Heavy metal poison symptoms


Heavy Metal Poisoning

Original Editors – Chase Almgren from Bellarmine University’s Pathophysiology of Complex Patient Problems project.

Top Contributors – Chase Almgren, Kim Jackson, Elaine Lonnemann and Wendy Walker


Heavy metal toxicity is a generic term for an above average level of metal in the blood which may result in undesirable side-effects. Many heavy metals are necessary for life, but may become toxic in large amounts. Authors argue what constitues a “heavy metal,” but it’s commonly referred to as any metal which could potentially cause human or environmental harm.

List of Heavy Metals

  • antimony
  • arsenic
  • bismuth
  • cadmium
  • cerium
  • chromium
  • cobalt
  • copper
  • callium
  • gold
  • iron
  • lead
  • manganese
  • mercury
  • nickel
  • platinum
  • silver
  • tellurium
  • thallium
  • tin
  • uranium
  • vanadium
  • zinc

Common heavy metal toxicities humans are exposed to are lead, arsenic, mercury, aluminum, iron and cadmium.

Lead Toxicity

Common sources of lead which may be harmful to humans are lead based paints, soldered around the rims of food cans (more common outside of the United States), plumbing, older bath tubs, and imported dishware. Though it is generally safe to use older bath tubs and imported dishware, scratching and chipping can extract the lead from these products. Imported dishware may also have lead extracted through repeated microwave or dishwasher use, as well as frequent juices which are highly acidic. Lead particles may also travel through the air during older house renovation projects

Precautions with young infants and children

Young children should be especially careful around lead based products as the minimal level to declare lead toxicity (10mg/dl) is smaller than that for adults(24mg/dl). Since the blood-brain barrier is unformed in infants, lead readily diffuses across.

Children and infants are commonly exposed to lead particles during floor activities, and through the hand-to-mouth stages of development. Risk factors which may predispose children to lead toxicity are (1) under age 6 (2) low income and (3)urban dwelling.

Adults and lead exposure

Adults are more likely to be exposed to lead during the renovation of old houses, manufacturing of brass, bullets, solder, stained-glass/ pottery designs, and frequent use of metallic wick candles.

Arsenic Toxicity

Arsenic exposure may come from glass infiltrates, pesticides, wood preservatives, paints and during the process of smelting copper zinc, and lead.

Mercury Toxicity

Mercury exposure can be in the forms of inhalion, ingestion, or topically through the skin. Common sources of mercury are fish (the number one cause of toxicity), emissions from coal burning plants, medical waste and from mines. Another common source of mercury is through the food chain; one animal is exposed and passes it to the top of the food chain through ingestion.


Lead Prevalence

The prevalence of lead toxicity has been rated as high as 5.6% in a clinical study of 1 to 3 year olds.

Prevalence rates of mercury and arsenic were unable to be found.

Characteristics/Clinical Presentation

Characteristics of heavy metal poisoning are vague as patients will present depending on the route and level of exposure. For instance, smaller levels of heavy metal exposure can cause minor irritations such as skin rashes and warts (arsenic), whereas large amounts may cause sudden death.

Common signs and symptoms of heavy metal toxicity:
  • Coated tongue
  • extreme fatigue
  • frequent colds and flus
  • insomnia
  • memory loss
  • metallic taste in mouth
  • muscle and joint pain
  • muscle twitching
  • night sweats
  • mood swings
  • sensitive teeth/gums
  • sensitivity to smells
  • skin irritations
  • hyperesthesias
  • neurological changes
    • Signs and symptoms are not limited to this list but these are commonly found among different heavy metals

Associated Co-morbidities

The following co-morbidities are not found with all types of heavy metal toxicity but are common:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Autism Spectrum disorders
  • Auto-immune disorders
  • Candidiasis (Yeast Infection)
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Epilepsy
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gulf War Syndrome
  • Hypertension
  • Insomnia
  • Infertility
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s
  • Schizophrenia
  • Thyroid Disorders


Chelation therapy is commonly used to treat heavy metal poisoning. Chelating agents are introduced to the body orally, intravenously, transdermally, transdermally or by suppository. After binding to heavy metals, they are excreted from the body through urine.

Common Chelation Therapy Agents
  • EDTA
  • DMPS
  • DMSA
Penicillamine (Brand names; Cuprimine, Depen)

This medication is generally used for Wilson’s disease (excess copper in the body), rheumatoid arthritis, and kidney stone prevention, but can also be used to treat heavy metal toxicity.

Diagnostic Tests/Lab Tests/Lab Values

The most accurate test for heavy metal poisoning is a chelation challenge test. This test involves a urinalysis over a 24 hour period after chelating agents are administered. The chelation challenge test can identify which heavy metals are present.

A hair tissue mineral analysis (HTMA) may also be used to detect heavy metals. The HMTA scans tissues of the body which can identify heavy metal and mineral levels up to 2 to 3 months prior.

Other common tests:

  • Complete Blood Count*
  • Urinalysis*
  • Hair analysis
  • The accuracy of these test isn’t as reliable as the chelation challenge test or HTMA because they take a snapshot in time of what is in the body.

Systemic Involvement

Systemic involvement varies between heavy metals.

Lead systemic involvement

Acute lead toxicity can cause gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, and constipation. It can also cause sleeping problems, fatigue, mood changes, headache, joint/muscle aches, anemia, and a decreased sexual drive.

Long term problems with lead exposure include nervous system, genitourinary system, and blood-forming system problems. Chronic exposure to lead can lead to death.

Arsenic systemic Involvement

Long term effects of arsenic exposure include gross pigmentation with hyperkeratinization, wart formation, dermatitis, vasospasticity, Raynaud’s phenomenon, decreased nerve conduction velocity, lung cancer, conjunctivitis, peripheral neuropathies, encephalopathy, laryngitis, bronchitis, rhinitis, and death.

Mercury systemic Involvement

Short-term effects of mercury toxicity include lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypertension, tachycardia, skin rashes, and eye irritation. With chronic exposure to mercury, the nervous system is susceptible to damage. Brain and kidney damage is common with high levels of mercury exposure. Other common systemic side-effects are irritability, shyness, tremors, vision and hearing problems, and memory deficits.

Physical Therapy Management (current best evidence)

Physical therapy has minimal effect on depleting heavy metals from the body. There is no current “best evidence” for the treatment of patients with heavy metal toxicity. Physical therapy is aimed towards management of side effects and associated co-morbidities of heavy metal toxicity.

Since heavy metal toxicity includes many different types of toxicity, it may be important to ask patients questions such as;

  1. Have you worked with any hazardous materials lately? Follow up question: How long were you exposed to these materials?
  2. Where do you work? Are there any chemicals or metals which are regulated for saftey reasons at work?
  3. How old is the house/apartment you live in? (older construction methods/ materials may contain metals which are currently regulated)
  4. Is your living situation located near any factories, power plants, construction sites? Have you been near any of these lately?
  5. Have you had any changes in diet involving and increased amount of a certain type of food?
  6. Is there anything you’ve been exposed to which is out of the ordinary in the past 6 months?

