Coal mines and factories are not the only reservoirs of toxic environmental heavy metals – your body also makes the list.
Heavy metals and metalloids occur naturally in the earth’s crust. They turn into environmental contaminants through activities like smelting, mining, coal burning and other industrial, agricultural and domestic production and use.
Natural phenomena, such as volcanic eruptions and weathering, also cause heavy metal pollution.
They are potentially toxic to humans, animals and the environment at large.
Out of all heavy metals, exposure to lead, mercury, cadmium and arsenic is particularly harmful to human health, according to a 2003 study published in the British Medical Bulletin.
The World Health Organization also lists the above-mentioned heavy metals among the top 10 most hazardous groups of chemicals to public health.
Heavy metals enter our bodies in three ways:
- Inhalation: The air we breathe is polluted with heavy metals due to human activities and natural phenomena. Motor vehicles also emit airborne heavy metals. People working in factories, mines, industrial areas, paper-processing plants and nuclear power stations are especially susceptible to airborne heavy metals.
- Ingestion: Eating animal and plant-based food products is the primary source of human heavy metal contamination. Consumer and industrial waste can also pollute sources of water, such as lakes, rivers and streams.
- Absorption: Coming in with contaminated air or soil are major ways of absorbing heavy metals. The eyes and skin absorb several airborne heavy metals every day.
Long-term exposure to heavy metals can prove carcinogenic over time, can severely damage the central nervous system and have fatal cardiovascular repercussions.
Prolonged exposure to:
- Chromium and cadmium can cause lung cancer.
- Lead can cause anemia, palsy and kidney disorders.
- Mercury can lead to stomatitis (gum and mouth inflammation), tremor and neurotic disorders.
- Arsenic can cause hypopigmentation, diabetes and skin cancer.
Heavy metal detoxification is vital to preserving your health and living a long life.
Here’s how you can naturally remove heavy metals from your body.
Note: Please bear in mind that heavy metal detoxification is a long process. While following the points in this article will significantly help the detoxification process, exposure to heavy metals is inevitable.
You will need to consciously take steps to limit (if not avoid altogether) your exposure to these heavy metals while following the above-mentioned advice for maximum benefit.
1. Drink Enough Water
Your body is made up of 65 percent water. This alone proves a deficiency of the same is likely to have adverse consequences.
Water is indispensable to better health. No amount of detoxification methods – diets or exercise – will have any positive effect on your body if you are continually dehydrated.
Dehydration is a major cause of oxidative stress, which hinders the body’s ability to fight cell-damaging free radicals.
When heavy metals enter our bodies, oxidative stress triggers their toxicity. Drinking plenty of water reduces oxidative stress and inhibits the toxicity of heavy metals in the body.
Furthermore, water transports essential nutrients and minerals throughout the body. These nutrients and minerals strengthen the detoxification organs – the liver, kidneys, intestines, respiratory tract and skin.
2. Eat Fermented Foods
The role of gastrointestinal bacteria, or probiotics, in eliminating heavy metals from the body is not widely known.
Fermented foods are rich in probiotics.
Probiotics like lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) found in the intestine and in fermented foods possess the ability to bind to heavy metals and flush them out of the body, according to a 2012 study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
Out of 255 lactic acid bacteria isolated for testing purposes, 26 displayed remarkable cadmium- and lead-removing properties in water, according to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.
Fermented foods that contain this good bacteria include probiotic yogurt, whey, cottage cheese, kefir drinks, fermented tofu and tempeh as well as pickled cucumbers, radishes, beets and garlic.
Make them a part of your regular diet to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria to eliminate heavy metals from your body.
3. Increase Intake of Polyphenols
Polyphenols are micronutrients found abundantly in our diets. Their role in combating cancer and cardiovascular disease is well-known.
The richest sources of polyphenols include cloves, star anise, dried peppermint, dried oregano, flaxseeds, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, green tea, elderberries, chokeberries, blueberries, strawberries, black currants and plums.
