, Fatima F, Waheed I, Akash MSH. Prevalence of exposure of heavy metals and their impact on health consequences. J Cell Biochem. 2018 Jan;119(1):157-184. doi: 10.1002/jcb.26234. Epub 2017 Aug 2. PMID: 28643849.

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