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Heavy Metal Toxicity - An Unsuspected Illness

by Janine Bowring(more info)

listed in environmental, originally published in issue 114 - August 2005

Heavy metal toxicity is a growing concern and often an unknown root cause of a number of serious health issues. A heavy metal is defined as any metallic chemical element that has a high density and is toxic, or poisonous at lower concentrations. Many heavy metals naturally exist in our surrounding ecosystems, and are generally not a problem in small concentrations. However, with industrialization, heavy metals are used in many products we use daily and have leached into our food. It is our exposure to these low to moderate amounts of metals over long periods of time that cause ill effects to our health.

The main problem with heavy metals in our bodies is their ability to bio-accumulate. Bio-accumulation means the metals do not leave the body by their own accord and accumulate in certain tissues. Due to bio-accumulation, heavy metals are passed up the food chain from smaller species (fish) to humans. The main tissues targeted by heavy metals include: the liver, kidneys, bowel, brain and nervous system, spleen and eyes. The metals will not be cleared by the system unless some type of intervention is used to chelate the metals and flush them out. There are some heavy metal toxicities that are more prevalent than others, like mercury from dental fillings and lead from lead pipes and paint.

Heavy metal exposure happens over a lifetime, depending on where you live, and your exposure. I ask each of my patients what type of toxic exposure they have had over their lifetime, as well as their mother's exposure. Unfortunately, many infants today are born toxic with heavy metals as they pass to the baby through the placenta and breast milk. Children are especially at risk because many vaccines contain heavy metals, mainly aluminium and mercury. Thimerosal is a preservative in many childhood vaccines that is 49.5 % ethyl mercury by weight.

Mercury is toxic, especially to infants and young children. Studies are now showing the link between autism and thimerosal exposure in children who have difficulty with mercury. Unfortunately, the issue of vaccination is very controversial. What is even more alarming is that most people and unsuspecting parents do not even know of the controversy and risks that surround vaccination.

In practice, the main source of heavy metal toxicity that I encounter is exposure from silver metal dental fillings, called amalgams. Amalgam means a mixture or blend of metals, namely mercury. Dental amalgams are at least 50% mercury by weight.

Mercury is not a stable metal. Factors such as chewing, acidic saliva and the consumption of hot or cold food and drinks can cause mercury in the amalgams to gas off and be inhaled or swallowed. Now the mercury can enter the bloodstream, and this is how it accumulates in the major organs like the liver and kidneys. Some countries are becoming more aware of the mercury issue in amalgams, and others are not as concerned. Germany banned the use of mercury-containing amalgams in 1992.

Controversy exists among dentists about the safety of removing amalgams. Some will say that in the act of drilling into the amalgam to remove it, more mercury vapour is removed than if you left it alone. This is true, but biological dentists use extra precautions such as a gas mask and barrier method to collect as much mercury as possible during the process.

Commonly seen symptoms of mercury toxicity include:

Fatigue, headache, insomnia, nervousness, impaired judgement and coordination, loss of libido, emotional instability, hypothyroidism, foggy thinking, chronic fungal infection, candidiasis, autism, Alzheimer's disease, and speech disturbances.

Lead damages the kidneys, brain, blood (it enters the red blood cells), muscles and bones.

Symptoms of Lead toxicity may include chronic kidney disease, hypertension, encephalopathy, anaemia, gout, sterility, abortion, fatigue, irritability, ADD, hyperactivity, memory loss, decreased sensory and motor reaction times, and abdominal pain.

Aluminium damages the brain and is linked to Alzheimer's Disease. It affects the muscles, liver, lungs, kidneys, skin, reproductive organs, stomach, thyroid, and bone.

Symptoms of aluminium toxicity include: Constipation, anorexia, gastro-intestinal irritation, hyperactivity, speech disorders, dementia, osteomalacia, excessive headaches, abnormal heart rhythm, numbness of hands and feet, blurred vision, and impaired memory.

Aluminium disrupts calcium regulation in the body and also binds phosphorus, and iron in the gastro-intestinal tract.

Cadmium toxicity causes skeletal demineralization, increasing the risk for osteoporosis and fractures. Other symptoms of cadmium toxicity include; anaemia, dry skin, hair loss, heart disease, joint pain and kidney stones.

