What’s wrong when people follow Dr. Weston A. Price’s dietary principles but still suffer from significant health problems? Why do so many people try to eat good fats but find they cannot digest them? What is the reason for digestive distress and dysbiosis despite taking high-quality probiotics and consuming cultured foods and broth? Why are some babies sickly even when the parents eat a nourishing diet prior to conception and throughout pregnancy and lactation? The answer may be toxic metals. Though we may honor our bodily temples with nourishing foods, we cannot realize our full health potential so long as we remain waste dumps for mercury, aluminum, cadmium, arsenic, lead and nickel. Even the “precious metals” gold, silver and platinum can create problems. Mix well with a dose of chloride and fluoride found abundantly in municipal water supplies and it?s no wonder that so many of us are sick and tired. Health practitioners over the past few decades have also begun seeing more and people “glowing in the dark” because of nuclear waste and weapons. The use of so-called “depleted uranium” weapons in armed conflicts is suspected of contributing to the “Gulf War Syndrome,” an array of health problems associated with the Gulf War as well as the ongoing Iraqi war and other conflicts.
Although the mental and physical problems from metal toxicity have escalated in recent years, our very language tacitly acknowledges the historic toxicity of certain metals: “Mad as a hatter” from the Civil- War-era?s crazed use of mercury sizing in hat manufacture, “gold fever” from the murderous greed of early prospectors, “lead poisoning” as black humor for “getting shot,” and, more recently, “get-the-lead-out” exhortations from trainers who would have us exercise long and hard in order to sweat out toxins and melt excess fat.
The medical establishment currently recognizes only acute metal toxicity, the type that leads to painful, sudden and severe symptoms, including cramping, nausea, vomiting, sweating, headaches, breathing difficulties, convulsions, and impaired cognitive, motor and language skills. With acute metal toxicity, the effect of consumption, inhalation, skin contact and other exposure is clear. Acute toxicities occur most often on job sites when workers are exposed to hazardous substances, though accidents occur on the home front too. Pesticide, herbicide and chemical fertilizer spills at homes and schools, for example, are some of the common reasons why previously healthy people join the ranks of the chemically sensitive and environmentally ill. In 1986 Congress established the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) of the Department of Health and Human Services in order to deal with effects of hazardous environmental substances on human health. In cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the ATSDR compiles priority lists of hazardous substances each year. Out of 275 substances on the 2007 list, arsenic is number one, lead two, mercury three and cadmium seven.1 Of these fearful four, mercury is the most studied, but all four have similar adverse effects on the body.
Victims of acute metal toxicity make the six o?clock news, but far more people suffer adverse effects from low-level, chronic exposure to multiple metals. Because the symptoms may develop over a period of many years and are often interchangeable with other signs of poor health, sufferers rarely recognize slowly accumulating mercury and other metals as the culprits. Thus, although nearly everyone on the planet carries some toxic load, not everyone shows obvious and distinguishing ill effects. After all, fatigue, digestive distress, aching joints and depression, to name just a few everyday complaints, are considered “normal” in our increasingly sick and aging society. Almost all chronically sick patients, regardless of their specific symptoms or diagnoses, have sustained significant exposure to toxic metals. Mercury toxicity should be assumed in anyone who has?or has had?amalgam fillings or root canals and who also chews.2 Aluminum, cadmium, lead, cobalt and arsenic and other metals are rarely absent from such patients.
Dose, duration, manner of exposure, biochemical individuality, genetic propensity, diet quality and stress levels combine to determine the degree of ill effects. Good nutrition is key because a deficiency of vital metals will lead to their replacement by toxic metals in enzyme binding sites. Lead will replace calcium, for example, cadmium will replace zinc, and aluminum and nickel will replace magnesium and manganese. These substitutions will allow a certain degree of vital enzyme function, but in time lead to physiological dysfunction.
Sadly, it no longer takes decades or even years to become toxic. Babies are born toxic because mercury and other metals pass through the placenta from toxic mothers. The Environmental Working Group reports that blood samples taken from the umbilical blood of newborns show an average of 287 toxins including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and Teflon chemicals. This is a primary reason why babies come into this world with compromised digestive and immune systems. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) estimates that over 60,000 US children are born each year at risk for life-long problems because of dangerous blood levels of mercury in their mothers.
Vaccinations containing mercury and aluminum then add to the burden, often sending an already vulnerable child over the edge into autism, ADD/ADHD, life-threatening allergies and autoimmune diseases. Thimerosal has mostly been removed from children?s vaccines. However, old batches are still given to children, if not in the US then abroad. As for new batches, even the FDA admits that they may contain trace amounts.
