Heavy Metals – The increased incidence of Heart Disease, Cancer, and Chronic Conditions

Root cause is a cornerstone of Functional and Integrative medicine. We are seeing increasing complications that are chronic in nature. A key element that forms a common denominator in cases of Cancer, Atherosclerosis, and Chronic Conditions is the presence of high levels of heavy metals. Despite the existance of credible evidence pointing to the effects of heavy metal toxicity, there is widespread ignorance in medical communities regarding its detrimental effects on health.

What is Heavy Metal Poisoning?

Over time, our water systems, food supplies and general nutrition have been affected by many elements. The increase in industrialization over the past few centuries has led to levels of toxicity that have surmounted safe levels in the environment, leading to an increase in various conditions including cancer. A heavy metal can be described as an element whose atomic size and density is five times that of water. The most common heavy metals are listed below:

  • Mercury – Many waterways are now exposed to industrial waste which contains mercury. Consumption of fish has led to mercury making its way into the human diet. Mercury is a common element used in dental amalgams, and simply having your tooth filled can expose you to a toxicity.
  • Lead – Paints commonly contain lead as a base. Many dyes used to make plastic products, as well as printing on plastic food packaging expose us to lead toxicity. Children in particular are at a higher risk of exposure.
  • Arsenic – Arsenic used to be a common material used in construction up to the late 1990’s before being banned. Many industries use arsenic as part of their manufacturing process. These include glass making, refining of metallic ores and pesticide manufacturing. It can be introduced into food chains through pesticides.
  • Cadmium – Tobacco found in cigarettes and shisha pipes commonly contains cadmium. Household products such as batteries and solar panels use cadmium. Disposal of batteries without proper recycling can introduce toxic levels of cadmium into waterways and soils.

There are a whole range of other heavy metals an individual could be exposed to not covered in this article. It is not possible to completely avoid exposure to toxic metals although it is possible to reduce the risk through making lifestyle choices such as dietary measures to reduce exposure to heavy metals.

Health Risks Posed by Heavy Metals

Without testing for heavy metals in the body it is presumptuous that the cause of the following conditions is due to heavy metal toxicity alone. Therefore, it is always recommended to test first. Heavy metals have a documented potential for serious health consequences including:

  • Heart Conditions – This includes high blood pressure, hardening of arteries,and angina.
  • Carcinogenicity – Cancers caused by mutation of cells exposed to toxic heavy metals.
  • Gastrointestinal conditions – Chronic yeast infections and leaky gut.
  • Endocrine disruption – Chronic fatigue, female hormonal imbalance, autoimmunity, and diabetes.
  • Central nervous system dysfunction – ADHD, autism, alzheimer’s disease and parkinsons disease.
  • Bone health – Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis.


  • Complete profile of heavy metals through biomarker testing
  • Blood testing
  • Urine testing
  • Hair and nail analysis

Integrative and Functional Medicine Treatment

Chelation is a treatment commonly used to extract heavy metals from the body. It is the process of binding metallic elements in the blood, and then extracting them through the kidneys. It is most often used in cases of acute intoxication. The efficacy of chelation therapy in chronic metal intoxication is less clear, as chelation therapies are more effective when administered close to the time of exposure (Jang 2011).

Many toxic metals mimic the qualities of essential minerals in the body, and therefore compete for the same absorption mechanisms within the intestines. It is important to ensure that essential trace minerals are taken adequately as this will reduce uptake of toxic metals. For example, nutritional zinc or iron deficiency can increase cadmium absorption (Thévenod 2013), and lead absorption from the gut appears to be blocked by calcium, iron, and zinc (ATSDR 2007b; Patrick 2006). In animal models, selenium blocks the effects of lead when administered before exposure and reduces mercury toxicity (Patrick 2006). 

Essential Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Exposure to Metal Toxicity

Unlike other toxins such as pathogens and viruses, our bodies are not designed to metabolise and excrete heavy metals naturally. Several dietary constituents have been investigated for their ability to mitigate metal toxicity. Certain chelating agents work by reducing metal absorption from the gut. They work by binding toxic metals in the blood and tissues to help draw them out of the body through the kidneys, or reducing free-radical damage (a significant contributor to the pathology caused by heavy metals).

Exposure to metal toxins can also be reduced by understanding the sources of metal exposure (see the section on risk factors) and adopting strategies to reduce contact with them:

  • Familiarize yourself with symptoms of metal toxicity
  • Read product labels and know the potential hazards of products.
  • Take advantage of established disposal programs and facilities for discarding metal-containing waste.
  • Avoid mercury amalgam dental fillings to reduce mercury exposure, especially when multiple fillings are needed. In one study, individuals with 7 or more mercury fillings had 30-50% higher urinary mercury levels compared to individuals without any amalgam fillings (Dutton 2013). When removing and replacing mercury fillings with composite materials, ensure that your dentist has knowledge of this procedure. During removal of the mercury filling, it is essential to ensure that the filling does not inadvertently remain within the mouth.


Currently the largest study –  TACT2 trial, a multi-million dollar government-sponsored study to evaluate the effectiveness of chelation therapy is underway.  Prior to this the first trial, TACT was a large, randomized, placebo-controlled study published in the Journal of American Medicine Association (JAMA) that randomized patients to a series of IV chelation using EDTA or placebo. It showed the following:

  • A compelling value for preventing cardiovascular events, especially in people with diabetes who had a history of heart attack.
  • It also found an amazing 40% reduction in total mortality, 40% reduction in recurrent heart attacks, and about a 50% reduction in overall mortality in patients with diabetes who had previously suffered from a heart attack.

What Kind of Doctors Offer Chelation Therapy?

If you or a family member tests positive for heavy metal toxicity, you must work with an Integrative medicine physician trained in heavy metal chelation. It is not safe to conduct a heavy metal detox without supervision.

Testing for toxic metal exposure is not straightforward since blood tests typically identify only those with severe and acute toxicity but fail to identify those with toxic metals stored in the tissues due to chronic exposure. Applying the appropriate chelating agent to properly treat toxic metal accumulation is also not a straightforward endeavor.

Chelation therapy is not taught in conventional medical school but rather through various professional medical organizations. It can be a life-saving alternative treatment.

About the Author Dr. Shenal