Heavy Metal Toxicity
How did these metals get into my body?
So now you have found out you have heavy metals, through either a urinary or hair heavy metal analysis, and are wondering how this happened. All of us who grew up in houses before 1970 were crawling around in lead paint, taking baths with old lead pipes and driving in cars with lead gas. When you went to the dentist mercury was put freely into your mouth. I remember my first cavity at four. I still remember the pain of the drilling. What I didn’t know was that at the same time a poisonous toxin was being placed in my body, right where it could leak into my thyroid and brain. So 50 years later it’s no mystery where the mercury is coming from. Dental amalgams account for 90 percent of the body’s mercury burden, and contaminated fish for the other 10 percent. Heavy cadmium levels come from smoking, including second hand smoke, oir possibly oil paints. And smoking was much more common in the 60‘s and 70’s. My parents didn’t smoke, but they had bridge parties where I still remember getting to clean the ashtrays. And I smoked in college. So that’s where my cadmium comes from. Arsenic is found naturally in well water. It is used in farming and mining, and is very common in Arizona. Chickens are also fed arsenic to fatten them up. So those are some common sources of arsenic.
How does the body get rid of these metals
Given all this toxic exposure most of us boomer have had, a much better question to ask is why isn’t everybody toxic from heavy metals? It is mainly because some bodies are able to handle the lead and mercury much better than other, due to a process in the body called the methylation cycle. The methylation cycle is extremely important and complex. First it has a lot to do with how our DNA is actually expressed. This is the new science of epigenetics, where methyl groups, from food, supplements and internal processes in the body, actually change our DNA and RNA synthesis. Second it also is responsible for many of the enzymes and cofactors needed to make neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters, as most of us know, are what the brain needs to stay focused and feel happy and serene. And third, it is the body’s garbage truck. It is responsible for neutralizing toxins such as lead. Here is a link to a great diagram of the methylation cycle, where you can visualize some of what I just described. http://www.vsan.org/rok-az/methylation/diagram_5.pdf
So What’s the Problem
Medical research is showing that many people have genetic variations (called single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs, pronounced SNIP) involving the methylation cycle. Remember the cycling of methyl groups allow the body to excrete heavy metals, fight viral infections, regulate certain neurotransmitters, and prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer among others. Some common mutations which can be easily tested are the 1298C and the 677 mutations. About 30 to fifty percent of the populations have one of these mutations. However 15 percent have both, making it even harder for them to run an efficient methylation cycle. There are many more SNP’s related to the methylation cycle but these are some of the easiest to measure. High homocysteine levels are another indication of methylation cycle defects.
These SNPs, or genetic mutations, allow heavy metals to accumulate in the body and also allow chronic viruses to take hold. These viruses and heavy metals can then contribute to the development of diseases such as chronic fatigue, depression, ADD, fibromyalgia and autoimmune. Viruses in the brain can cause inflammation and reduced blood flow. Heavy metals the steal the electrons from the mitochondria, which are the cell’s battery. So cellular energy is drained, like a leaky battery. In addition the heavy metals then interfere even more with the methylation cycle, causing it to become further impaired. Blocks in the methylation cycle also lead to a deletion of glutathione. Glutathione is a small protein. It is the body’s major antioxidant and helps fight viruses. It also provides sulphur for the detoxification of heavy metals. Therefore when the body tries to detoxify itself of heavy metals it further depletes glutathione. It is truly a vicious cycle of cycles!
What to Do?
OK I can hear everyone saying “The science is fascinating Doc, but I really just want this stuff out of my body”. Well unfortunately getting it out takes a little while. The body has tried its best to keep the metals from causing damage, so has “tucked them away”, with lead stored mostly in the bones, arsenic and cadmium in the soft tissue, and mercury in the fatty tissue and brain. Some researchers estimate it actually takes 15 years to thoroughly cleanse the body of lead, since the bones are so slow to release it.