The Weston A. Price Foundation has educated parents about how to optimize their nutrition prior to conception. But unless parents also detoxify themselves of toxic metals before conception, this trend will not reverse, and we will continue to see the degeneration of our children?s health.
A Litany of Adverse Effects
Evidence that toxic metals cause, contribute to or accelerate the development of chronic illness is widely available in the scientific literature. Metal toxicity adds to oxidative stress, inhibits antioxidant production and utilization, blocks enzyme functions and poisons sulfur biochemistry, adversely affecting the function of every cell, tissue, organ and system in the body. It would be wrong to blame the epidemics of fatigue, depression, anxiety, food and drug addictions, insulin resistance, diabetes, learning disabilities, allergies, asthma, digestive distress, adrenal gland exhaustion, hormonal imbalances, memory loss and other all-too-familiar health problems solely on metal toxicity but metals certainly can play a major role in these conditions.
Although symptoms of poisoning by the various metals commonly overlap, different metals tend to favor different sites. Mercury and cadmium accumulate heavily in kidneys, but cadmium doesn?t cross the blood brain barrier the way mercury does. Cadmium overload is associated more with peripheral neuropathy than central nervous system problems. Lead deposits primarily in bone, and it disrupts erythropoiesis, the formation of red blood cells, contributing to poor bone health, osteopenia and osteoporosis.
The litany of adverse effects from exposure to mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic is a long one. It includes physical, muscular and neurological degeneration. Toxic heavy metals can cause, contribute to or accelerate the development of Alzheimer?s disease, Parkinson?s disease, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and other brain and neurological disorders.
Toxic metals also contribute to the plague of female reproductive system problems such as menstrual difficulties, infertility, miscarriage, pre-eclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension and premature births. Toxic metals have also been linked to increased breast cancer risk. A recent study out of Georgetown University showed that the metals mercury, copper, cobalt, nickel, lead, tin, chromium and vanadate activated estrogen receptor alpha sites in human breast cell cancer lines in ways similarly to the human estrogen estradiol. The metals also altered gene expression, perturbed hormonal balance and accelerated the proliferation of the breast cancer cells.
Mercury and other toxic metals further contribute to cancer development and growth by preventing the biosynthesis and functioning of vitalethine, an endogenous regulator of key metabolic pathways necessary for a “vital” immune system. Adequate natural vitalethine controls immune responses, probably to all types of cancer and to infectious agents like AIDS. Evidence is accumulating that vitalethine is also crucial for proper cholesterol metabolism, red blood cell production and <strong>diabetes</strong> prevention.
For our bodies to make natural vitalethine, we need the sulfur-containing amino acid, L-cysteine, along with the vitamin pantothenic acid.16 However, if high-quality, usable protein and cysteine become deficient because of poor diet or poisoning by metals, our bodies will try to compensate by making cysteine from the essential amino acid, methionine through the toxic intermediate homocysteine. Problematic metal toxins in the body may bind and interfere with the conversion of homocysteine, trapping it so that it accumulates metabolically.
High homocysteine levels are markers of cardiovascular problems, cancer and other diseases of industrial societies, and also of poor and premature aging. They are associated with arterial plaque, neoplasia, tumors and a long list of metabolic imbalances. Homocysteine levels are higher in most vegetarians because of inadequate dietary protein and B vitamins (especially B12) in general or excess soy in particular. Soy is marketed as a “perfect protein” because it contains all the essential amino acids, but “contains all” is not the same as contains optimum?and usable?levels and ratios. In terms of helping the body to handle metal poisoning, soy is an especially inferior protein because its cysteine content is tied up in and largely made unavailable by protease inhibitors.
Thirty percent of elderly persons (both male and female) have elevated homocysteine levels. Twenty nine percent of vegetarians have elevated homocysteine levels (caused by the relative lack of methionine and vitamin B12 in their diets and/or excess soy consumption) compared to just five percent of omnivores. Among symptomatic atherosclerosis patients 13 to 47 percent (possibly more) have elevated homocysteine levels. Although supplemental B6, B12 and folic acid are an inexpensive, often-lifesaving way to lower homocysteine levels, highly toxic people sometimes become deathly ill from them, most probably because the absorption of B vitamins triggers this metabolic homocysteine pathway and results in a massive release of associated metal toxins into the bloodstream.
Big Fat Problem
To metabolize fat we need lipoic acid, which is yet another critical vita-nutrient that is poisoned by toxic metals. Failure to properly digest fat is an increasingly common problem and one of the key reasons some people decide that a traditional high-fat diet is “not for them.” Although loss of the ability to digest fat may follow from years on a low-fat diet, this isn?t a simple question of “use it or lose it.” People who stuff themselves with bad fats or seek to avoid all fats are more likely to accumulate toxic metals, which, in turn, will affect their ability to properly digest, assimilate and utilize fats. Loss of lipoic acid to metal toxicity interferes with energy production, toxin cleanup operations, blood sugar regulation and maintenance of a healthy weight.
