[Global] Detoxification of heavy metals depends on specific proteins and enzymes that bind the metals and transport them out of your cells into the bloodstream. All chelating agents, whether synthetic or natural, form chemical bonds with metal ions, rendering them much less chemically reactive. The resulting complex is water-soluble, which allows it to enter the bloodstream and, if your detoxification organs such as the liver, kidneys and gut are functioning well, these complexes are then removed from your body via urine and stools.
The most common synthetic heavy metal chelators are EDTA, DMPS and DMSA. In cases of acute metal poisoning, these chelators can potentially be life-saving. They bind to heavy metals in the body and they all have a very rapid mobilising activity. While they eliminate metals from your body quickly, they also place a huge burden on your detoxification systems. Metals enter the bloodstream rapidly, which can overwhelm the organs of excretion such as the liver and kidneys. Consequently, instead of being properly excreted, they may be redistributed and reabsorbed by vital organs, potentially damaging these organs further and rendering you in a worse state of health. Heavy metal chelators also bind to and remove beneficial minerals such as zinc, copper, manganese, iron, selenium and magnesium.
DMPS is available in intravenous and oral forms and was developed in the former Soviet Union as a mercury chelating agent. It’s not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, which classifies it as an experimental agent. DMPS is primarily used for the treatment of arsenic and mercury poisoning.
DMSA is a pharmaceutical chelator, which is the US standard treatment of lead, arsenic and mercury poisoning. DMSA is unable to cross the blood–brain barrier, thus it has limited use in the treatment of the central nervous system. It also has low efficacy in removing lead from inside cells. Side-effects may include major brain fog, memory problems during detoxification, and depression due to redistribution of metals. In patients with chronic lead intoxication, haemolytic anaemia has been observed, with a return to normal blood values after termination of treatment. In children, it has also caused seizure disorders.
EDTA is primarily used for the chelation of lead. It’s usually administered intravenously over about one-and-a-half to three hours. Anywhere between five and 30 sessions may be required. EDTA produces substantial loss of essential minerals, including zinc, with plasma zinc levels decreasing by up to 30–40 per cent. It’s only able to chelate extracellular lead and not the lead from inside your cells. Side-effects may include dizziness, headache, mild nausea or irritation at the IV site. The most adverse effect from EDTA is the redistribution of lead to the brain. EDTA can also cause kidney toxicity.
Natural chelators & detoxification agents
When chelating heavy metals from your body, they need to be mobilised and eliminated very gently so your body reabsorbs less and you are not flooded with toxic metals that cause further damage to your vital organs. There are many natural chelating nutrients and herbs that help to reduce your metal burden. However, even some of these can be strong chelating agents and need to be used with caution and under the supervision of a health practitioner.
Mineral deficiency allows heavy metals to attach to specific binding sites in your body’s tissues. If you have a healthy mineral base, it can help prevent these attachments and heavy metal accumulation in vital organs. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium are also important in helping to transport toxic waste across the extracellular space towards the lymphatic and venous vessels.
Glutathione is produced naturally in the body, has many antioxidant functions and is a significant factor in heavy metal mobilisation and excretion, particularly mercury, cadmium and arsenic. If you have impaired production of glutathione you are more susceptible to heavy metal accumulation since one of the ways in which they leave your body is by being bound to glutathione and eliminated via the faeces or urine. A high level of glutathione is therefore needed to effectively eliminate heavy metals from the body.
L-cysteine/N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)
Cysteine is a sulphur-containing amino acid that chelates heavy metals and acts as a free-radical scavenger, thereby promoting detoxification. It is converted in the body into metabolites capable of stimulating glutathione synthesis and is also a key nutrient to support the production of metallothionein, a protein in the body responsible for “scavenging” certain heavy metals that enter the cells. Studies have shown that cysteine also protects against liver and kidney damage.
It’s imperative that you talk to your health practitioner before supplementing with L-cysteine or NAC as animal studies have shown that supplementation at high doses can actually increase the transport of mercury into the brain and exacerbate adverse neurological effects.
