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Definition of Heavy Metal Toxicity

Heavy metal toxicity refers to the excessive build-up of heavy metals in the body. Our environment comprises of several such metals like arsenic, bismuth, antimony, uranium, vanadium, zinc, etc which are classified as heavy metals. While some of these metals are necessary for the human body, an excessive dosage of some others in one’s immediate environment and body results in Heavy Metal Toxicity.

Heavy metals are essentially those chemical elements that have a specific gravity which is five times that of water. The heavy metals which are most often found to be responsible for harmful damage to humans in cases leading to environmental pollution from various sources are mercury, arsenic, lead, cadmium and thallium. Some heavy metals of course like those of copper, chromium, iron, zinc and manganese, are necessary for the body but in case there is an over exposure to the same metals, it can lead to Heavy Metal Toxicity symptoms.

Heavy metal toxicity often leads to very dangerous health issues in both adults and children. Long-term exposure can result in diseases like Alzheimer's, neurological degenerative processes, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis.

Heavy metal toxicity may affect the body through various sources. These sources include water, air, food, or absorption through the skin when in contact with those exposed to toxic farming, chemical and toxic exposure in industries, etc. 

Heavy metals are found in everyday existence and are frequently hard to avoid entirely. Most people can excrete toxic heavy metals from the body successfully. However, some people—especially those who suffer from chronic conditions—cannot excrete them efficiently enough and a build-up occurs. Recent research also reveals that those who cannot excrete heavy metals efficiently appear to be genetically predisposed to this condition. Research has shown that the APO-E 4/3 and 4/4 genotypes are the worst excretors of heavy metals. Those with this version of APO-E protein—abundant in the cerebral spinal fluid surrounding the brain—will have the highest affinity for becoming ill from exposure to neuro-toxic heavy metals, especially mercury when it is present in combination with others.

Symptoms of Heavy Metal Toxicity

Over exposure to heavy metals and toxicity can lead to a number of diseases and repercussions at various stages. Some of the symptoms associated with Heavy Metal Toxicityare problems leading to permanent damage of the nervous system, cardiovascular system, blood production, gastrointestinal system, reproductive system and kidney functioning.

Some of the other prominent symptoms of heavy metal toxicity are pain in muscles and joints, mental confusion, headaches, gastrointestinal upsets, food allergies, vision problems, chronic fatigue, and short-term memory loss besides others. At times the symptoms may not be pronounced so that it may be difficult to diagnose the condition of the patient.

On the other hand one might notice some of these common symptoms that are caused due to overexposure to lead, arsenic or mercury poisoning:

  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Speech difficulties
  • Hypertension

Types of Heavy Metal Toxicity

There is still plenty of ongoing research regarding the different types ofHeavy Metal Toxicity.  There are 35 metals that are of concern because of occupational or residential exposure; 23 of these are the heavy elements or "heavy metals": antimony, arsenic, bismuth, cadmium, cerium, chromium, cobalt, copper, gallium, gold, iron, lead, manganese, mercury, nickel, platinum, silver, tellurium, thallium, tin, uranium, vanadium, and zinc (Glanze 1996). Interestingly, small amounts of these elements are common in our environment and diet and are actually necessary for good health, but large amounts of any of them may cause acute or chronic toxicity (poisoning). Heavy metal toxicity can result in damaged or reduced mental and central nervous function, lower energy levels, and damage to blood composition, lungs, kidneys, liver, and other vital organs. Long-term exposure may result in slowly progressing physical, muscular, and neurological degenerative processes that mimic Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis. Allergies are not uncommon and repeated long-term contact with some metals or their compounds may even cause cancer.

Some specific common heavy metals are:

  • Thallium poisoning
  • Mercury poisoning
  • Iron poisoning
  • Arsenic poisoning
  • Lead poisoning