Management strategies for patients with heavy metal toxicity may include:

  • Cardiovascular re-conditioning
  • Desensitization for hyperesthesias
  • Range of motion deficits
  • Strengthening
  • Neuromuscular re-education
  • Balance and coordination
  • Chronic pain management

Case Reports/ Case Studies

Doleys DM, Crocker M, Patton D. Response of Patients with Chronic Pain to Exercise Quotas. PTJ 1982; 62: (8) 1111-1114

Electronic version: http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/62/8/1111.abstract?sid=3bf6b68e-2873-422f-9c24-892fc7342106

Finlayson M, Plow M, Cho C. Use of physical therapy services among middle-aged and older adults with multiple sclerosis. PTJ. 2010; (90) 1607-1618

Electronic Version: http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/90/11/1607.abstract?sid=16b0a2fd-9c6e-40b3-9a34-0cb203ca7731


Resources for patients

Detoxification information:

Toxicologic profile for Arsenic:


Toxicologic profile for Lead:


Toxicologic profile for Mercury:


Heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium, iron, and aluminum occur naturally in the environment, and very limited exposure typically does not cause disease or harm to humans. Long-term exposure to low levels of heavy metals, however, can result in an accumulation of these toxins in your body. We use the term “biotoxicity” to refer to the build-up of toxins in your body tissues that cause digestive problems and joint pain, and we use the word “neurotoxicity” when these toxins affect your nervous system and cause neurological disorders, including headaches, sleep disturbances, depression, and cognitive difficulties.

We can be exposed to heavy metals through the inhalation of air pollutants and through the consumption of food, drink and other consumer products such as household and personal care products that have been contaminated.

The painful symptoms of heavy metal toxicity are similar to the symptoms of a variety of other medical conditions. These conditions include fibromyalgia, migraine or chronic headaches, depression, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic Lyme Disease, chronic sinusitis and asthma that is unresponsive to conventional therapy. Biotoxicity symptoms also can mimic those of certain autoimmune diseases, such as psoriatic arthritis, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis.

The problem is, if an underlying cause of your pain or illness is heavy metal toxicity and your treatment plan does not include a detoxification regimen, your overall recovery is very likely to be incomplete and far slower than it needs to be.

At the Kaplan Center, our physicians have years of experience treating patients with heavy metal toxicity, and we completely reject the notion that “you just have to live with it.”

At your first visit, your Kaplan physician will take time exploring the onset of your condition, the specific nature of your symptoms and the overall status of your health. You’ll also be asked about the medications and therapies you’ve tried in the past, and what has and hasn’t worked for you. To gather additional information about your condition, specialized diagnostic laboratory testing may be necessary.

After reviewing all of the factors contributing to your condition, your physician will spend time talking with you about your diagnosis and working with you to create a customized and multi-dimensional treatment plan that addresses not only your immediate pain but also any possible underlying or co-existing conditions that may be causing or aggravating your symptoms. Many patients find that addressing the toxicity disorder has alleviated or resolved their longstanding medical problems.

We offer a multitude of effective treatment options, including:

  • Biotoxicity/Neurotoxicity Protocol
  • Prescription Medication
  • Nutritional Counseling
  • Acupuncture
  • Osteopathic Manual Medicine
  • Sleep Evaluation & Management
  • Meditation Training
  • Herbal Remedies & Nutritional Supplements
  • Intravenous Supplementation

We are here for you, and we want to help.

Our goal is to return you to optimal health as soon as possible. To schedule an appointment please call: 703-532-4892

Additional Resources:

Research study: Managing Radiation Therapy Side Effects with Complementary Medicine
Publication: Toxic Metals By the Occupational Safety & Health Administration

Heavy Metal Detoxification

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Rare Disease Database

The symptoms of heavy metal poisoning vary according to which type of metal overexposure is involved. Some specific examples are:


Arsenic is used in the manufacture of pesticides. The gas from arsenic also has some industrial uses. Overexposure may cause headaches, drowsiness, confusion, seizures, and life-threatening complications. Neurological symptoms include brain damage (encephalopathy), nerve disease of the extremities (peripheral neuropathy), pericapillary hemorrhages within the white matter, and loss or deficiency of the fatty coverings (myelin) around these nerve fibers (demyelination). Skin problems include transverse white bands on the fingernails (mees’ lines) and excessive accumulation of fluid in the soft layers of tissue below the skin (edema). Gastrointestinal symptoms include a flu-like illness (gastroenteritis) that is characterized by vomiting; abdominal pain; fever; and diarrhea, which, in some cases, may be bloody. Other symptoms include breakdown of the hemoglobin of red blood cells (hemolysis), a low level of iron in the red blood cells (anemia), and low blood pressure (hypotension). Some individuals may experience a garlic-like odor that may be detectable on the breath.

In cases of chronic poisoning, weakness, muscle aches, chills, and fever may develop. The onset of symptoms in chronic arsenic poisoning is about two to eight weeks after exposure. Skin and nail symptoms include hardened patches of skin (hyperkeratosis) with unusually deep creases on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, unusual darkening of certain areas of the skin (hyperpigmentation), transverse white bands on the fingernails (mees’ lines), and a scale like inflammation of the skin (exfoliative dermatitis). Other symptoms include inflammation of sensory and motor nerves (polyneuritis) and the mucose membrane lining the throat.

Inorganic arsenic accumulates in the liver, spleen, kidneys, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract. It then passes through these sites but leaves a residue in tissues such as skin, hair, and nails. Symptoms of acute inorganic arsenic poisoning include severe burning of the mouth and throat, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure (hypotension), and muscle spasms. Individuals with severe inorganic arsenic poisoning may experience heart problems (cardiomyopathy); accumulation of acid in the tubes of the kidneys (renal tubular acidosis); breakdown of the hemoglobin of red blood cells (hemolysis); irregular heart rhythms (ventricular arrhythmias); coma; seizures; bleeding within the intestines (intestinal hemorrhage); and yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, and whites of the eyes (jaundice).


Cadmium is used for many items, including electroplating, storage batteries, vapor lamps and in some solders. The onset of symptoms may be delayed for two to four hours after exposure. Overexposure may cause fatigue, headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and fever. In addition, progressive loss of lung function (emphysema), abnormal buildup of fluid within the lungs (pulmonary edema), and breathlessness (dyspnea) may also be present. In some cases, affected individuals may exhibit increased salivation; yellowing of the teeth; an unusually rapid heart beat (tachycardia); low levels of iron within the red blood cells (anemia); bluish discoloration (cyanosis) of the skin and mucous membranes due to insufficient oxygen supply to these tissues; and/or an impaired sense of smell (anosmia). Individuals with cadmium poisoning may also experience improper functioning of the canals with the kidney (renal tubular dysfunction) characterized by excretion of abnormally high levels of protein in the urine (proteinuria), minor changes in liver function, and/or softening of certain bones (osteomalacia).


