Are heavy metals a health risk?

The most effective way to remove heavy metals

During my most recent two-week stay at the Viva Mayr Clinic in Austria, one of the tests I underwent at the beginning of my wellness programme was one that checks for levels of heavy metals.

You can have a barrage of tests at Viva-Mayr for all kinds of conditions. I wanted to make the most of this, which is why I talked to Dr. Georg Stossier about my mum’s dementia diagnosis and the fact that both her own mother and grandmother had been diagnosed with the same condition. He suggested a panel of cardiovascular tests as well as the heavy metals one.

My heavy metals test was sent off to a lab in Germany, where they specialise in heavy metal toxicity and chelation therapy. I can’t say that I was overly surprised when the results came back. They showed high levels of nickel and mercury. I knew that there may be high levels of mercury in my system because of all the amalgam fillings I’d had for many years, despite having them removed around 25 years ago now. According to Dr. Stossier, it can take up to 30 years for mercury to leave the body. High levels of heavy metals in the body poses many health risks, including damage to your organs, and adversely affecting your memory.

How do heavy metals get into the body?

Heavy metals enter into the human body via air, water and food. Unfortunately, there’s no way you can avoid heavy metals because you’re exposed to them every day.

Once in the body, heavy metals can accumulate over time in your bones, liver, brain, kidneys and heart. Having excess heavy metals in the body can damage vital organs, cause behavioural changes and difficulties with thinking and memory.

Chelation therapy

One of the many treatments I had during my wellness retreat was chelation therapy (more about what this therapy is and how it works below), followed three hours later by a mineral infusion. I had my urine tested before I had chelation therapy and again afterwards. Dr. Stossier said that the readings prior to chelation therapy should be zero, but that after chelation therapy and the second urine sample, he would expect the heavy metals readings to be higher and they were. Mercury, tin, palladium and nickel were high, in particular mercury; he said that he’d expect high levels of these metals to be found in someone who eats a lot of seafood. Oddly, I don’t eat much seafood at all, but it’s likely that these metals have in my body for decades. As I mentioned, the mercury probably comes from when I had amalgam fillings as a child.

Amalgam fillings are those silver-coloured dental fillings and they are up to 50% mercury by weight! The problem is amalgam dental fillings don’t just sit there in your teeth. They break down over time, slowly releasing mercury into your body. And if there’s any tooth decay near the fillings, even more mercury is released.

Even though I had mine removed a long time ago, it’s possible that the extraction process caused some of the mercury to vaporise and enter my body. Holistic dentists are trained in methods to safely remove these fillings, so if you still have amalgam fillings, I strongly recommend you look into having them removed, especially if you have high levels of mercury in your bloodstream and you have poor health.

Mercury levels in fish

Mercury is a naturally occurring element that can be found in the environment, plants and animals. The most common way humans expose themselves to mercury is eating fish.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “People who eat a lot of high-mercury fish can experience nervous system damage and can suffer from a variety of ailments, including sleep disturbance, headache, fatigue, difficulty with memory and concentration, poor coordination and neuropathy.”

How does mercury get into fish? It enters lakes, oceans and rivers through industrial pollution, such as coal-fired electricity generation, smelting and waste incineration. Once mercury gets into the marine food chain, it ‘bioaccumulates’ in larger predators. This is why it’s riskier to eat larger types of fish like tuna and swordfish.

Because of its lipid solubility, mercury is absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. This means it can easily cross both the placental and blood-brain barriers. (This is why pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of fish while pregnant.) Once absorbed, mercury can accumulate in the kidneys, neurological tissue, and liver.

Chronic and long-term exposure can have damaging health effects, such as gastrointestinal disorders, organ damage, an increased risk for cancer and the progression of neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

I asked Dr. Stossier what he thought about taking an Omega 3 fish oil supplement that’s been through an esterification process to remove heavy metals versus eating oily fish and he said it’s something to consider. He recommends eating freshwater fish like trout, not sea fish. You can read more about how mercury gets into the seas and poisons the fish in this WHO article.

For anyone who takes our Omega 3 supplements, you can rest assured that the levels of mercury in the capsules are well within safe levels.

How to remove heavy metals from the body

I have been advised to get the heavy metals out of my system because of the increased risk of developing neurological disorders, including dementia and auto-immune diseases. Dr. Stossier has recommended that I have five courses of chelation therapy over a period of months at the Viva-Mayr Clinic in London.

How chelation therapy works

Chelation therapy works by administering chelating agents that bind to heavy metals and safely remove them from the body through the urine. The chelating agent used while I was at the clinic in Austria was DMPS, a sulphur-based compound that is particularly efficient in binding to mercury in the bloodstream. It is administered by IV drip and takes around 20 minutes.

chelation therapy

Chelation therapy also removes metals (like iron) that the body needs. Dr. Stossier told me that since this treatment method removes both ‘good’ metals and minerals like magnesium, iron, potassium, calcium, zinc and B vitamins, three hours after any chelation therapy I undertake, I will need to have a multi-mineral infusion at the clinic. This was the protocol I followed while I was in Austria. The photo shows me having my multi-mineral infusion at Viva-Mayr.

There can be after-effects such as headaches, tiredness and nausea, although I didn’t experience any of these, which Dr. Stossier said was probably because I have very good kidney function. During chelation therapy, the heavy metals are made water-soluble so that the kidneys can break them down and excrete them, but good kidneys are key to this. It’s also very important to drink plenty of water after chelation therapy to help flush the metals out of the kidneys. If people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) have chelation therapy, lower doses of the agents are used.

Lighten your toxic load with mineral-rich foods

Heavy metals are constantly in competition with the good essential minerals to be absorbed. For example, lead competes with calcium, cadmium competes with copper and zinc (it also interferes with the metabolism of copper, zinc, and iron), and iron competes with arsenic. If a heavy metal is taken in place of the essential minerals, it can lead to deficiencies.

This means it’s incredibly important to get the right amount of vitamins and minerals and that’s where certain ‘superfoods’ can help. There are also certain foods you can that have been shown to remove heavy metals from the body:

  • Wild blueberries
  • Green tea
  • Spirulina
  • Chlorella
  • Barley grass
  • Flax, hemp and chia seeds
  • Lemons
  • Garlic
  • Green vegetables
  • Beetroot

The best way to reduce your exposure to heavy metals is making sure you get the essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to work optimally. If you’re concerned that you’ve had too much exposure to a certain heavy metal, consult your doctor and ask for heavy metal testing.

If you have any questions about a digestive and gut health issue, or any of the treatments that I underwent at the Viva-Mayr Clinic, my team and I would be happy to advise.