A lesser-known fact about dietary polyphenols is that they enhance the production of metallothionein, a major antioxidant enzyme. This enzyme is responsible for metabolizing and detoxifying heavy metals.
Polyphenol-rich beverages like red grape juice, green tea and red wine increased metallothionein production in the human body, according to a 2010 study published in the Journal of Food Science.
Eating more polyphenol-rich foods will help you on your way to detoxifying your body of heavy metals.
4. Consume Sulfur-rich Foods
Glutathione is the primary antioxidant in the human body and is key to purging the body of harmful toxins and heavy metals. It attaches itself to heavy metals and flushes them out via the bloodstream through the liver and kidneys.
Arsenic is a heavy metal that directly inhibits the production of glutathione in the body.
The glutathione levels in the body significantly dropped when a group of 378 adults were fed different concentrations of arsenic mixed in water, according to a 2013 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Sulfur-rich foods boost glutathione activity in the body.
Foods rich in sulfur include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, spinach, collard, watercress, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as garlic, onions, leeks and shallots.
Alternatively, you can consume oral glutathione supplements after consulting your doctor.
5. Consume Milk Thistle
The liver is the detoxification powerhouse of your body.
Milk thistle strengthens the liver cells, which prevents the absorption of toxic heavy metals. Silymarin is the primary active substance in milk thistle, also known as silybum marianum.
According to a 2006 study published in The Indian Journal of Medical Research, silymarin appears to be a highly promising treatment for heavy metal contamination. The study further notes that silymarin promotes the production of glutathione and prevents its depletion.
It’s easy to incorporate milk thistle into your daily diet.
- Drink up to 6 cups of milk thistle tea a day for detoxification purposes. To make the tea, add 1 teaspoon of ground milk thistle-seeds or a milk thistle tea bag to a cup of hot water and let it steep for 10 minutes.
- Alternatively, you can take milk thistle supplements.
Note: Before consuming milk thistle in any form, consult your doctor for the exact supplement and tea doses appropriate for your health status to prevent possible side effects.
6. Consume Cilantro
Cilantro attaches itself to heavy metals like aluminum, mercury and lead to flush them out of the body. It also possesses terrific antioxidant properties.
Although recent human studies on the effectiveness of cilantro as a heavy-metal detoxifying agent are lacking, a 1995 study published in Acupuncture and Electrotherapeutics Research notes one of the first instances of the discovery of cilantro as a heavy-metal detoxifier when the first author accidentally consumed it in soup.
It also showed significant lead-eliminating properties, the study further notes.
To aid your detoxification effort, drink a cilantro smoothie each morning for breakfast. To make the smoothie, juice together 1 bunch of cilantro, 1 zucchini, 1 long celery stick, 1 green apple, the juice of ½ lemon and a pinch of sea salt for 30 to 60 seconds. You can add a little water to achieve the consistency you desire.
Regular exercise can have you sweating in a matter of seconds and eliminate toxins effectively.
Sweat, urine and blood samples collected from 20 individuals showed significant presence of toxic elements in all three, with sweat being the primary excretion channel, according to a 2010 study published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.
However, keep in mind that low-intensity exercises, such as an hour-long daily walk on the treadmill, may not have the desired effect. High-intensity workout sessions and heavy lifting are the best ways to get those sweat glands going.
Furthermore, exercise promotes the circulation of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body, including to the liver and kidneys. This keeps them functioning better.
Note: Consult your doctor and fitness trainer before adopting any high-intensity workout regime.
Sauna bathing is another effective way of purging your body of heavy metals through thermogenesis and sweat.
Longer sauna sessions are required to mobilize and eliminate heavy metals from the body. These sauna sessions must be medically monitored, but are overall a safe way to eliminate toxins from the body.
The elderly and those with health issues must consult their doctor before going for a sauna as the thermogenic effect might have negative health effects, such as an increased heart rate.
Saunas are especially effective for excreting mercury and lead from the body.
Note: Instead of a regular sauna, you can go for an infrared sauna that has greater heavy metal-purging benefits. However, consult your doctor before you do so. Ask your doctor about how long to stay in the sauna and how often to do it.