Chromium is used in the manufacture of cars, glass, pottery and linoleum. Exposure to too much chromium may cause lung and respiratory tract cancer as well as kidney diseases. In addition, overexposure to chromium may also cause gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea and vomiting, often with blood. Symptoms may lead to severe water-electrolyte disorders, increased mild acidity of blood and body tissues (acidosis), and/or inadequate blood flow to its tissues resulting in shock. Lesions on the kidneys, liver, and muscular layer of the heart (myocardium) may also develop.


Cobalt, used in making jet engines, may cause nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite (anorexia), ear ringing (tinnitus), nerve damage, respiratory diseases, an unusually large thyroid gland (goiter), and/or heart and/or kidney damage.


Lead production workers, battery plant workers, welders and solders may be overexposed to lead if proper precautions are not taken. Lead is stored in the bone but may affect any organ system. The effects of lead poisoning varies depending on the age of the individual and the amount of exposure.

In children, symptoms vary depending upon the degree of exposure to lead. Some affected individuals may not have any noticeable symptoms. Symptoms usually develop over a three to six week time period. Lead overexposure may cause children to be less playful, clumsier, irritable, and sluggish (lethargic). In some cases, symptoms include headaches, vomiting, abdominal pain, lack of appetite (anorexia), constipation, slurred speech (dysarthria), changes in kidney function, unusually high amounts of protein in the blood (hyperproteinemia), and unusually pale skin (pallor) resulting from a low level of iron in the red blood cells (anemia). Neurological symptoms associated with lead overexposure include an impaired ability to coordinate voluntary movements (ataxia), brain damage (encephalopathy), seizures, convulsions, swelling of the optic nerve (papilledema), and/or impaired consciousness. Some affected children experience learning or behavioral problems such as mental retardation and selective deficits in language, cognitive function, balance, behavior, and school performance. In some cases, symptoms may be life-threatening.

In adults, overexposure to lead may cause high blood pressure and damage to the reproductive organs. Additional symptoms may include fever, headaches, fatigue, sluggishness (letheragy), vomiting, loss of appetite (anorexia), abdominal pain, constipation, joint pain, loss of recently acquired skills, incoordination, listlessness, difficulty sleeping (insomnia), irritability, altered consciousness, hallucinations, and/or seizures. In addition, affected individuals may experience low levels of iron in the red blood cells (anemia), peripheral neuropathy, and, in some cases, brain damage (encephalopathy). Some affected individuals experience decreased muscle strength and endurance; kidney disease; wrist drop; and behavioral changes such as hostility, depression, and/or anxiety. In some cases, symptoms may be life-threatening.

Lead is excreted in urine and feces. However, it may also appear in hair, nails, sweat, saliva, and breast milk.


Manganese is used as a purifying agent in the production of several metals. Symptoms associated with overexposure to manganese may include damage to the central nervous system and pneumonia. Additional symptoms and physical findings include weakness, fatigue, confusion, hallucinations, odd or awkward manner of walking (gait), muscle spasms (dystonia), rigidity of the trunk, stiffness, awkwardness of the limbs, tremors of the hands, and psychiatric abnormalities.


Mercury is used by dental assistants and hygienists, and chemical workers. Mercury can affect the lungs, kidneys, brain, and/or skin. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include fatigue, depression, sluggishness (letheragy), irritability, and headaches.

Respiratory symptoms associated with inhalation to mercury vapors include coughing, breathlessness (dyspnea), tightness or burning pain in the chest, and/or respiratory distress. Some affected individuals may experience abnormal buildup of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema); pneumonia; and/or abnormal formation of fibrous tissue (fibrosis).

There may be behavioral and neurological changes associated with overexposure to mercury poisoning, such as excitability and quick-tempered behavior, lack of concentration, and loss of memory. Shock and permanent brain damage may also be result from mercury poisoning. Some affected individuals experience mental confusion. A progressive cerebellar syndrome with impaired ability to coordinate voluntary movements (ataxia) of the arms may also be present. Abnormal involuntary movements of the body such as uncontrolled jerky movements combined with slow, writhing movements (choreoathetosis) are common. Additional symptoms include non-inflammatory degenerative disease of the nerves (polyneuropathy); impaired ability to coordinate voluntary movements (cerebellar ataxia); tremors of the legs and arms and, in some cases, of the tongue and lips; seizures; and/or slurred speech (dysarthria). Changes in mood, behavior, and consciousness may also occur.

In some cases of chronic exposure to inorganic mercury a personality disorder known as erethism or mad hatter syndrome may occur. Symptoms associated with mad hatter syndrome include memory loss, excessive shyness, abnormal excitability, and/or insomnia. This syndrome was described in workers with occupational exposure to mercury in the felt-hat industry.

Many affected individual experience sensory impairments such as visual problems (e.g. constriction of visual fields, tunnel vision, and blindness) as well as hearing loss.

Some individuals may experience skin changes such as painful swelling and pink coloration of the fingers and toes (acrodynia); persistent redness or inflammation of the skin (erythema); extreme sensitivity (hyperesthesia) of the affected areas; and tingling and sensory disturbances.

In some cases, other affected individuals may experience stomach and intestinal disturbances; kidney damage; dehydration; acute renal failure; inflammation of the gums (gingivitis); severe local irritation of the mouth and pharynx, accompanied by vomiting; and/or abdominal cramps with bloody diarrhea.

Mercury is mainly excreted through the urine and feces.


Symptoms associated with phosphorus poisoning include weakness, headaches, vomiting, sweating, abdominal cramps, salivation, wheezing secondary to bronchial spasm, drooping of the upper eyelids (ptosis), contraction of the pupil (miosis), and/or muscular weakness and twitching. In addition, non-inflammatory degenerative disease of the sensorimotor nerves (sensorimotor polyneuropathy) may advance to progressive deterioration (atrophy). In some cases, respiratory paralysis may also occur.


Symptoms associated with thallium poisoning include extreme drowsiness (somnolence), nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and bloody vomiting (hematemesis). Some affected individuals may experience the loss of most or all of their scalp hair (alopecia); rapidly progressive and painful sensory polyneuropathy; motor neuropathy; cranial nerve palsies; seizures; impaired ability to coordinate voluntary movements (cerebellar ataxia); and/or mental retardation. Some individuals may experience eye symptoms including wasting away (atrophy) of the optic nerve (optic atrophy), inflammation of the optic nerve (retrobulbar neuritis), and impaired functioning of the muscles of the eyes (ophthalmoplegia). In some cases, thallium poisoning may progress to include renal and cardiac failure, confusion, psychosis, organic brain syndrome, and/or coma.