The fastest way to rid the body of metals may be to get IV chelation using various forms of EDTA. EDTA is a synthetic amino discovered in 1930 that chelates lead, arsenic and cadmium as well as “old” calcium. It does not chelate mercury. It is usually administered with large amounts of antioxidants as well as glutathione. It is generally considered safe. The FDA recognizes the use of IV EDTA for lead toxicity and insurance may cover the cost. The upside of IV chelation is that it can get the highest amount of chelating agent into the body. The downside is the time it takes – from one to three hours in a doctor’s office (a 15 minute push is also available), and the cost. One treatment is usually 120 dollars, and a series of 10 is usual and up to 40 may be required for the most serious cases. Since EDTA is poorly absorbed orally IV is the preferred route. However sublingual or rectal EDTA is available. Taken by this route the absorption of EDTA is about 40 to 60 percent. The advantages of this method are the ease and relative inexpensiveness compared to IV chelation. It is not however as well studied. EDTA can also be taken orally. Although only about 5 percent is absorbed, the remaining 95 percent will bind heavy metals in the gut, as well as “bust” biofilms, which are hardened “condos” in which bacteria and fungi hide from antibiotics. Since other methods of oral detoxification depend on detoxification through enterohepatic circulation, absorbing the released metals in the gut and preventing reabsorption is extremely important.
The IV treatment for mercury uses DMPS or dimercapto propane sulfate. Will it is generally recognized as safe some people have had problems with it. DMPS is also available transdermally through prescription. The oral method for mercury detoxification uses DMSA, or dimercapto succinic acid. DMSA chelates, or “claws” the mercury, as well as some lead, from its hiding places in the tissues and transports it out of the body through the kidneys. It does not penetrate the blood brain barrier. In order to get mercury out of the brain alpha lipoic acid must be used. The trick is to remove the mercury out of the body without merely redepositing it elsewhere in the body and generally making things worse. The best method we have found for doing this type of oral chelation is called the Cutler Protocol. It has been used quite successfully by many people, including autistic children and the very sick, for the last 10 years. The Cutler protocol thus involves giving low doses of chelator(s) frequently over an average period of 3 days, to help the body safely excrete the mercury and/or other metals. When given in this way, blood levels of the chelator are kept at a low and stable level, thus allowing for a net movement of metals out of the body. Roughly each round of the “Cutler Protocol” removes 1-2 percent of the mercury. So it is slow, but gentle and generally quite well tolerated. It’s proponents feel it is much safer than IV chelation for mercury. You can read more about it at http://livingnetwork.co.za/chelationnetwork/chelation-the-andy-cutler-protocol/
Pectasol/ Alginate -Modified Citrus Pectin
Pectasol C Modified citrus pectin (MCP) is a patented form of pectin that has been altered so that it can be more easily absorbed by the digestive tract. It has been well researched and documented. Both Pectasol modified pectin and Algimate, from seaweed, bind heavy metals, and possibly mycotoxins and also reduces reabsorption of heavy metals from the gut.. A clinical study showed that 74 percent of toxic heavy metals , including lead, mercury and cadmium, were removed after 6 months. Another study showed Pectasol significantly reduced lead levels in children. Once bound the complex is excreted through the urine. In addition Galectin-3 is a molecule that naturally exists in the body in small amounts. When increased levels of galectin-3 molecules appear, it can indicate the presence of serious health concerns. Due to its small molecular weight, PectaSol-C naturally binds and blocks galectin-3 throughout the body to support lasting health and wellness. Its ability to slow the progression of prostate cancer has been demonstrated most likely through blocking galectin 3, which is a protein on cell membranes that promotes metastases. In our experience Pectasol is extremely well tolerated and has the advantage over other chelating agents in that it doesn’t disturb other mineral. Its positive impact on cellular health is an added bonus.
Zeolite is a naturally occurring alkaline volcanic ash that has a crystalline honeycomb-like structure formed over millions of years when lava comes into contact with sea water. Zeolite’s have a natural negative charge which attracts and absorbs positively charged heavy metals and toxins. They are attracted to the negative charge of the zeolite and flow into the honeycomb structure becoming trapped or caught within its cage structure and are held there. Because of the strong electrical bonding they are not released back into the surrounding fluids. Many of the studies on zeolite have been done on animal. However studies in normal volunteers have shown a 5-7 fold increase in urinary excretion of heavy metals within a week of using zeolites. This represents a removal of toxins from the blood only as they cannot cross the blood brain barrier or enter tissues however continued use may lead to a slower removal from other tissues where the toxins are stored as they are released into the blood. It binds mycotoxins (toxins from fungi, mold and yeast) and has been therefore used for many years in poultry feeds to prevent aflatoxin poisoning. Zeolite has no side-effects so the risk to benefit ratio is very small. Safety studies have proven zeolites to be very safe to take. Zeolite is now available in bulk which has brought down the price significantly. It is an excellent addition to any heavy metal detoxification program.
