Toxic Metals and Disease

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Here’s an issue doctors have been arguing for decades: determining whether or not levels of certain metals (like lead and mercury) actually cause problems and then establishing scientific protocols to detoxify people.

There’s no controversy about the following:
• Lead poisoning is dangerous, especially for young children.
• Mercury is bad, especially if you are a fetus.
• Industrial accidents with large metal exposure can be very bad for you.

The major points of contention (often leading to decidedly unpleasant arguments among physicians themselves):
• Are the toxic metals, especially lead and mercury, at our current level of exposure, responsible for certain conditions, like heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and autism?
• Can our bodies clear these metals on their own, or do they remain with us, steadily accumulating?
• Is it worthwhile to test for toxic metals and undergo detoxification if elevated levels are found?
• Should we ban dental mercury amalgams and get our mercury fillings removed?

I’ll keep it short:
By themselves, and at common exposure levels (including eating fish), toxic metals don’t appear solely responsible for any specific diseases, like MS or autism, but they may be a contributing factor to a variety of health problems, such as heart disease or Alzheimer’s. We simply don’t know for certain, and special interest groups (the tuna industry, for example) do have a financial stake in keeping us in the dark.

Each of us is genetically unique when it comes to clearing toxins, so some of us are better than others at self-detoxification. Interestingly, you can undergo simple genetic testing to determine how well your detoxification systems work. I once tested a patient for mercury who ate an astonishing five cans of tuna daily for ten years. He had virtually no mercury in his body. Another patient who had decided to limit his protein intake to fish tested off-the-charts for mercury after just six months.

I generally suggest testing for toxic metals in anyone with longstanding unexplained symptoms when other diagnostic tests keep coming up negative. Symptoms of metal toxicity include fatigue or brain fog. I also test anyone with the conditions listed above–MS, heart disease, or recurring cancer. A simple blood test can screen you for metals, but the gold standard of testing is to determine how much of a metal can be provoked out of your body with a single dose of a metal-removing agent (called a chelator). To accomplish this, you collect a morning urine sample, take the chelating agent (which frees up any metals from your body), and four hours later collect another urine sample. The before and after samples are compared. Doctors agree that a four-fold increase in toxic metal levels usually means there are more metals present that need removal. Hair analysis for metals has been virtually abandoned because the results are inconsistent.

What about dental fillings? Unless you have a condition (like MS) associated with metal toxicity AND a provoked chelation shows that you have a lot of metal in your body, I’d suggest leaving your fillings alone. I don’t argue that there’s mercury in them amalgams, but I do question how dangerous it actually is, especially if you have a good internal detoxification system.

WholeHealth Chicago patients who want to be screened for toxic metals or undergo diagnostic provoked chelation can contact my assistant Lizz. We can then review results together during an office visit.

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