Pro Oxidants and Antioxidants
Mercury, cadmium, arsenic, lead and other toxic metals promote the formation of hydrogen peroxides, lipid peroxides and hydroxyl radicals and interfere with critical antioxidant processes. The body is thus depleted of critical protective agents.
Glutathione is one of the body?s primary intracellular antioxidants. When toxic metals such as mercury or cadmium bind with glutathione, both the toxic metals and the glutathione may be excreted from the body in the bile. While it?s good that the toxic metals leave the body, the process depletes cells of glutathione. This is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater!
Making matters even worse, mercury inhibits the activities of glutathione reductase and glutathione synthease, the two key enzymes critical to glutathione metabolism, and interferes with the function of superoxide dismutase, another enzyme needed by the body for antioxidation.
Antibiotics and Toxic Metals
Recently, another toxic metal issue has emerged: Candida albicans and other resistant pathogenic organisms that accumulate because of antibiotic use. These microorganisms are capable of diverting methyl groups (CH3-)?needed for immune and other bodily functions?for their own diabolical purposes. This not only means that toxic homocysteine doesn?t get converted to nutritious and safe methionine, but also that elemental or ionic mercury is converted into the far more toxic, methylated mercury. Methylated mercury has far greater affinity for fatty tissues, and is far more difficult to remove from the body.
Researchers at the Heart Disease Foundation in New York found that antibiotics used to treat infection were not effective in the presence of heavy metals such as mercury and lead. These metals coexisted with infections such asChlamydia trachomatis and Herpes simplex, as well as with cytomegalovirus and other microorganisms, including viruses associated with cancer.
Tragically, the study of toxic metals is largely overlooked in the training of both doctors and nutritionists, even though knowledge of their adverse effects could provide the answers to many puzzling clinical case studies.
So where do we start with this seemingly insurmountable problem of toxic metal overload? First and foremost, we must avoid exposure, at least to the best of our abilities. Since total avoidance is well nigh impossible, we need to also actively detoxify or else the build up of toxins in our bodies will continue. The two main areas to clean up are diet and environment. Over diet, at least, we have considerable control.
A Protective Diet
A Weston A. Price Foundation diet is protective against toxic metals for two reasons: it minimizes exposure, and it contains the nutrients needed to aid with detoxification.
First of all, we need good quality animal protein from meat, poultry, fish and egg yolks. These contain plenty of L-cysteine and L-cystine, the sulfur-containing amino acids necessary for detoxification, immune support and antioxidant protection. Good quality protein is also high in zinc, which not only protects us from the toxic metal cadmium but also is critical to many metabolic pathways. Buffalo meat is especially high in cysteine and cystine.
We also need plenty of taurine, which is found in significant amounts only in animal foods. While it?s true that our bodies can produce taurine from cysteine and methionine metabolism, that presumes we get enough cysteine, methionine and B vitamins to begin with, and that we are healthy enough to produce it. Taurine serves as an important water-soluble antioxidant and is also needed to excrete toxic metals via the bile.
Animal proteins are also our best sources of pantothenic acid (B5), a key nutrient in many detoxification protocols. Liver is especially high in pantothenic acid and other critical B vitamins.
Don?t be afraid of red meat. People who purposely avoid red meat tend to eat more fish. Although fish contains healthy fat-soluble activators and EPA and DHA fatty acids, people who consume more than two fish meals per week tend to show very high serum levels of mercury. This is especially true if they consume a lot of tuna, swordfish or shark. Tuna, codfish and haddock also concentrate cadmium. Oysters do contain large amounts of cadmium but also large amounts of zinc, which serves to protect us against cadmium toxicity.
Meats need to be free-range and organic. The livers and kidneys of factory-farmed animals usually contain significant amounts of cadmium.
Good quality fats promote overall good health and ongoing detoxification. Although many popular books advise us to avoid animal fats because poisons accumulate in them, the same fat will help us rid the body of those toxins. However, it is obviously best to consume freerange and organic animal products that are low in poisons to begin with. It?s also important to remember that many of the poisons in pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers used on commercial crops are water-soluble, not fat-soluble.
The fats found in processed, packaged and fast foods add to metal toxicity, particularly nickel toxicity. Partially hydrogenated fats are manufactured by taking cheap and usually rancid oils from soy, corn, canola and cottonseed and mixing them with particles of nickel oxide. The combination of oil with the nickel catalyst is then subjected to hydrogen in a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor. Traces of nickel always remain in the finished product.
