Q) Could you recommend any natural ways to rid the body of heavy metals? After discovering that I'm suffering from chronic heavy-metal poisoning, I started a course of DMSA chelation therapy, but did not get on with it at all. Are there any effective alternatives?-J.P., via e-mail
A) Mercury, cadmium, lead, arsenic and other heavy metals are so widespread in the environment that nearly everyone is being poisoned by them to some degree. Tap water, air pollution, fish, processed foods, dental fillings, old paint, tobacco smoke, medications, pesticides, and cosmetics and toiletries are common sources of exposure.
In the short-term, heavy-metal toxicity can reduce mental and cen-tral nervous function, lower energy levels, and damage the brain, blood, lungs, kidney, liver and other organs. Long-term exposure leads to slowly progressing physical, muscular and neurological degeneration that can mimic Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis (Townsend Lett, 2007; 287: 128-32).
Happily, it is possible to rid the body of toxic heavy metals. Chelation therapy uses an amino acid to bind metal ions in the blood and tissues, limiting their toxicity and removing them from the body. Many health practitioners use synthetic agents such as DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid) and EDTA (ethylenediamine-tetraacetic acid) with success. But these chemicals may be placing a huge burden on the body's detox-ification system, and so should only be used as a one-off treatment, or as a last resort for chronic poisoning. Natural methods, the experts believe, should be attempted first (Explore!, 2007; vol 16 no 6).
To speed your body's repair, you need to avoid these toxins (see box below). Several foods and herbs have powerful, natural, chelating proper-ties (Townsend Lett, 2007; 287: 58-63).
Among these 'biosorbents' are the algae Chlorella pyrenoidosa. Not only does their chlorophyll bind to and remove cadmium, lead and mercury, but they also contain glutathione, a key component in liver detox (Town-send Lett, 2007; 287: 58-63). Spirulina algae may also help get rid of heavy metals, especially lead (J Zhejiang Univ Sci B, 2005; 6: 171-4).
Cilantro (Chinese parsley, leafy coriander) may also work. Research-er Dr Yoshiaki Omura found that patients excreted more toxic metals after consuming a Vietnamese soup containing the herb (Acupunct Electro-ther Res, 1995; 20: 195-229). He found that when mercury patients supple-mented with cilantro tablets for a few weeks, their mercury deposits disap-peared (Acupunct Electrother Res, 1996; 21: 133-60). Some recommend eating two tablespoons daily of a cilantro pesto sauce for about three weeks.
Selenium can also help, especially against mercury (Townsend Lett, 2007; 287: 58-63) as well as counteract cad-mium, thallium and silver exposures (J Trace Elem Electrolytes Health Dis, 1992; 6: 209-21). Also useful are vitamins A, C and B-complex, magnesium, zinc, NAC and MSM.
But be sure to combine these with a balanced diet, as a poor diet is asso-ciated with a greater uptake of toxic metals (Environ Health Perspect, 1998; 106 [Suppl 1]: 203-16). Stick to a low-fat, high-fibre diet containing plenty of free-radical-busting vegetables such as onions, garlic, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.
You could also consider alternative therapies such as chiropractic and bodywork, relaxation techniques, saunas and exercise, all of which help the body to detox.
There are even products that claim to eliminate heavy metals in a single daily pill, but few have been properly tested. However, a three-year, double-blind, placebo-control-led trial of 350 metal-foundry work-ers found that HMD (heavy metal detox), comprising homeopathic Chlorella and its growth factor, and Coriandrum sativum leaf tincture, was able to clear aluminium, antim-ony, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, thallium and uranium, without removing essential minerals (Explore!, 2007; vol 16 no 6).
Avoiding heavy metals
- Have all of your dental amalgam fillings removed. See The WDDTY Dental Handbook (2000) for advice on how to have this done safely.
- If you're a smoker, quit. Cigarette-smoking is a major source of cadmium exposure (Br Med Bull, 2003; 68: 167-82).
- Avoid or limit certain high-risk foods that are potential sources of lead, mercury and cadmium. These include: shellfish, coastal and inland freshwater fish, and deepsea fish such as tuna, swordfish and shark; intensively farmed meat and offal, especially liver and kidney; vegetables and fruit sprayed with pesticides; processed foods, alcohol; and caffeine.
- Look out for heavy metals in household products and make an effort to find safer alternatives.
- Consider installing a good-quality water filter.
- If you're exposed to metals on the job, keep your workplace well ventilated. A study of ceramists working with cadmium- and lead-containing glazes showed that those whose studios were kept well-aired had significantly lower levels of these toxic metals on hair analyses
(J Toxicol Environ Health, 1991; 34: 423-31).