Cadmium is especially harmful because it increases the permeability of cells, and allows for other heavy metals to leak into the cells.

Copper affects the liver, bone marrow, kidneys, spleen, heart, lungs, stomach, intestines, hair, brain and eyes.

Symptoms of copper toxicity may include: Abdominal complaints, metallic taste in mouth, schizophrenia, manic depression, learning disabilities, anxiety, depression, hypochondria, poor memory, irritability, fatigue, and demyelination of nerves.

Copper is often found in dietary supplements and multi-vitamins/mineral. One with copper toxicity should never take more copper from an outside source. Copper competes with zinc for absorption, so often the treatment of choice is to supplement zinc.

Detoxification of Heavy Metals

There are four steps involved in the detoxification of heavy metals.

1. Diagnosis of heavy metals
Heavy metal toxicity can be tested in one of many ways. The body does excrete small amounts of heavy metals in the hair, stool and urine. Hair analysis reveals the amount of metal being excreted and the mineral status of the patient. Certain patterns of mineral deficiencies and excesses in the hair are consistent with heavy metal toxicity even if the actual metals being excreted are minimal. Stool and urine samples can be taken either with a provoking agent (a chelating compound to speed up the excretion of metals), or without. Depending on a patient's complaint or disease process, testing with provocation may be risky with its own set of side effects because you are forcing the body to dump more metals all at once. For this reason, I prefer to test the stools initially without a chelating agent to see what the body is excreting on its own. After a chelation protocol, the test can be re-taken to show the change in excretion of the metals.

2. Remove the source of toxicity
If the source of toxicity is known, as with dental amalgams, a protocol for removal should be discussed with your dentist. I usually suggest that no more than one large amalgam be removed at one visit and visits should be spaced out by about a month. This allows the body to detoxify smaller amounts of mercury over a period of time.

However, if the source of toxicity is unknown, this is where the detective work begins. Knowledge of the sources of heavy metals may help to narrow down the field of possible exposure sites. Keep in mind that the exposure may have been years ago due to the fact that the body bio-accumulates heavy metals.

3. Open the organs of excretion
The organs of excretion need to be functioning optimally when you start to chelate or remove heavy metals from the body. The main organs of excretion for heavy metals include: liver, kidneys, lungs, bowels and skin. If these organs are not excreting efficiently during the metal detoxi-fication process, there is a danger of becoming more toxic and experiencing more symptoms of toxicity.


A simple way to encourage the detoxification of the liver is to squeeze fresh lemon juice (1/4 to 1/2 lemon) into warm water and drink first thing in the morning. Herbal medicines such as Milk Thistle and Dandelion Root are commonly used for liver detoxification.


To detoxify the kidneys, drink at least one litre of water per day and urinate frequently. It is important to sip small amounts of water throughout the day, rather than gulping a lot at one sitting because only 2 ounces of water can be absorbed at once. Herbal medicines such as Dandelion Leaves, Corn Silk and Horsetail cleanse the kidneys.


Lungs can be detoxified by deep breathing exercises. Most of us only use the top 1/3 to 1/2 of our lung capacity. It is important to use the entire lung while breathing to exchange as much stale air as possible with each breath. For this reason, exercises like yoga and Pilates are wonderful because they incorporate proper breathing and train the lungs to detoxify.


Bowel detoxification can be achieved with increasing the amount of fibre in the diet. There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble. The chart below gives examples of each.[2]

Increasing the number of bowel movements per day is imperative when detoxifying heavy metals. I usually recommend that patients aim for at least two bowel movements daily while on a heavy metal detoxification protocol.


The skin, being the largest detoxification organ, eliminates heavy metals through perspiration. Inducing perspiration can be achieved with far infrared (FIR) saunas. FIR saunas are reported to have better detoxifying effects compared to traditional saunas and steam rooms. FIR is the same as the heat we absorb from the sun, but not the ultraviolet rays that can be damaging to the skin. It is just below red light in the electromagnetic spectrum of light and cannot be seen, only felt as heat.

FIR energy is absorbed by our bodies and penetrates into the fat and muscles of the body, not just superficially as do regular saunas. For this reason, it has a greater ability to detoxify the lymphatic system and fat cells. It is very important to shower soon after a sauna to wash away the toxins.