Additional metals that may cause poisoning include antimony, aluminum, barium, bismuth, copper, gold, iron, lithium, platinum, silver, tin, and zinc. Common symptoms of poisoning from these metals may include gastrointestinal, renal, and neurological symptoms, such as headaches, irritability, psychosis, stupor, coma, and convulsions.

Antimony is used for hardening lead, and in the manufacture of batteries and cables. It may possibly cause lung disease and skin cancer, especially in those who smoke.

Copper is used in the manufacture of electrical wires. It may cause a flu-like reaction called metal fume disease and disturbances in the blood.

Lithium is used to make glasses and pharmaceuticals. Lithium may cause diseases of the stomach, intestinal tract, central nervous system, and kidneys.

Overexposure to silver may cause a gray discoloration of the skin, hair and internal organs. Additional symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Zinc overexposure may cause the flu-like symptoms of metal fume fever; stomach and intestinal disturbances; and/or liver dysfunction.

Overexposure to bismuth may cause extreme drowsiness (somnolence) and neurologic disturbances such as confusion, difficulty in concentration, hallucinations, delusions, myoclonic jerks, tremors, seizures, an impaired ability to coordinate voluntary movements (ataxia), and/or inability to stand or walk.

Overexposure to gold (as in treatment of rheumatoid arthritis) may cause skin rashes; bone marrow depression; stomach and intestinal bleeding; headaches; vomiting; focal or generalized continuous fine vibrating muscle movements (myokymia); and yellowing of the skin, mucous membranes, and whites of the eyes (jaundice).

Some cases of overexposure to nickel have been associated an increased risk of lung cancer.

Overexposure to selenium may cause irritation of the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, and eyes; inflammation of the liver; loss of hair (alopecia); loss of skin color (depigmentation); and peripheral nerve damage.

Overexposure to tin may damage the nervous system and cause psychomotor disturbances including tremor, convulsions, hallucinations, and psychotic behavior.

Aluminum containers used in the manufacture and processing of some foods, cosmetics and medicines, and also for water purification. Overexposure to aluminum may cause brain damage (encephalopathy).

The Impacts of Heavy Metal Toxicity

If you have any of the following symptoms, then heavy metal toxicity could be affecting your health:

  • Tremors
  • Headaches
  • Infertility
  • Mental “fogginess”
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Deteriorating eye health
  • Memory problems
  • Poor kidney function
  • Digestive problems
  • Tingling sensations in the hands, feet, and/or around the mouth
  • Poor immune function (recurrent infections, an autoimmune disease)

Multiple heavy metals exist in the earth’s crust, and the myriad undertakings of human activities results in practically everyone being exposed to these elements in the air, water, and food supply. Thorne’s Heavy Metals Test provides insights about levels of heavy metals and essential elements in your body.

As long ago as 2007, the World Health Organization stated that heavy metals accumulated in the environment, “. . . are associated to different degrees with a wide range of conditions, including kidney and bone damage, developmental and neuro-behavioral disorders, elevated blood pressure, and potentially even lung cancer.”

The heavy metals in the environment that are most commonly found to be linked to adverse health problems include:

  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Arsenic

Mercury is a silvery, metallic, very malleable, liquid element (think Robert Patrick’s T-1000 character from the Terminator 2 movie) that is very toxic, even in extremely small amounts. Mercury is ubiquitous in the environment, partly due to the 50 tons of it being released into the atmosphere annually in the United States (yes, that’s 100,000 POUNDS every year) from burning coal in coal-fired power plants.

The mercury vapor in the air can be inhaled, but it also falls to the earth with precipitation, contaminating streams, rivers, lakes, and ultimately the oceans. Bacteria in these bodies of water change what is called “inorganic” mercury into “organic” methylmercury. The cascading problem that results is that methylmercury is far more readily absorbed into the body than is inorganic mercury.

So, when we eat fish, shellfish, and other species from bodies of water containing methylmercury, we can become toxic.

Mercury is also found in dental amalgams – “silver fillings” – that dentists have used for over a century to repair cavities. Dental amalgams are usually one-half mercury, with the remainder consisting of silver and tin. When we chew or drink hot beverages, a small amount of mercury vapor from a filling can be released, which we then inhale and absorb.

Mercury has been used in vaccines as a preservative, such as in the measles/mumps/rubella vaccine, although this is a practice that has largely been eliminated by the pharmaceutical companies. The brain and nervous system are especially sensitive to long-term mercury exposure, and babies are the most sensitive to mercury’s negative health effects.

Lead is less ubiquitous in the environment than mercury is, mostly because lead is no longer being used as an additive in gasoline. Lead is also no longer being used as a paint additive. But homes built prior to the 1978 ban can still contain some lead-based paint.

Removing lead-containing paint without using the proper personal protective equipment can result in lead toxicity (this author, although embarrassed to admit it, did just that many years ago). Lead is still being used in the manufacture of car batteries. And individuals can also come in contact with lead from old lead water pipes or the lead solder used to weld copper water pipes.

The soil and water in areas where mining activities have taken place can become very contaminated with lead. Children growing up in these areas are the most vulnerable to lead’s harmful effects, which can result in serious developmental delays, nervous system damage, and even death.

Used in battery manufacturing and other industries, cadmium exposure can damage the kidneys, lungs, and liver. Like mercury, lead, and the mineral zinc, cadmium occurs in the earth’s crust and occurs naturally in ores with lead and zinc.

Tobacco smoking will expose a smoker to cadmium, because the tobacco plant will concentrate cadmium in the environment, such as from soil. Rice also tends to accumulate cadmium as well, especially if the rice is grown in areas that formerly grew tobacco, as in some areas in the southeastern United States.

Arsenic is present in the environment from agricultural runoff, cigarette smoke, and its former use in pressure-treated wood. Chronic exposure to arsenic can initiate cancers, cognitive dysfunction, diabetes, and heart and lung damage.

What Do We Do About Heavy Metal Toxicity?
Before starting any sort of treatment for heavy metal toxicity, it is imperative that you first talk to your health-care practitioner and have some testing done to determine, if indeed, you do have heavy metal toxicity AND the extent of that toxicity.

After making the necessary lifestyle changes to prevent further exposure, and undergoing the treatment you and your health-care practitioner agree on, make sure you do follow-up testing after a sufficient interval recommended by your practitioner so you can determine how well the treatment is working.

How is Heavy Metal Toxicity Treated?
Some health-care practitioners recommend the use of pharmaceutical methods, including substances that bind to – or chelate – the heavy metal and hasten its removal from the body. These include substances such as DMSA, DMPS, and EDTA. These chelating agents can be effective, but they must be used in conjunction with a practitioner’s consultation to make sure they don’t cause side effects.

Other practitioners utilize nutrient cofactors or botanical extracts that can either bolster the body’s normal and natural ability to eliminate these toxins, or to bind to the heavy metals to facilitate their elimination. These cofactors and nutrients can include substances that have minimal research, like cilantro and chlorella, as well as other substances that are commonly contaminated with heavy metals themselves, like zeolites.

