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The Growing Concern Behind Heavy Metal Toxicity

A lot has been written and spoken about the impact of heavy metals over the last decade. We have heard about aluminum in immunization, lead in city water supply and mercury in seafood. We have also read about the presence of lead in baby food, cereal, and rice. It is very obvious to get overwhelmed with all the information and worry about your health and wellbeing.

However, before you completely stop the consumption of apple juices, fish and cereal, it is time to go back to the basics and understand what heavy metals are and what they can do to your body and to the environment. Most importantly, you need to understand how it enters the body and how you can keep yourself safe from the impact of heavy metals. Arm yourself with knowledge before you make a decision about your eating habits.

What are the heavy metals?

Heavy metals can be defined as those metals which have a high density and high atomic weight. Most heavy metals occur naturally in the environment in plants, rocks, water, soil, and animals. Metals are divided into two categories – essential and non-essential. The essential heavy metals are involved in important physiological processes and they help maintain the physiological and biochemical functions in living organisms.

Essential heavy metals include cobalt, iron, copper, zinc, tin, and manganese. Trace elements are basically chemical nutrients which are required in small quantities by animals in order to perform important roles in maintaining the integrity of metabolic processes. We all need certain amounts of heavy metals in order to remain healthy. 

Non-essential heavy metals are not used or required by the human body in normal functions and these metals include lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and chromium. These metals appear naturally in the environment in small quantities and they are released in the environment by rain, wind and other environmental activities. It also includes the by-products from industrial production like mining and steel manufacturing. It is mainly because of the release of heavy metals in the environment which has increased the amount to toxic levels across different areas. 

Types of heavy metals

All the metals are found in two forms, organic and inorganic. Organic occurs naturally and is the most essential heavy metal which is harmless to humans. The other is non-organic which is non-essential and is generally toxic even in small quantities. This is why we have issues with heavy metal toxicity. However, it is important to understand how heavy metals end up in your body and then take the right steps to avoid its impact. 

What makes a metal toxic?

Heavy metal is toxic to humans at a certain level and it becomes toxic when they exceed the specific threshold amount in the body. Overexposure to certain heavy metals can lead to diseases inside the human body. Heavy metals can enter the body through the air that we breathe, the food we eat or the water we drink. Once absorbed, heavy metal toxins will be distributed to different tissues in the body and will be carried into different organs through blood cells.

A large number of heavy metals are distributed in the skeleton and this is why heavy metals are stored in bones. Arsenic, chromium, lead, cadmium, and mercury have the highest potential to create toxicity inside our body because of its use in the environment. 

How do heavy metals create havoc in the human body?

Heavy metal toxins have the ability to bond with sulfur and in the human body, they bind to enzymes which are responsible for controlling the speed of metabolic reactions like respiration, digestion, and detoxification. This means that high exposure to such heavy metals can cause degenerative bone disease, can damage the nervous system and affect cognitive function and development. 

How can you protect yourself?

The first step towards protecting yourself against heavy metal toxicity is to understand the heavy metals. When you know the difference between organic and inorganic and what makes a metal toxic, you will be able to identify the metals which can cause havoc in your body and, if there’s something you’re particularly concerned about, how to test it. Then, identify the metals that you are in contact with and look for ways to protect yourself. It is important to get yourself tested regularly in order to ensure you are safe. If you work in an environment where you often come in contact with heavy metals, you need to get yourself tested every six months.

Heavy metal toxicity in the human body is a real health issue but you need to know that all metals are not equal. All metals will not damage your bones or your nervous system. There are certain metals which are essential for the human body and the non-essential heavy metals can be toxic. You need to consume the right foods to ensure that your body has an adequate amount of organic metal. The risk of toxicity today is high because of the presence of heavy metal toxins in the environment. Heavymetal will become toxic when you are exposed to it for a longer period of time. 

The impact of exposure to any heavy metal will depend on the type of metal, your traits, and the chemicals present. Many believe that family history and genetics can play a significant role in an individual’s vulnerability to toxicity and their ability to detoxify the metals efficiently. You can manage to minimize the exposure to non-essential heavy metals by consuming foods that are grown in non-contaminated soils, by avoiding certain types of fish, filtering your water, avoiding the specific type of seafood and any other food products which have high heavy metal content in them. Heavy metals can also have an impact on a child which is why you need to avoid food products which have lead as an ingredient. When you know what heavy metals are and what they do, you will be in a better position to avoid foods that contain them.