In contrast, good fats are vital for detoxification. Acylglycerols, like the monolaurin in coconut oil, reportedly are fat-soluble chelating agents for methyl mercury, and perhaps even dimethylmercury. They serve as a unique oil-based chelating agent.
Cultured and fermented foods such as beet kvass, kimchi, sauerkraut, clabbered milk, pima cream and homemade yogurt contain beneficial microorganisms that contribute to gastrointestinal health. People with healthy gut flora are better able to handle the inevitable exposure to toxic metals, including the mercury found in fish. In contrast, people who do not have healthy gut flora are more prone to candida and other pathogenic bacterial and fungal overgrowth that change inorganic mercury into the more toxic methylated and dimethylated mercury, thus increasing the potential for fat-soluble retention and damage.
Bone broth offers a time-tested way to heal the gut of “leaky gut syndrome.” A gut lining with integrity will better succeed in keeping out toxic metals. Broth is high in the amino acid glycine, which along with cysteine and glutamic acid is a component of glutathione, which the body must manufacture in order to detoxify toxic substances.
Kombucha tea is sparkling fermented beverage that contains D-saccharic (D-glucaric) acid, which not only binds and pulls toxic metals out of the body, but inhibits glucuronidase, an enzyme that would otherwise hydrolyze the glucuronides of fat-soluble toxins. This prevents them from being recycled back into the fat, instead of being excreted.46 No wonder kombucha has a reputation as a longevity elixir!
A diet low in grains?particularly gluten- and gliadin-containing grains?has helped many people restore their gut health. However, traditional preparations including soaking, will lessen the likelihood of ill effects from any of the grains.
Foods high in B6, B12 and folic acid are especially important. These B vitamins are critical for keeping homocysteine levels in the normal range. When inadequate in the diet, the body cannot convert the amino acid methionine to cysteine through the homocysteine intermediate as needed. This results in homocysteine build-up, which will make metal toxicity worse. True vitamin B12 usually is found in animal products. The best foods for B6 also come from animals and include beef, poultry, eggs, sardines and mackerel. Some sources of folate are meat, fish, poultry, milk, liver, beans, sunflower seeds and many vegetables.
For many it is helpful to avoid casein, especially as found in fractionated food products such as shake powders. Although some people react even to the casein that is a natural component of whole raw milk, butter and cheese, the worst problems seem to come from manufacturing processes involved in fat removal and pasteurization. The ingredient casein is a fractionated milk protein product with elevated methionine levels and extremely low levels of the amino acid cysteine. This stimulates the body to make cysteine through the toxic intermediary homocysteine, worsening any effects of metal toxicity.
To avoid toxic metal buildup, we must avoid processed foods. Processed foods contain many unwanted metals. Sodium aluminum phosphate, for example, is used as an emulsifier in processed cheese and potassium alum is used to bleach flour. Alum is also a “spice” in commercial pickles. Cadmium is used as plating material in food processing plants. Processed foods and drinks also contain chloride, fluoride, aluminum and other harmful compounds from municipal water supplies, not to mention the remains of excreted pharmaceutical drugs. Processed foods also remove protective zinc and calcium in the refining process, making people more vulnerable to the toxic effects of cadmium, which is not removed during the milling process.
To make matters worse, many processed food products are packaged in aluminum foil. Take-out items can “take out” our health because of aluminum containers. Beer and soft drink cans come from aluminum. Solders used to seal some cans are a common source of cadmium. Fruits, vegetables, beans and grains should be organic. Rice and wheat grown in soil contaminated by sewage sludge or super phosphate fertilizers may be toxic in cadmium.
Commercial seeds are treated with mercurial fungicides. Antioxidants from fresh, locally produced foods, that have not been sitting around oxidizing for weeks or months, can help to minimize the oxidation and solubility of the toxic metals.
Chlorella is widely sold as a “green drink” or supplement to healthconscious individuals trying to detoxify mercury and other metals. The chemistry may support the claims. These are known as porphyrin-like products because once the healthy magnesium of the chlorophyll is assimilated, a porphyrin-like ring is left to bind and help neutralize and eliminate metal toxins. Blue-green algae, spirulina, chlorella, and barley greens are similarly sold as “superfoods.” On the downside, these greens may contain analogues of B12 that worsen cases of B12 deficiency, putting people at risk for accumulating higher homocysteine levels. So if you use these products, be sure to eat organic liver as well.
Finally, it is important to drink clean water. Tap water typically contains aluminum, fluoride, chlorine?not to mention pharmaceutical drug residue and other contaminants. In some parts of the country well water is contaminated with lead or other metals, and nitrates and other chemicals from fertilizers.