Other nutrients found to be helpful in this regard include modified citrus pectin, lipoic acid, and sodium alginate.

Thorne’s Heavy Metals Test provides insights about levels of heavy metals and essential elements in your body

Heavy metal toxicity

What are the heavy metals?

Heavy metals are chemical elements that are commonly found in our environment. Without realising it all people are exposed to heavy metals on a daily basis. However, the quantities that we inhale, ingest or come into contact with the skin are so small that they are usually harmless. In fact, small amounts of some heavy metals in our diet are essential to good health. These are referred to as trace elements and include iron, copper, manganese, zinc, plus others, which are commonly found naturally in fruits and vegetables.

Toxic heavy metals and routes of exposure

Toxic heavy metals are heavy metals that become poisonous to the body when they are not metabolised or excreted and so accumulate in organs and tissues. They enter the human body through food, water, air, or absorption through the skin. Routes of exposure are described below.

Industrial exposure is the usual route of exposure for adults. Several heavy metals are used or produced as a by-product in many agricultural, manufacturing and pharmaceutical processes.


  • Smelting process of copper, zinc and lead
  • Manufacture of chemicals and glass
  • Pesticides, fungicides, paints, rat poison, wood preservatives


  • Pipes, drains, and soldering materials
  • Old lead-based painted houses and furniture that has started to flake, chip, chalk and dust
  • Battery manufacturing
  • Fuel additives, PVC plastics, crystal glass production, pencils and pesticides


  • Mining operations, chloralkali plants, paper industries
  • Thermometers, vaccines
  • Skin lightening products


  • Mining and smelting of lead and zinc
  • Nickel-cadmium batteries, PVC plastics, paint pigments
  • Insecticides, fungicides, sludge and fertilisers


  • Silver mining, refining, silverware and metal alloy manufacturing, metallic films on glass electroplating solutions, photographic processing
  • Colloidal silver dietary supplements, silver salts in nasal/eye drops, irrigations and wound dressings


  • Dietary iron supplements
  • Drinking water, iron pipes and cookware


  • Gold therapy for rheumatoid arthritis

The most common route of exposure to heavy metals in children is through accidental ingestion. Toxic levels of heavy metals can develop through the regular hand-to-mouth activity of small children who play in contaminated soils or eat/chew on objects that are not food, such as bark chips, dirt or painted objects.

Signs and symptoms of heavy metal toxicity

Signs and symptoms of toxicity depend on the heavy metal involved and whether an exposure causes acute toxicity or chronic and subtle effects.

Signs and symptoms of acute toxicity

  • Severe, rapid in onset
  • Cramping, nausea, vomiting, pain
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Convulsions
  • Skin rash

Signs and symptoms of chronic exposure

  • Develop slowly over months or years
  • Skin changes
  • Impaired cognitive, motor and language skills
  • Nausea, lethargy, malaise
  • Insomnia
  • Emotional instability

The heavy metals that cause the most significant skin changes and are discussed in more detail include arsenic, silver, gold and mercury.

What Is Heavy Metal Poisoning?

Accumulating too much of certain metals in the body can lead to dangerous symptoms.

Heavy metal poisoning is caused by the accumulation of certain metals in the body due to exposure through food, water, industrial chemicals, or other sources.

While our bodies need small amounts of some heavy metals — such as zinc, copper, chromium, iron, and manganese — toxic amounts are harmful.

If your body’s soft tissues accumulate too much of heavy metals, the resulting poisoning can cause serious damage.

Lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium are the metals most commonly associated with heavy metal poisoning in the United States.

Men and women are equally susceptible to heavy metal poisoning if they’re exposed in the same ways.

While children in the United States are still more prone to getting lead poisoning than adults, the number of children with harmful levels of lead in the blood has dropped 85 percent over the past 20 years, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

Mercury poisoning is very rare in children.

Causes of Heavy Metal Poisoning

Heavy metal poisoning can be caused by:

  • Industrial exposure
  • Air or water pollution
  • Foods
  • Medicines
  • Improperly coated food containers, plates, and cookware
  • Ingestion of lead-based paints

Heavy Metal Poisoning Symptoms

Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning depend on the type of metal causing toxicity.

If you have acute heavy metal poisoning — meaning you were exposed to a large amount of metal at once (for example, by swallowing a toy) — your symptoms may include:

  • Confusion
  • Numbness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Falling into a coma

Long-term or chronic exposure to heavy metals may cause the following symptoms:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Constipation

Heavy Metal Poisoning Treatment

Your doctor may recommend a urine or blood test to find out if you have heavy metal poisoning.

If the test shows that you do have heavy metal poisoning, the first step of treatment is to eliminate the exposure.

Other forms of treatment may include:

  • Chelating agents such as Chemet (succimer), which bind to the metal and are then excreted in your urine
  • Suctioning of the stomach to remove some ingested metals
  • A diuretic called mannitol (Aridol, Osmitrol), corticosteroid drugs, or intracranial monitoring for swelling of the brain
  • Hemodialysis and/or other special treatments if kidney failure occurs

Heavy Metal Poisoning Prevention

The following tips may help you prevent heavy metal poisoning:

  • Wear masks and protective clothing if you work around heavy metals
  • Since many metals accumulate in dust and dirt, keep these out of your home as much as possible
  • Pay attention to local fish advisories regarding mercury levels
  • Be aware of potential sources of lead exposure
  • Check for any heavy metals listed on the labels of products you bring into your home

9 Sneaky Ways Heavy Metals Get Into The Body

From the womb onward, we’re exposed to thousands of toxic substances every day. There are pesticides in the food you eat, pollutants in the air you breathe, and countless other toxins hiding in plain sight. Among the worst toxins are heavy metals.

Heavy metals include lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. These metals can get into your body in a variety of sneaky ways.

Since we’re exposed to heavy metals every day, they slowly build up in the body’s tissues. It’s one of the reasons why people struggle to feel healthy.

Even if you follow a healthy lifestyle, you simply won’t see the results you want if there’s something compromising your health every day. It’s like trying to set up a Jenga tower while someone keeps pulling out the bottom pieces.

Common signs of chronic heavy metal toxicity include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Digestive discomfort
  • Brain fog
  • Immune issues
  • Headaches
  • Achy joints & rashes

The list goes on and on. When heavy metals continue to accumulate in the body, the consequences can be even more severe.

Since heavy metals can silently sabotage your health, it’s important to be aware of the common ways heavy metals get into your body. That way you can take steps to avoid them, and live your life to its fullest potential.

1. Public Water

It’s not just Flint, Michigan that has unsafe drinking water. Lead-contaminated drinking water is a problem that threatens the health of people nationwide.

One report by USA Today explained that elevated levels of lead were found in almost 2,000 water systems in the United States. Another study found that over 3,000 communities in the U.S. have double the amount of lead in their water as the infamous Flint drinking water. That’s scary stuff.

