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What to know about Heavy Metals

HEAVY METALS WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW
Written by Veronica Lavenia

What to know about Heavy Metals: How they are assimilated by the body and how to eliminate them?

Heavy Metals (so called because they have a relatively high density and are toxic in low concentrations), present in the environment, are among the invisible substances we absorb, more or less consciously, daily. Starting with the water we drink.

Scholars argue that in modern life, due to pollution, food and the use of drugs and chemicals, our body absorbs 500 times more lead than it did 100 years ago.

What to know about Heavy Metals: what are they?

The best known heavy metals are: aluminum, iron, silver, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, manganese, mercury, nickel, lead, copper, tin, titanium, zinc, and some metalloids such as arsenic, bismuth and selenium.

In small traces, some of these elements (copper, iron, manganese and zinc) are naturally present in our body.

In excessive doses, these and other metals (lead, mercury, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium and nickel), defined as heavy, can be toxic.

What to know about Heavy Metals: How they are absorbed by the body:

The body absorbs heavy metals every time we breathe, eat and drink. Scientific studies have shown that a human being ingests ⅓ of a teaspoon of mercury, 1 teaspoon of lead, 1 of arsenic, 1.5 kg of aluminum.

The human body defends itself by eliminating the poisons through the skin, the liver, the kidneys, the digestive tract, transpiration and breastfeeding. But all this is not always enough. The so called”bioaccumulation”, or the increase in the concentration of a chemical product, is the process that happens when the body is no longer able to eliminate heavy metals.

HEAVY METALS WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW

© Ph. Veronica Lavenia

 

What to know about Heavy Metals: list and effects on the body

Scientific studies have shown that heavy metals are toxic to plants, animals and human cells. They are responsible for the onset and aggravation of many diseases, cardiovascular diseases, tumors (in particular brain tumors), diabetes.

Excessive doses of heavy metals can cause irritation, poisoning, degenerative diseases (scientific studies show that aluminum is linked to Alzheimer’s disease).

Metal pollution refers in particular to the following metals harmful to the environment and humans if in excessive doses: mercury, cadmium, lead and aluminum.

Lead:

High doses can cause brain damage, birth dysfunction, kidney damage and nervous system.

Lead is present in: atmosphere; toothpastes, car batteries; daily newspapers; tobacco and cigarette ash; hair dyes.

It is also present in some foods: sardines; anchovy filet; crab meat; sausages; baking powder; apple cider; frozen cobs; drinking water; vegetables if grown near busy streets or in contaminated land; milk from animals raised in contaminated pastures; meat.

Aluminum:

Only an infinitesimal percentage of ingested (non-harmful) aluminum remains in the body. The human body eliminates it both through the kidney process and through sweating. But there are foods that can increase the risk.

Excessive doses can cause damage to the central nervous system, dementia, memory loss.

Aluminium is present, among other things, in: deodorants, vaccines; water; antacids; nasal sprays; toothpaste; ceramic; cigarette filters; tobacco; pesticides; aluminum sheets.

In food: canned foods; beverage cans; drinking water; beer; table salt and condiments.

Cadmium:

Cadmium, among with arsenic and lead, is considered a food contaminant.

High doses can cause diarrhea, stomach pains, vomiting, bone fractures, immune damage, psychological disorders.

Cadmium is present in: tobacco; fertilizers; dental prostheses; ceramics; dyes; electrical material, anti-rust substances; pesticides; cigarettes.

In food it is present above all in: mushrooms; molluscs; liver; cocoa powder; dried seaweed; drinking water; refined wheat flour, processed foods, oysters; liver; rice.

Nickel:

High doses can cause; urticaria, gastrointestinal disorders, diarrhea; constipation, swelling, heartburn; respiratory disorders, headaches; temperature; fatigue.

Nickel is present in: metal objects (especially jewelery; kitchen and work tools); cosmetics; detergents; insecticides; coins; pens; keys; alkaline batteries; hair dyes.

It is present in food such as: beer; red wine; onion; tomatoes; carrot; spinach; lettuce; peas; beans; tuna; mackerel; shrimp; mussels; herring; dried fruit; pineapple; raspberries; plums; chocolate; licorice; rhubarb; canned foods.

