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Even if you do not spend a lot of time in an industrial manufacturing environment, there is a chance that you may be exposed to heavy metals on a regular basis. Although it is not a common problem, you could be at risk of heavy metal poisoning (sometimes referred to as heavy metal toxicity) from such things as eating lots of large fish, getting some types of immunizations and painting your bedroom.

There are 35 metals that are considered toxic to us, though only 23 of them are actually categorized as “heavy metals”. Of these, the 15 most common (and therefore the ones to be most concerned about) are arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, selenium, silver, thalium and zinc. Some of these (such as copper, iron, manganese and zinc) are metals that our bodies require in trace amounts in order for us to maintain good health. However, an overabundance of any of these metals can lead to serious health problems such as reduced function of the brain and central nervous system, alteration to the structure of the blood and major organ damage.

The problem lies in the fact that the body cannot metabolize heavy metals easily, so they bioaccumulate in the soft tissues. Arsenic, lead and mercury are the most frequent sources of heavy metal toxicity.

Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity include chronic pain, general discomfort and fatigue, brain fog, chronic infections, food allergies, gastrointestinal problems, dizziness, headaches and/or migraines, mood swings, depression, anxiety, and feelings of numbness, tingling and burning in the extremities.

If you have many of the above symptoms, there are a few tests you can take to determine if you have heavy metal poisoning. Tests that can determine the presence of heavy metals in your body include a blood test, urine test, x-rays, fecal analysis and a hair and fingernail analysis.

Conventional treatment for heavy metal poisoning usually involves some form of chelation therapy that uses a chelating agent to remove heavy metals from the body. During chelation (from the Greek word meaning “claw”), the chelating agent binds to the heavy metals in the body so they can be excreted.

Following are some tips on how to reduce your risk of heavy metal poisoning:

  • Eat large fish such as tuna sparingly. Fish at the top of the food chain bioaccumulate heavy metals such as mercury, which is why scientists and nutrition experts advise that you eat fish only twice a week. If you want to get more oily fish in your diet, stick with small fish such as sardines, which are low in heavy metals.
  • Have any mercury fillings removed from your teeth. Ask for glass ionomer or composite (resin) fillings, which are not only better for your overall health, but are comparable in price and better for the long-term health of your teeth. If your dentist insists on using mercury fillings, change dentists.
  • Ban smoking from your house. Not only can second-hand smoke affect your health and the health of your family (particularly your children), but so can “third-hand” smoke.  Studies have found that even those who smoke outside still carry the residues of tobacco smoke on their clothing and in their hair (which is why you can always tell who is a smoker when in an elevator with them). These residues include arsenic, lead, polonium and other carcinogens.
  • Eat organic food as much as possible. Conventional agriculture uses a lot of heavy metals in food production, from fertilizers and insecticides to storage.
  • Ceramic dishware from some foreign countries can contain heavy metals such as lead and cadmium in their paint. Check to ensure your dishware is free of these substances.
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