These high amounts of lead are primarily due to the fact that old lead pipes are still in use even though their installation is now banned. These old lead pipes are slowly rusting and corroding. As water passes through, lead particulates are released into the water.

2. Beauty Products

Cosmetics or beauty products are also often contaminated with toxic heavy metals. This includes products like lipstick, eyeliner, eye shadow, blush, moisturizers, hair dye, and even sunscreens.

Whether it is lead in lipstick or aluminum in deodorant, these products are used daily and can be a significant source of heavy metal exposure.

But you don’t have to completely avoid beauty products to protect your health. Instead, take the time to read the ingredients list before using or buying any beauty products.

You can check your personal care products in two ways. One is the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and the other is EWG’s Skin Deep cosmetics database where you can check the safety of all ingredients.

3. Pesticides & Herbicides

Among their countless additional dangers, pesticides often contain heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, and arsenic.

Pesticides are heavily used on most foods that aren’t organic, and can be particularly high in breads and processed foods.

To avoid them, buy organic whenever possible. If organic isn’t always available or is too expensive, aim to buy these 15 foods as organic.

4. Dental Fillings

You know those silver-colored dental fillings? They’re called amalgam dental fillings. And these bad boys are up to 50% mercury by weight.

The problem is, amalgam dental fillings don’t just sit there in your teeth. They break down over time, slowly releasing mercury into your body. And if there’s any tooth decay near the fillings, even more mercury is released.

If you want to get rid of them, however, use extreme care because the extraction process can cause the mercury to vaporize and enter your body. Holistic dentists are trained in methods to safely remove these fillings.

5. Furniture

Furniture is one of those things that nobody expects to be a common source of heavy metals. However furniture contains fire retardants, protective finishes, and fabrics that contain heavy metals such as antimony and cadmium.

This includes mattresses, automobile seat covers, couches, and much more. The best way to avoid exposure is to support brands that offer products free of flame retardants. Other than that, it’s difficult to avoid this one.

6. Some Pharmaceutical Drugs

Some prescription drugs contain heavy metals as binding agents. Over-the-counter antacids are also a significant source of aluminum.

Additionally, some vaccines also have heavy metals. The multi-dose flu vaccine still has the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in every dose.

While the FDA considers these agents to be “safe” because they are present in low amounts, it fails to account for the accumulated exposure people experience with heavy metals from so many other sources.

7. House and Car Keys

Many people are in the habit of fiddling with their keys. Some parents will even give their keys to their children to keep them occupied.

But if you do either of these things, you should immediately stop. That’s because lead is often used to make car and house keys. Manufacturers often use it so they can easily shape the keys. By some estimates, brass keys are up to 2.5% lead by weight.

While you can’t avoid using keys altogether, you can at least limit your exposure. To do this, place your keys in an easy-to-remember location and only touch them when they need to be used.

8. E-Cigarettes

Some people assume e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to smoking. But they simply haven’t been out long enough to fully evaluate their effects.

What we do know is the flavoring chemicals used in E-cigarettes can contain some nasty chemicals. Among these chemicals is cadmium, a heavy metal that can cause neurological damage, kidney disease, and mental disorders.

9. Air Pollution & Vehicle Exhaust

Between industrial pollution, mining, and our increasingly globalized world, our air is more polluted than ever.

A lot of these pollutants contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury. As a result, heavy metals are getting into our body with every breath we take.

According to a publication in the NATO Science for Peace and Security book, “atmospheric heavy metals pollution is one of the most serious problems facing humanity and other life forms on our planet today.”

And the exposure is even worse for those who live in the city due to high levels of vehicle traffic. That’s because car exhaust contains small amounts of lead. Diesel exhaust is also a source of nickel exposure.

Take Action to Protect Your Health

Heavy metals are hidden in plain sight. While it’s nearly impossible to completely avoid heavy metals, you can limit your exposure and seek out natural products to reduce your intake.

Since you likely already have accumulated heavy metals in the body, it’s also good to consider taking steps to reduce the levels in your body.

One effective way to do this is with natural mineral zeolite.

The zeolite Clinoptilolite is a natural filter of heavy metals. It works by attracting and trapping heavy metals as it passes through the body.

While zeolite is used in many industries as a filter for toxins, make sure you pick a supplement formulated for optimal size and detox.

Just like a sponge that is already full of water won’t absorb any more, a zeolite that is already full of toxins won’t absorb any more toxins. Zeolite must be “cleaned” of existing toxins to work in the body. And it has to be sized small enough to be absorbed or else it will only work in the gut.

By detoxing heavy metals from the body, you can rid yourself of the toxins that can undermine your health. In the process you may discover newfound energy and vitality to live to your full potential.

Is Your Diet Full of Heavy Metals? Here’s Why You Should Get Tested

  • Heavy metals are everywhere. Your diet is one big source of heavy metal poisoning.
  • That’s bad news for your mitochondrial function. If you’re dealing with fatigue, autoimmune issues, thyroid problems, or adrenal issues, heavy metal toxicity may be to blame.
  • A hair mineral analysis or toxic metal test will tell you how much metal you have in your system.
  • My heavy metal detox tips include going in the sauna, taking activated coconut charcoal and glutathione supplements, and switching to low-mercury fish like sockeye salmon and trout — always wild-caught.

Bad news first: Heavy metals are everywhere. They’re in the products you use, the air you breathe, and the food you eat. These metals are toxic, and even though your body naturally eliminates them, they can build up over time and make you sick. The good news is that certain heavy metal detox protocols really work, and they can help you feel more energized, focused, and awesome. I should know — I’ve dealt with heavy metal poisoning myself.

Over a decade ago, I used to have a nice lunchtime routine of eating sushi and then doing yoga. That might sound great, but as I write in my book “Head Strong,” I noticed that my balance wasn’t very good on those days. When I skipped the sushi, my balance improved. Because I’m a biohacker, I decided to test this. I took a mercury-binding medication with the sushi, and the problem disappeared.

Why? The mercury in the sushi was messing with my mitochondria, which affected my performance. Don’t let this happen to you. Here’s what you should know about heavy metals in your food — and what you can do about it.

Heavy metals in food: Why they matter

First, a primer on heavy metals: They occur both naturally and as a result of human activity. Some of the most common and damaging heavy metals include arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. You wouldn’t willingly eat metal for lunch, but some foods, like brown rice and leafy green vegetables, are higher in heavy metals than others. These food crops absorb heavy metals from the water, air, and soil as they grow.

“Everyone has some level of heavy metal in their body and they really are part of the underlying root cause of diseases,” says Wendy Myers, a functional diagnostic nutritionist, on this episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast. Some people are more sensitive than others, which means they have no problem eating mercury-packed tuna rolls all day. According to Myers, if you’re dealing with fatigue, recurrent headaches, autoimmune disease, thyroid issues, or adrenal fatigue, these problems are caused in part by heavy metals.