Mercury:

High doses can cause brain and DNA damage:

It is present among other things in: vaccines; some drugs, air, large fish (tuna, salmon); thermometers; cereals treated with fungicides; talc; cosmetics;  dyes; diuretics; in floor cleaners; laxatives.

The major source of mercury intake is fish; especially the one caught in contaminated marine areas.

Fish and molluscs are called “mercury reservoirs”.

The mercury contained in fish is often in the form of methylmercury, strongly neurotoxic.

Methylmercury is not soluble in water so, it can’t be eliminated with aqueous secretions. It accumulates in the bowels and muscles of fish.

The larger the fish, the more mercury they absorb during their existence.

Tuna and swordfish have the highest concentration of mercury as they are predators at the top of the food chain. The safest, on the other hand, are small fish (with the exception of molluscs).

Paradoxically, canned tuna is safer than fresh tuna, since it is usually fished in the oceans, where the pollution rate is lower than in the Mediterranean.

Mercury makes the organism incapable of disposing of heavy metals, so it favors the accumulation of all the other metals that accumulate in the body, concentrating above all in the nervous system for which there would be a neurotoxic effect.

 

What to know about Heavy Metals: How to limit the doses of mercury in fish?

In Europe, by law, there is a mercury limit that every fish can contain, and all interested companies are obliged to perform chemical analyzes on the products they sell. The legal limits set are established considering a consumption of fish rich in mercury once a week, because this has no long-term consequences.

It is impossible to reduce total mercury in fish. The only defense is to limit the use and vary the fish species.

Statistically, oceanic fish contains less mercury than the Mediterranean. This is because the Mediterranean is a “closed” sea, and mercury tends to accumulate more than the ocean.

Foods rich in selenium (rice and other grains) help reduce mercury absorption.

What to know about Heavy Metals: Heavy Metals in baby food:

In 2016, a French ANSES study (the French Food Safety Agency) analyzed some samples of food for children, detecting the presence of heavy metals and other harmful substances in baby food, biscuits, powdered milk. A problem that, moreover, does not only concern France, of course.

In 2018, the US Organization Consumer Reports analyzed 50 baby products to check for the presence of metals.

Each product showed the presence of at least one of the four heavy metals analyzed. About 34 of the products analyzed have alarming levels of at least one heavy metal. Fifteen of the analyzed foods could pose potential health risks for a child who regularly eats a portion or less per day.

What to know about Heavy Metals: how to check the levels in the body:

Just make one of the following choices: hair, urine and blood tests that can help control.

What to know about Heavy Metals How to purify from them:

HEAVY METALS WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW

© Ph. Veronica Lavenia

Garlic:

It is a natural antibiotic. Its high sulfur content repels and oxidizes cadmium and lead, making them soluble in water. The high concentration of selenium eliminates the toxicity of mercury.

Onion:

excellent purifier, especially if eaten raw.

Water and lemon:

one of the best known remedies for removing toxins from the body. The lemon must be organic and the water free of slag from high altitude sources.

Apple:

an apple a day prevents the accumulation of heavy metals.

Organic fruit and vegetables:

Fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables help eliminate waste thanks to the high concentration of water they contain.

Coriander:

Better known as oriental parsley, it is particularly useful for the removal of mercury.

Turmeric:

spice of oriental origin, rich in beneficial properties. It cleanses the body of toxins, heavy metals and pollutants. It purifies the blood, facilitates the digestion and purification of the organism.

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About the author

Veronica Lavenia

Veronica, PhD, is an Italian based food writer. Born and raised in Italy, surrounded by the thriving culture and spirit of Sicily, Veronica was a University academic before becoming a food writer. In the context of academic research, she has published essays on the Spanish-American narrative in national and international Academic Journals. As freelance journalist, she wrote about book reviews and tennis. Food was the subject she thought about most so, inspired by family recipes, and valuable Italian culinary heritage, she moved into writing her experiences and studies on the subject.
Sustainability, seasonality and selection of raw materials (as much as possible local, organic and unrefined) are the basis of Veronica’s natural food philosophy.
Cookery author, "Gluten Free Heaven" magazine contributor, some of her works have appeared in "Vegetarian Living", "Veggie Magazine", "Lifestyle FOOD", "Australian Good Food & Travel Guide" and "Chickpea", among others.