Heavy Metals and Disease
Treating Toxic Metals
Ask Dr. J: Dizziness
In the Health News
Diet and Disease
Recipe of the Month: Almond Sauce for the
I just returned from a meeting of the American College for
Advancement in Medicine, the best place for doctors to keep
up with the latest innovative medical treatments and confirm
the value of those they may be already using. Doctors who
practice complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are
often told that they are not practicing scientific medicine,
but the research and clinical presenters at these meetings
are top scientists giving a clear scientific basis for many
However, my colleagues and I are also exposed to many heavily
advertised dietary supplement products, medical devices, and
treatments that have little or no scientific justification.
I am concerned that many such poorly supported treatments
are also hyped to the public. It disturbs me because they
give the rest of CAM a bad name. I receive their flyers myself
at meetings and through promotional mail (junk mail often
has a very professional appearance).
Don't believe everything you see. I have been appalled by
miracle cure claims, such as those for calcium from coral.
It is hyped as a cure or preventive for 200 diseases, including
cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, hypertension, eczema,
heart disease, and many more (yes, many more are
the exact words on one website!, after listing 19 others,
and on another website it is touted as an antibiotic and antioxidant
utilizing all of the recent buzz words for health).
I don't believe it, and neither should you.
I could say the same for growth hormone pills (the documented
benefit from GH is from the injectable form), graviola (maybe
a delicious fruit, but not documented for heart conditions,
coughs, difficult childbirth, asthma, hypertension, and more,
for which claims are made), noni juice (very few studies;
all based on injections in mice, or in test tubes), and dehydrated
fruits and vegetables, sold at a high price. Be skeptical
if there are no human trials or reasonable extrapolations
While these products may have nutritious components, it is
not at all clear that they are equal to or worth more than
fresh foods. For calcium products derived from coral, I am
not at all convinced of their safety because of the possible
heavy metal contamination of any natural calcium supplement
from the sea. Just because something has traditional uses,
or comes from the Brazilian rain forest, the Peruvian Andes,
or the South Pacific islands, this does not in itself justify
Sometimes the hype is simply for sexual enhancement or weight
loss, or it might be for brain function or age reduction.
Don't be taken in by unjustified claims, but don't think that
this is representative of most of CAM therapies. The science
may someday find that these substances indeed have value,
although it is unlikely that it will be for all they claim.
But right now, stay with what is based on science.
We are all exposed to toxic heavy metals at every stage of
life, and it is a serious problem, but you can do something
about it. Lead, mercury, aluminum, cadmium, arsenic, and others
are widespread in the environment, and common practices in
all societies add to the exposure.
Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth's crust.
Cooking acidic foods in aluminum pots and pans increases the
body burden. It is present in water due to acid rain, it is
used as a precipitant to clarify municipal water supplies,
and it is present in drugs, such as Maalox.
While lead is no longer used in house paints, residues in
older houses still pose a risk from paint chips and dust.
Other sources of lead include drinking water, contaminated
soil with residues from leaded gasoline, various foods, and
Mercury (as methyl mercury) is a serious toxin, with human
exposure from dental amalgams, large fish (such as tuna, swordfish,
and bluefish), industrial waste through incineration, vaccines
and drugs preserved with thimerosal, as well as some contact
lens solutions. It is also found in fungicides, and some paints.
If you have dental amalgam fillings, chewing releases mercury
vapor, which you then inhale or swallow.
We are exposed to cadmium through cigarette smoke, refined
white flour, water supplies, and coal burning, as well as
some dental amalgams, and nickel-cadmium batteries.
Heavy metals are particularly dangerous for children, as
they absorb toxins more readily, and their nervous systems
are especially vulnerable. However, adults are also affected
by toxic metals, which are nerve poisons, and cause enzyme
disruption, brain abnormalities, kidney impairment, and other
In children, mercury is associated with developmental and
behavioral problems. While some of these exposures are inevitable,
the large majority can be reduced by changes in public policy,
industrial cleanup, and changes in immunization and dental
care (mercury-free fillings, and vaccines that are free of
thimerosal). Careful dietary choices will also help reduce
exposure to numerous toxins.
Toxicity starts early, as mercury and lead pass through the
placenta to the developing fetus, and are also present in
breast milk. While most damaging during fetal development
and in childhood, these toxins exert their effects throughout
life, and are suspect in numerous diseases and functional
Toxic metals have been linked to decreased immune function,
auto-immune disorders, depletion of antioxidants, disruption
of neuronal function, Alzheimer's-like lesions in the brain,
interference with energy production, and platelet abnormalities.
Lead and cadmium are associated with the development of hypertension
and kidney disease. Lead increases the risk of stroke, and
even low levels can impair neuromuscular control and manual
dexterity, slow reaction time, and decrease intellectual ability.
It also interferes with enzymes that protect against free
radicals, resulting in increased oxidative damage. Cadmium
is not only a carcinogen, but it enhances the growth and spread
of already-established tumors.
Mercury causes so much damage that it is amazing that it
is put directly into our teeth and used as a vaccine preservative
and administered to children by health practitioners. It is
suspected in neurological diseases (such as ALS, MS, and Parkinson's
disease), liver and gastrointestinal damage, chromosome abnormalities
and even depression and headaches. The association with autism
and other childhood behavior and mental disorders is increasingly
Various health practices can help you eliminate toxins and
reduce their effects. Removal of dental amalgams, using proper
techniques to avoid absorption during the process, will decrease
the continuing supply of toxin into your system.