How does a little bit of lead cause so much damage? Heavy metals hurt your performance and make you feel like crap. They mess with thyroid and adrenal function, interfere with insulin sensitivity, and suppress your immune system. They also inhibit mitochondrial function. You might remember your middle school science teacher telling you that mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. Heavy metals impair their energy production, accelerate mitochondrial death, and increase membrane permeability, which allows all the junk to pass through the cells’ protective barrier and wreck shop.

This is a big problem because your mitochondria drive all your tissue functions. When they aren’t working at maximum capacity, you get mitochondrial dysfunction — one of the main characteristics of aging and disease. Unless you want to deal with aging-related problems like fatigue, excess fat, and brain fog, you’ll want to keep your mitochondria happy. Learn more about why mitochondria are the key to slowing down aging.

The most common foods with heavy metals

You might not even realize how many heavy metals are in your diet, especially since small amounts of certain metals are pretty much unavoidable. For example, you probably consume between 5-10 mcg of lead daily from seafood and vegetables that foods grow in high-lead soil.

With that said, you can make conscious choices to reduce your overall heavy metal exposure. Here’s a quick overview of the most common foods that will weigh you down (because of metal — get it?):

  • Fish: Unfortunately, all fish have some level of mercury. Farmed seafood is particularly bad because it’s high in heavy metals, pesticides, toxins, pathogens, and environmental contaminants. Limit your consumption of fish that are especially high in mercury, like tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, and swordfish. Instead, eat anchovies, haddock, Petrale sole, sardines, sockeye salmon, summer flounder, tilapia, and trout, which have lower mercury levels. Always opt for wild-caught fish — it has a better nutrient profile, and it’s better for the planet. Learn more about why wild-caught seafood is the smarter choice.
  • Brown rice: Brown rice contains up to 80% more arsenic than white rice. Rice takes up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains. Arsenic is concentrated in the thin outer layer that gives brown rice its color. Eat white rice instead — it’s an easily digestible carbohydrate with less arsenic and more flavor. Learn more about why white rice is better.
  • Leafy green vegetables: Eat your veggies — but not too much. Leafy green vegetables love cadmium, a heavy metal also found in grains. Reduce your exposure by only eating organic. Balance your diet with other vegetables in the green zone of the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap, like broccoli, olives, and zucchini.
  • Unfiltered water: About 30% of plumbing infrastructure in the U.S. contains lead piping, lead service lines, or lead plumbing components, which leaches into your water. Switching to filtered water is one of the simplest ways to reduce heavy metal exposure. Learn more about tap vs. filtered water.

Heavy metal detox tips

Heavy metal exposure is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean your hands are tied. You have the power to help your body detox the bad stuff, power up your mitochondria, and take your life back.

My most important tip: Test yourself before you wreck yourself. Heavy metal testing — either a provocation test with a chelation agent or a hair mineral analysis — will give you a baseline so you know exactly how much metal you have in your system. You can request these tests from a functional medicine doctor.

Related: Tired of Feeling Like Crap? Request These Medical Tests From Your Doctor

Here’s what you can do while you’re waiting for your results.

  • Sweat it out: Sweating helps your body get rid of toxins. Take an infrared sauna — they don’t get as hot, so you can sweat longer. (Just make sure you drink lots of fluids and take salt to replenish the electrolytes your body loses through sweat).
  • Take glutathione: This powerful antioxidant supports liver enzymes that break down heavy metals. It also supports your immune system and protects your cells.
  • Exercise: Fat tissue naturally holds onto toxins. When you burn fat, you break down fatty tissue and release those toxins. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one way to kick-start fat burning (and get your sweat on) — but as I say in “Head Strong,” mobilizing these toxins isn’t necessarily a good thing if your body can’t get rid of them. If you feel brain fog after your workout, take a supplement like activated charcoal. Charcoal attaches to toxins so you can more easily flush them out of your system.
  • Take chlorella: This is a type of algae that works well for detoxing from heavy metal exposure. I often take about 25 tablets when I eat sushi because it helps counteract mercury.

If you’re serious about detoxing, check out this full list of detox methods that really work to cleanse your body and brain. Toxins are a part of daily life. When I reduced my exposure to heavy metals, I felt more balanced — both mentally and physically (thanks, yoga). You don’t have to deal with chronic fatigue and brain fog. When you reduce your exposure to toxins and help your body get rid of the stuff that brings you down, you’ll feel great and perform better. Who wouldn’t want that?

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  • Sources of exposure
    • Battery manufacturing, metallurgy, corrosion inhibition
    • Gun range
    • Tableware containing lead
    • Drinking water (from lead plumbing or contaminated sources )
    • Antique or imported toys painted with lead-containing paint
  • Action: heme synthesis disruption via inhibition of aminolevulinate dehydratase (catalyzes the conversion of aminolevulinic acid to porphobilinogen)
  • Clinical features
    • Nervous system
      • Polyneuropathy, encephalopathy, headache, fatigue, muscle weakness, paresthesias, delirium, seizures
      • Paralysis of the radial or peroneal nerve (wrist/foot drop)
      • Cognitive impairment, memory loss
      • Acute encephalopathy: persistent vomiting, ataxia, seizures, coma
    • Kidneys: Nephropathy, renal cell carcinoma
    • Red blood cells: Symptoms of anemia
    • Other:
      • Purple-bluish line on the gums (lead line or Burton line)
      • Severe abdominal pain (lead colic)
      • Constipation
      • Hypertension
      • Miscarriages, infertility
    • Children are especially susceptible to the neurologic effects of lead poisoning
      • Many children are asymptomatic and should be assessed for blood lead levels if they have risk factors (see screening in high-risk pediatric populations below).
  • Diagnosis
    • Blood lead level (BLL) measurement
    • Basophilic stippling of erythrocytes on peripheral blood smear
    • Microcytic, hypochromic anemia
    • Imaging (not routinely indicated): lead flecks on abdominal x-ray, lead lines on long-bone x-rays
    • Inspection of the patient’s environment for lead sources to prevent further exposure
  • Screening in high-risk pediatric populations
    • Living in older housing under renovation or with peeling paint
    • Sibling or playmate with lead poisoning
    • Recent immigrant, refugee, or foreign adoptee
    • History of pica
  • Treatment
    • Decrease exposure: professional lead paint abatement, dust reduction, minimization of contact with bare soil
    • Nutrition: Calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins C and D-rich diet
    • Chelation therapy indications:
      • Oral succimer with/without intravenous or intramuscular CaNa2EDTA (Calcium disodium ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid)
        • Children with BLL ≥ 45 μg/dl
        • Asymptomatic adults with BLL ≥ 80 μg/dl
        • Symptomatic adults with BLL ≥ 50 μg/dl
      • IM dimercaprol; (British antilewisite, BAL) with/without CaNa2EDTA
        • Patients with lead encephalopathy
        • BLL ≥ 70 μg/dl

ABCDEFGH – Anemia, Basophilic stippling, Colic, Diarrhea, Encephalopathy, Foot drop, Gum deposition/Growth retardation/Gout, Hyperuricemia/Hypertension


But according to a new study published in The BMJ, these symptom checkers vary widely in accuracy. Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Boston’s Children’s Hospital input 45 “patient vignettes”—some common, some uncommon conditions—into 23 different symptom checkers.