Chlorella has many mechanisms by which it is able to bind to metals. It is effective at removing toxic metals from the gut and transporting them out of the body. Chlorella binds all known toxic metals and increases glutathione.
Animal studies have shown that chlorella intake suppresses methylmercury transfer to the foetus during pregnancy, as well as suppressing methylmercury accumulation in the brain tissue of mothers. Pregnant mice were fed diets containing 10 per cent of chlorella powder, or a diet without chlorella powder, along with methylmercury in their drinking water. The blood and brain mercury levels of neonates and mothers in the chlorella-powder-diet group were significantly lower.
Coriander is a strong chelator that’s effective in mobilising mercury, cadmium, lead and aluminium stored in both bones and the central nervous system, including the brain. A recent animal study showed that rapid removal of aluminium and lead from the brain and skeleton by coriander was superior to any other known detoxification agent.
If your eliminatory systems are poorly functioning, coriander may mobilise more toxins than it can transport out of the body, resulting in heavy metal retoxification and further organ damage. It’s advisable to consult with your health practitioner about ways to reduce this risk, for example, by optimising your bowel function, consuming a high-fibre diet and simultaneously administering an intestinal toxin-absorbing agent such as chlorella.
Alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
Alpha lipoic acid is a sulphur-containing antioxidant synthesised in small amounts in the body. It regenerates other antioxidants, such as vitamin C and E, and increases cellular glutathione levels. Alpha lipoic acid binds with metals such as copper, mercury, lead and cadmium. Studies have demonstrated that it’s more effective at removing lead from brain tissues than other organs such as the liver, kidneys and other soft tissues. In 2010, research published in the Journal of American Science demonstrated that alpha lipoic acid reduces copper and lead levels in blood and tissues of the body and is able to minimise the toxic effects of both of these metals.
Other chelating nutrients
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). Stimulates the production of glutathione. Moderate chelator.
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine). Protects against short-term implications of lead poisoning and lead-induced damage to liver and kidneys.
- Ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Animal studies have shown it protects against DNA damage and cell death of liver cells caused by lead. Prevents lead-induced oxidative stress. Regulates copper levels and removes excess copper.
- Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol). Protects against free-radical damage to the cell membrane.
- Flavonoids. Naturally occurring constituents of fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants that chelate heavy metals and prevent free-radical generation.
- Quercetin. A bioflavonoid found in fruits, vegetables and tea.
Garlic & other sulphur-rich foods
Garlic and other foods rich in sulphur bind to mercury, cadmium and lead and reduce the heavy-metal burden in soft tissues such as the liver and kidney, as well as from blood and bone. They support glutathione production, protect against liver damage caused by lead-induced oxidative stress and protect blood cells from oxidative damage caused by metals in the bloodstream.
A constituent of turmeric, curcumin is an antioxidant and metal chelator that chelates lead from brain tissues and protects against lead-induced neurotoxicity.
Centella asiatica (gotu kola)
A heavy-metal chelator that ameliorates lead-induced oxidative stress, gotu kola is able to cross the blood–brain barrier and restore altered neurotransmitters and the impaired antioxidant balance caused by lead exposure.
Selenium has many antioxidant functions and helps recycle and produce more glutathione.
EPA and DHA found in fish oil induce the formation of peroxisomes in your cells and replace the damaged ones. It is at this level of the cell that toxic metals attach and thereby prevent the cell from functioning properly.
Improve toxin elimination
- Have one to two bowel movements a day.
- Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
- Exercise regularly and improve your lymph flow through yoga or lymphatic massage to help flush toxins out of your tissues into your circulation for detoxification.
- Increase your fibre intake: eat more beans, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds to enhance bowel elimination.
- Eat celery to increase urine flow and aid detoxification.
- Consume rosemary, which contains carnosol, to help boost detoxification enzymes.
- Consume chlorophyll to help cleanse the blood.
If you have a known body burden of heavy metals, a metal detoxification process should be undertaken only under the guidance of a qualified practitioner who can help support all systems of your body while the heavy metals are being mobilised and excreted in order to prevent re-toxification, exacerbation of your symptoms and damage to the organs to which the metals are redistributed.
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