Exercise and saunas to induce sweating reduce the body burden
of metal toxins. Selenium- and sulfur-containing foods, such
as cabbage-family vegetables, onions, garlic, and eggs, help
to displace mercury, and foods high in zinc promote lead elimination.
Dietary supplements are critical to the treatment of metal
overload. They not only promote excretion, but they decrease
the damaging effects. Extra selenium and sulfur (in the form
of methylsulfonyl methane, or MSM, 2 to 6 gms), may be essential
in addition to food sources. Alpha lipoic acid (200 to 1000
mg) is both a sulfur source and an excellent antioxidant for
the brain, protecting against degenerative brain disorders.
Vitamin C (2 to 6 gms) is not only an antioxidant, but it
is also a metal chelator, binding with metals and removing
them from the system and decreasing free-radical damage. Magnesium
and calcium in food or supplements help to block toxic metal
Other antioxidants work in concert with these nutrients to
protect the kidneys, brain, liver, and other organs. They
include flavonoids, carotenoids, melatonin, vitamin E, and
coenzyme Q10. Silymarin (500 to 1000 mg of standardized extract),
derived from milk thistle, is an herbal remedy that promotes
liver detoxification and acts as a brain antioxidant.
Finally, chelation therapy is sometimes essential in treatment
of toxic metal exposure. Intravenous administration of EDTA,
a synthetic amino acid removes lead and cadmium. This is a
safe treatment done in a doctor's office.
Oral treatment with DMSA (dimercapto succinic acid) is the
best treatment for mercury, and also removes some lead. This
is available by prescription and as a dietary supplement (available
from some pharmacies and physicians).
Clearly, avoiding exposure is the best way to decrease the
damage from heavy metals, but even after metals accumulate,
you can eliminate them and reverse some of the damage.
Q. My friend is often dizzy; is there anything natural that
can help? B.G.., Internet
A. Many conditions may be an underlying cause of dizziness
or vertigo (as opposed to loss of balance). Sometimes it is
an inner ear problem (Meniere's syndrome), and this can be
helped with supplements of ginkgo biloba (120 to 240 mg of
standardized extract) and timed release niacin (250 to 500
mg; not for those with liver problems). Sometimes dizziness
can result from hardening of the arteries to the head and
neck, reducing circulation to the brain, a condition called
transient ischemic attack, or TIA. Treatment for the arteries
includes diet (mostly vegetarian, whole, natural foods), and
exercise, as well as vitamins C (3000 to 6000 mg) and E (400
to 800 IU), EPA and DHA from fish oil (1000 to 3000 mg of
omega-3 oils), magnesium (500 to 1000 mg), alpha-lipoic acid
(300 to 1000 mg), carotenoids (25,000 IU), ginkgo biloba.
I also suggest chelation therapy.
Dizziness can be the result of drug reactions, postural hypotension
(low blood pressure when standing suddenly), infections in
the inner ear, and metabolic disorders, such as diabetes.
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, can also cause recurrent
dizzy spells. This can be managed with a whole foods diet,
eliminating refined sugars and white flour, eating small frequent
meals, doing regular exercise, and taking supplements of chromium
(200 to 600 mcg), as well as timed release niacin (250 to
500 mg), vitamin C, magnesium, and B-complex. Finding the
cause will help determine the right treatments.
Mental stress is increasingly recognized as a contributor
to disease states. A recent article published in Circulation
(Rapid Access Communications, May 21, 2002; reported in Reuters
Health) shows, that a brief three-minute stressful situation
can impair the ability of blood vessels to dilate. This can
lead to heart attacks in those with compromised arteries.
This stress decreased the ability of the artery to respond
by 50 percent, and the effect lasted for 45 minutes. Stress
management and antioxidant protection of the endothelium (the
arterial lining cells) are important for prevention of heart
attacks or sudden cardiac death.
Fecal bacteria contaminates most of the chicken that you find
at the market. Many of them are human pathogens, and a majority
are resistant to antibiotics. Researchers presented their
findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for
Microbiology (Reuters Health, May 21, 2002), finding that
of 253 samples, 233 were contaminated! Three quarters of the
bacteria were fecal, and five percent were related to food
spoilage. Over 90 percent were resistant to one antibiotic,
and 87 percent were resistant to two or more. They suggest
cooking chicken until it falls off the bone my advice
is to avoid it altogether, as well as meat, which is also
A new study confirms the value of fish (those containing
omega-3 fatty acids) in prevention of heart attacks. (Albert
CM, et al., N Engl J Med 2002 Apr 11;346(15):1113-8.) Sudden
death is often the first sign of heart disease, and men with
high omega-3 oils in the blood had a 72 percent reduction
in risk of sudden death. The trick is finding clean fish that
are not contaminated with mercury, PCB's, and other toxins.
No need to give up on the barbecue for health. Use a gas grill
to avoid fumes, and you can skewer fresh vegetables (such
as peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, and garlic) interspersed
with chunks of tofu, tempeh, or fresh fish (for those omega-3
oils, choose wild salmon from Alaska or bluefish from clean
waters not the Northeast). Drizzle this spicy almond
sauce over them: combine a half cup of organic almond butter
(or peanut if you prefer; it is less expensive) with a half
cup of water, three garlic cloves, two oz. lemon juice, and
1/4 tsp of cayenne (or to taste). Add a fingertip-sized piece
of fresh ginger and a touch of soy sauce. Blend with an electric
whisk or in a blender, and then add chopped scallions or chives.
This also goes well over soba (buckwheat) noodles.
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