On average, they included the correct diagnosis in the first three results 51 percent of the time, and included it in the first 20 results 58 percent of the time (the individual checkers ranged from 34 percent to 84 percent). The chances of getting the right diagnosis listed first were really hit or miss. On the low end of the spectrum MEDoctor listed the correct condition first 5 percent of the time; on the high end, DocResponse listed it 50 percent of the time. Understandably, the sites did better at identifying common conditions than uncommon ones.

Of the symptom checkers that gave triage advice (whether the condition requires medical attention), they did so “appropriately,” according to the researchers, 57 percent of the time. Triage advice was more likely to be correct for more urgent conditions or uncommon conditions.

“Although there was a range of performance across symptom checkers, overall they had deficits in both diagnosis and triage accuracy,” the study reads. It’s also possible that the study over-estimated how accurate these sites are, because the patient vignettes it used included clinical terms (like “mouth ulcers,” for example) that a layperson might not necessarily know or recognize his symptoms as.

One of the other issues the researchers saw was that the sites weren’t very good, on the whole, at recommending self-care when it was appropriate, which could lead to people going to the ER or doctor’s office for something that would go away on its own, or that could be treated over the counter.

As the researchers point out, the central question here is what role symptom checkers play for people. A lot of the antipathy toward people researching symptoms online I think is predicated on the idea that this would replace a doctor’s visit. If that were true, it would be a bad thing.

“If symptom checkers are seen as a replacement for seeing a physician, they are likely an inferior alternative,” the study reads. “It is believed that physicians have a diagnostic accuracy rate of 85 90 percent. However, in-person physician visits might be the wrong comparison because patients are likely not using symptom checkers to obtain a definitive diagnosis but for quick and accessible guidance.”

Most people are hopefully savvy enough not to take a WebMD result as a diagnosis. They’re probably just trying to figure out how seriously to take their condition. In that case, it might be less important that symptom checkers spit out the right diagnosis (and including it among 19 incorrect diagnoses is not super helpful anyway), and more important that they tell the searcher whether her symptoms warrant a trip to the hospital.

Copper Toxicity: A Common Cause of Psychiatric Symptoms

Source: Judy Tsafrir, MD

Dr. William Walsh’s research and teaching about advanced nutrient therapy for the treatment of psychiatric conditions changed the way that I practice. I now routinely order a few simple and inexpensive laboratory studies on almost everyone. The studies help me to identify biochemical imbalances commonly associated with psychiatric symptoms, which can be treated with protocols of nutrient therapy.

Copper overload has become increasingly common, due in part to the widespread use of oral contraceptives containing estrogen, our ubiquitous exposure to xeno-estrogens (chemical compounds that mimic estrogen found in plastics and petrochemicals), and growth hormones fed to animals, as well as copper fungicides and widespread zinc deficiency secondary to malabsorption related to compromised gut health. (The relationship between copper, zinc and estrogen will be explained below.)

Here is a short list of psychiatric symptoms and traits associated with copper overload:

Hyperactivity, academic underachievement, learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, skin sensitivity to tags in shirts or rough fabrics, intolerance to estrogen and birth control pills, onset during puberty, pregnancy or menopause, white spots on fingernails, skin intolerance to cheap metals, emotional meltdowns and frequent anger, ringing in ears, sensitivity to food dyes and shellfish, high anxiety, depression, poor immune function, sleep problems, poor concentration and focus, low dopamine activity, and elevated activity of norepinephrine and adrenaline.

Other medical conditions associated with copper overload include acne, allergies, Candida overgrowth, hypothyroidism, anemia, hair loss, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, migraines and male infertility.

The reason that copper is linked with such a long and varied list of conditions is that it is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of the immune system, the endocrine system, and the nervous system.

Copper is important for regulating the synthesis of neurotransmitters that mediate psychiatric symptoms. It is a co-factor in the chemical reaction that converts dopamine to norepinephrine. When copper levels are high, more norepinephrine and epinephrine (adrenaline) are synthesized from dopamine, which can causes feelings of agitation, anxiety and panic, overstimulation, racing thoughts, restlessness, and insomnia. In other words, it has an amphetamine-like effect, revving the nervous system into a state of overdrive. Consider that copper is often used in electrical wires because it conducts electricity well, and likewise increases nerve transmission, which is an electrical chemical process.

Copper is also central to cellular energy production, and thus many patients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue conditions related to mitochondrial dysfunction have disorders of copper metabolism.

Copper overload is particularly common in women. Estrogen can cause copper retention and accumulation, which can eventually result in toxicity. Hormonal events such as menarche, pregnancy or menopause can trigger it. These days when a patient tells me about a history of postpartum depression, severe PMS, dysmenorrhea or adverse effects related to the prescription of oral contraceptives, I immediately suspect copper overload.

Copper promotes the formation of blood vessels (angiogenesis) and when copper levels are elevated, it can predispose an individual to endometriosis and fibroid tumors, as well as increase the blood supply to other types of tumors. Excess copper can accumulate in the liver and impair its capacity for detoxification, which can result in chemical sensitivities.

Copper is carried in the blood by a specific protein called ceruloplasmin. Some patients have low levels of ceruloplasmin and thus have a large percentage of unbound copper in their blood. Unbound copper causes oxidative stress in the body. Oxidative stress is characterized by the presence of free radicals which interact with molecules in the body, damaging various cell components such as DNA, protein and lipids, and giving rise to various disease states, including autoimmune disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, and cancers, to name a few.

There is commonly an inverse relationship between zinc and copper in the body. Often when a patient has elevated copper, the zinc level is low. Zinc is another mineral essential to cellular function, regulation of the immune system, wound healing, and synthesis of neurotransmitters. An important ingredient in the treatment of copper overload is supplementation with zinc. This must be done very slowly and carefully, because zinc mobilizes copper stores. During this process, a person can initially feel even more anxious and symptomatic. Anti-oxidants are also used in the treatment of copper toxicity, as well as the elements molybdenum and manganese, and amino acids which promote metallothionein production. Metallothionein is another protein which binds heavy metals in the blood, and which is important for regulation of zinc and copper metabolism. It’s important to find a trained practitioner to help you with this process. A good resource is the Practitioner’s Page of the Walsh Research Institute website.

Here is another excellent post about copper toxicity:

Courtney Snyder, MD: Copper Overload, Too Much of a Good Thing

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