The 5 most toxic metals to human health and how to detox from them

October 23, 2020

The periodic table contains 105 elements, of which 80 are considered metals. Metals are natural components existing in the ecosystem. Among these are ‘heavy’ metals which have either high atomic weights or high density.  This category of metals have not only been known for their high weight but most importantly for their adverse effects on the environment as well as our health.

Following is a list of heavy metals which are common in our everyday life:

Titanium, Vanadium, Chromium, Manganese, Iron, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Zinc, Arsenic, Molybdenum, Silver, Cadmium, Tin, Platinum. Gold. Mercury, Lead. Heavy metals are in our bodies whether we want them there or not.

However, not all of them pose a threat, for e.g., gold typically is not a toxic metal. Also, zinc, iron and selenium are essential minerals with a key role in improving our health.

Mercury, lead, aluminum, cadmium and arsenic are all examples of the toxic brew that lurks in our bodies. Heavy metals, which have widespread environmental distribution and originate from

natural and anthropogenic sources, are also common environmental pollutants. Most common sources include pesticides, animal manures, fertilisers, leaded paint, mine ore waste (mine tailing), sewage sludge, spillage of petroleum distillates, coal combustion residues, waste dumps, industrial effluents, burning of fossil fuels, vehicle exhausts, usage in kitchen utensils and many others.

Following are the most toxic heavy metals that impact human health

  1. Mercury

It is one of the most toxic elements and a threat to wildlife as well as to us humans. The reason why mercury is dangerous is that once released into the environment it cannot be removed and it accumulates and magnifies to unsafe levels in aquatic food chains.

Sources- Dental amalgam, vaccines, batteries, skin lightening creams and soaps; herbal medicine, in eye cosmetics, arm and leg bands, disinfectants and pesticides and seafood (especially fish)

Health impacts- vomiting, diarrhoea, rashes, eye irritation, neurological disorders, reproductive changes.

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  1. Aluminium

Aluminium is the third most abundant element found in the earth's crust. It occurs naturally in the air, water and soil. Recent investigations on environmental toxicology revealed that aluminium may present a major threat for humans, animals and plants in causing many diseases.

Sources- Packaging cans, kitchen utensils and foils, antacids, antiperspirants, cosmetics and  foods such as cheese, soft drinks, sponge cakes, coffee and tea and food additives, e.g. anticaking agents, preservative, food colouring and baking agent.

Health impacts- Listlessness, memory loss, liver and kidney dysfunction, osteomalacia, Alzheimer’s, interference with zinc, calcium, iron and copper absorption.

  1. Lead

Lead is a slightly bluish, bright silvery metal. Lead can get released from industrial processes as well as from vehicle exhausts and it may get into the soil and water which can be further taken up by plants. This is how lead exposure may also enter our body through food and drinking water.

Sources- Fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides and some food items like fruits and vegetables, grains, seafood, red meat, wine and soft drinks.

Health impacts- Hypertension, chances of miscarriages or stillbirth, abdominal pain, brain injury, kidney damage and poor hemoglobin production. Lead poisoning early in life can cause altered brian development, reduced intelligence, reduced attention span and a decline in educational achievement.

  1. Arsenic

Despite being the 20th most abundant element in the earth’s crust, it ranks highest on the list of hazardous substances toxic to our health. Arsenic is the most common cause of acute heavy metal poisoning.

Sources- Insecticides and foodstuffs such as fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, dairy products, cereals

Health impacts- A potent carcinogen, gastrointestinal irritation, brain damage, fertility issues, miscarriages, decreased production of both red blood cells and white blood cells,etc.

  1. Cadmium

It is the 64th most abundant metal of all. Cadmium is a heavy metal that is produced during the smelting of other metals, such as zinc, lead and copper.

Sources- Fertilizers, pesticides and food items like shellfish, mussels, dried seaweed, shrimps, mushrooms, liver.

Health impacts- severe kidney damage, calcium metabolism alterations, bone fracture, psychological and gastrointestinal disorders, immune system deficiencies, cancer.

Detoxing heavy metals from your body

Heavy metals, when accumulated in the body can cause high blood pressure, risk of heart diseases as well as stagnant, unchanged weight despite putting in efforts to try and lose it. Heavy metals in the body also aid in free radical generation in the body.

Free radicals are harmful byproducts of chemical reactions happening in the body. Also known as reactive oxygen species (ROS), these free radicals are capable of destroying the structure of our cell walls and DNA, putting our body through a stressful situation (usually called ‘oxidative stress’).

Higher the oxidative stress, higher is the chance of degenerative diseases or problems related to it- Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, cataract, loss of skin elasticity, wrinkles, graying hair, hair loss, changes in hair texture and diabetes. 

Hence, clearing up this load of heavy metals from our body becomes all the more important. 

One technique is chelation. Chelation detoxification is used to remove toxic metals from the body and restore proper functioning. Chelating agents are substances that can chemically bond with toxic minerals, metals and chemicals within the body. They encircle and carry away the unwanted matter from the body via excretion. It employs an intravenous infusion that may, according to an individual’s needs, include vitamins, magnesium and a saline solution.

However, this needs to be done under expert supervision and advice.

A counteractive antioxidant defense against the heavy metal-caused oxidative damage can also help in clearing up the load. Antioxidants are substances that can prevent or slow damage to cells caused by free radicals. Glutathione, L-cysteine, N-acetyl cysteine, Taurine, Melatonin and Alpha-lipoic acid are amongst the potent antioxidative compounds.

Some of the essential minerals like Iron, Selenium, Zinc, Copper play a major role as antioxidants in our body. (Know about the importance of Selenium and Zinc)

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It is also possible to detox with food, binders and nutrient supplements. At iThrive's protocol our 3 month 1-1 coaching program ends with a round of detoxification. 

We follow these 3 scientific principles while doing this:

i) A good detoxification must be focused on releasing stored toxins from cells.

ii) All four phases of detoxification must be working optimally to metabolize toxins 

iii) Once toxins have been mobilized and metabolized, they must be excreted.

You CANNOT effectively detox by just drinking smoothies and juices, those kinds of detox diets don’t fit into any of the above 3 principles. 

Besides which, your bio individuality has to be taken into consideration while creating your personalized detox plan. If you are someone who has been suffering from degenerative ailments or weight gain issues, detoxing from toxins might be a good idea. Heavy metals can take a serious toll on your happy living, set up a consultation with iThrive and see if this is what you need. 


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Ria Jain
Functional Nutritionist

Ria has a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics and is in a permanent research mode and keeps the rest of us at iThrive (Previously ThriveFNC) updated with her latest findings in the field of Nutrition. Her articles on iThrive's blog are an expression of her research findings. We really don’t know what we’d do without her support and her focus.

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