Cilantro and Chlorella
Cilantro is a common herb similar to parsley. Its use as a chelator was an accidental discovery by a doctor who found it in his urine after eating cilantro soup. It has been shown to chelate mercury from the brain. The mechanism of chelation is unknown. Cilantro alone often does not remove mercury from the body; it often only displaces the metals form intracellularly or from deeper body stores to more superficial structures, from where it can be easier removed with the previously described agents. The problem with cilantro is that it does not necessarily remove the mercury from the body. Many people feel it may simple redistribute the mercury. Chlorella is an algae. The mucopolysaccharides in chlorella’s cell wall absorb rather large amounts of toxic metals similar to an ion exchange resin. It has been proposed that the use of chlorella with cilantro will block reuptake of the metals in the gut making cilantro more effective in actually removing the mercury from the body.
Other supplements needed
Many of the chelators also remove necessary minerals such as calcium. For that reason extra minerals need to be taken during the chelation process. Metals attach themselves only in places that are available for attachment of metal ions. Therefore mineral deficiency provides the opportunity for toxic metals to attach themselves to vacant binding sites. A healthy mineral base is a prerequisite for all metal detox attempts (selenium, zinc, manganese, germanium, molybdenum) Chelation also uses up antioxidants so increasing Vit C and Vit E intake is also advisable. Vitamin C also tends to mobilize mercury from intracellular stores. Glutathione is used in the detoxification process and supplementing can help the whole process run more efficiently. Humic and fulvic acid, derived from prehistoric plant matter, is loaded with dissolved minerals and trace elements. It allows greater cellular absorption of all nutrients, improves cellular voltage and enhances the release of toxins from the cells. Homeopathy has also been shown to help increase excretion. A study from India, where arsenic poisoning from wells is rampant, showed that the use of Arsenicum album 30c daily increased the total urinary excretion of arsenic.
End Game Plan
Clearly there are many valid ways to detox heavy metals from the body. After finding out, through urinary heavy metal testing, what your total body burden is, the next step should be discussion of your options with a knowledgeable professional. IV chelation with oral support is very common, but many also opt, due to constraints of time or money, to just use oral chelation. No matter what methods are chosen it will take time – usually at least 6 months, to significantly clear the heavy metals. Metals are best first removed from the blood. After they are cleared the body may begin to release some of its hidden stores from the brain, bone and fatty tissues. This process takes time. As mentioned earlier many experts feel it takes up to 15 years to significantly clear lead. An easy chelation program that does no harm would start with the agents that totally bind and escort the metal from the body, such as Pectasol, Alginate and Zeolite. Supplements that aid the methylation cycle, such as methyfolate and hydroxycobalamin should also be started. General support with a multivit, extra minerals, fulvic acid, Vit C and glutathione also need to be started. If the body tolerates those well stronger agents such as EDTA, either IV or sublingual, or DMSA (the Cutler protocol) can be added. Cilantro and R lipoic acid, which do penetrate the blood brain barrier, should be added last. Redoing the urinary toxic metal screen after 6 months is useful to show how well the program is progressing.
In truth there is no “safe” level of toxic metals. The human body was not designed to run with lead and mercury. There is no known physiological role in the human body for lead, mercury or aluminum. Very small amounts can have very negative effects. A recent study showed that people with high “normal” levels of lead have significantly higher levels of anxiety and depression than those with low normal levels. Many suspect that the epidemic of autoimmune illness, chronic fatigue, autism and psychiatric illness are related to high levels of toxic metals. And even when the majority of toxic metals are removed it is wise to continue a low level of chelation because of the continuing exposure to them in our toxic world.
Mary Ackerley MD, MD(H), ABIHM is a classically trained psychiatrist and homeopathic physician who specializes in the holistic treatment of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, digestive disturbances and hormone replacement therapy.
She can be reached through her clinic MyPassion4Health at 520-299-5694 or online at MyPassion4Health.com