In the industrial world in which we live we can run but we cannot hide from all toxins that can rob us of our health and vitality. However, armed with adequate scientific information, we can avoid many toxins and strive for optimal health. A group of health stealers are the heavy metal toxins. These include the big four of mercury, lead, arsenic and cadmium. These metal compounds are found in the earth’s crust but play no role in human health. Indeed, they have been associated with a range of illnesses in children and adults including cardiovascular disease (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25458643).
High levels of lead in the water in Flint, Michigan, roughly an hour north of where I practice cardiology, has raised awareness of the presence and risk of toxic metals (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/12/15/toxic-water-soaring-lead-levels-in-childrens-blood-create-state-of-emergency-in-flint-mich/). Other city water sources are now being implicated as sources of toxic heavy metals and a home water filtration system, as I have in my home is recommended.
Just because you don’t live in Flint or other cities with known contaminated water supplies does not mean you are safe. There are additional sources of heavy metals to be aware of and avoid.
Here are four sources of heavy metals to consider for your health.
- Mercury and Fish. The health benefits of eating fish have some support but concern over a high content of mercury contaminants has led to brand new warnings for pregnant and breast feeding mothers. Recently the Environmental Working Group performed an analysis of women eating the amount of fish recommended for pregnant mothers to examine the exposure to mercury. (http://www.ewg.org/research/us-fish-advice-may-expose-babies-too-much-mercury/executive-summary). They measured mercury levels in hair samples in a university lab in 254 women eating about as much fish as the U.S. government recommends for pregnant mothers. Over 30% of women had mercury levels over the safe limit set by the EPA, considered too high for pregnant mothers. Using even stricter limits recommended by other experts, fully 60% of women had excessive mercury levels in their hair. Frequent fish eaters had 11 times more mercury than a group who rarely ate fish.
- Lead and Bone Broth. A current dietary trend is the recommendation by some health authors to incorporate a broth made of animal bones in the diet for better skin, GI health and other purported benefits. When exposed to lead, animals and humans often store the toxin within bone minerals. Therefore, scientists measured the levels of lead in broth made from the bones of organic chickens (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23375414). The broth was found to have “markedly high lead concentrations” compared to water cooked in the same cookware. I am unaware of any commercially available bone broth or collagen powder that tests for lead levels in their products so beware.
- Cadmium and Smoking. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that has been linked with cancers of the lung, pancreas, breast, prostate, endometrium and urinary bladder. Cigarette smoking provides exposure to high levels of cadmium believed due to soil contaminated with cadmium (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214750014001292). Recently cadmium has been identified in e-cigarettes and those that vape. An effort is underway in California to label these products as potentially carcinogenic similar to the labelling required in Canada.
- Arsenic and Rice. If the play Arsenic and Old Lace were to be renamed it would likely be Old Rice. Rice efficiently absorbs arsenic from irrigation water, soil and even cooking water. Arsenic exposure is linked to heart disease, kidney disease, brain disease and diabetes. Recently the potential for arsenic toxicity has made headlines in terms of the health status of infants and children (http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm493740.htm). The FDA just highlighted that rice formulas should not be the only source or even the first source of nutrition for an infant with barley, multigrain and oats as preferred nutrition sources.
Recommendations for the purchase of rice lowest in arsenic are available (http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine/2015/01/how-much-arsenic-is-in-your-rice/index.htm).
We no longer live in the Garden of Eden and a fund of knowledge of toxic environmental pollutants is not optional. Persistent organic pollutants or POPS are abundant in the fat stores of fish and other meats and are related to heart disease, diabetes mellitus and dementia (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26690540). Pesticides and herbicides are abundant in our bodies from eating conventional farmed products and switching to organic products for just 1 week can have a profound effect in lowering levels in tissues (http://www.onegreenplanet.org/natural-health/what-happens-if-you-eat-organic-for-a-week/). Plastic bottles, thermal receipts and canned foods expose us to bisphenol-A and bisphenol-S and interfere with our endocrine function.
We can now add toxic heavy metals to the list of environmental pollutants to avoid so that your bodies can perform the miracle of self-healing and maximal performance so you feel good every day. While there is no controversy over the recommendation to never smoke, perhaps it is no longer wise to teach a man to fish along with cooking bone broth or rice.