4. Chelation
Chelation (pronounced key-layshun) means binding of a substance to the heavy metal so it can be excreted from the body. There are two types of chelation therapy, intravenous and oral. I prefer oral chelation because it is easy to administer and most of the heavy metals are excreted via the bowel. Intravenous chelation usually excretes via the kidneys.

Oral Chelation Supplements

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a natural heavy metal chelator. It binds mercury, lead and arsenic.


Minerals such as zinc, manganese, chromium and selenium are all heavy metal chelators. Selenium binds both methyl mercury and inorganic mercury, forming mercury selenide which is excreted in the stool.[3]

Sodium Alginate

Derived from brown seaweed, sodium alginate (Laminaria japonica) binds heavy metals and radioactive elements to its own molecules. The chelated product is not broken down by saliva or bile and is readily excreted in the large intestine.


Chlorophyll is the element in plants that makes them green. Chlorophyll chelates heavy metals because it has a porphyrin ring which binds divalent metal ions. The middle of chlorophyll is magnesium, which is freed under acidic conditions, allowing other heavy metals to bind in its place. Chlorophyll can be taken in drop form. The standard adult dose is 5 drops a day, mixed in water. Caution: Chlorophyll can stain the teeth so be sure to dilute it in water.


Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a well known heavy metal chelator. Cilantro detoxifies mercury, lead and aluminium. Cilantro detoxifies intracellular mercury. It has the added benefit of enhancing digestion as well.

In Conclusion

Heavy metal toxicity is a very common and much overlooked cause for a number of ailments. Fortunately, alternative medicine offers a number of methods to identify and eliminate heavy metals from our systems. It is always wise to consult a health-care practitioner when detoxifying and eliminating heavy metals because there are risks and side effects during the process.


1. Marz RB. Medical Nutrition From Marz. Omni Press. Portland,Oregon, USA. P470-474, ISBN 1-882550-28-5.1997.
2. Marz RB. Medical Nutrition From Marz. Omni Press. Portland,Oregon, USA. P25-27, ISBN 1-882550-28-5.1997.
3. Haas EM. Staying Healthy With Nutrition. Celestial Arts. Berkeley, California, USA. P250, ISBN 0-89087-481-6.1992.


  1. Cynthia Fornett said..

    This is an excellent article. Thank you. I was trying to find out if this is true abut chlorophyll not really having the ability to bind heavy metals because "CILANTRO - Coriander/Dhania - although this is a natural chelator known to cross the blood-brain barrier, its half-life and method of action are unknown at present. Therefore, you are advised to steer clear of methods advising its use until its safety has been properly evaluated.
    CHLORELLA - is not a chelator as it contains only one thiol group (sulfhydryl groups). It can pick up mercury and move it around, but it does not strictly chelate it and hold onto it. This can cause a lot of oxidative damage as mercury 'bounces around'. Chelators are dithiols (they contain two sulfhydryl groups) and hold on to mercury tightly and safely. Beware of protocols using chlorella for chelation." This info came from Do you know if there is any truth to this statement about thiol and dithiol groups? Thx

  2. dorothy geoffrey said..

    I had a hip replacement in 2008 and the prosthesis which was used is recalled - my surgeon is testing for heavy metals - cobalt is present in my blood test and which is increasing at an alarming speed.
    Could I try something which would help to eliminate the heavy metals from my body and perhaps reduce the worry of having another lot of surgery to replace the hip prosthesis which has been recalled?
    Iam in my eighties and this is a concern for me. Regards Dorothy

  3. Debra said..


    If i were exposed to mercury through environmental conditions growing up, could I pass this on through natural child birth to my children? My town has a pending investigation with the EPA and we are trying to find out why my son has developmental problems. Could my exposure and failure to be diagnosed result today in my sons health problems? Sounds like mercury only goes away if you clear it. Thanks!

  4. Gwen Gilmore said..

    Fantastic article. Thank you for caring to write it to help everyone.

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About Janine Bowring

Janine Bowring BSc ND graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1998 with a special interest in the mind/body connection and relationship to disease. Dr Bowring is trained in both Craniosacral and Bowen Therapy. She can be contacted on,

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