- The Washington Times - Monday, May 30, 2005

Toxic heavy metals can weigh down a person’s health, says Dr. Ross Myerson, medical director for occupational and environmental health at Washington Hospital Center in Northwest.

Acute conditions generally are easier to diagnose. Persons with chronic problems who are exposed to low-level contamination can manifest symptoms as they accumulate more of the metals in their bodies.

“The treatment has to be individualized for the poison and patient,” Dr. Myerson says. “Most metals can be chelated.”

Chelation therapy often is used to remove toxic heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead or mercury, from the body. In most cases, the process can be accomplished intravenously, by mouth or through shots with the appropriate drug for the corresponding metal.

The word “chelation” comes from the Greek word “chele,” which means “to claw.” The chelating agents bind to the metals and carry them through the bloodstream to be released in the urine, Dr. Myerson says.

“Chelating basically traps the metal in a chemical complex in a form that you can excrete it,” he says. “If you have a heavy body burden, you will not rid the person of heavy metals with just one treatment.”

Removing the source of exposure from the person’s life is essential in a complete recovery, Dr. Myerson says. The origin of the problem usually is easier to determine in acute situations.

Further, chelating is not always a benign procedure, he says. Because the metals travel through the kidneys before excretion, the organs must be strong enough to endure the process. Therefore, the treatment usually is done slowly and can take repeated therapy to complete.

Unless it’s an emergency, patients should not undergo chelation therapy if they have kidney disease or damage, liver disease, a brain tumor or an underactive thyroid. In most instances, women should not use chelation therapy if they are pregnant or trying to conceive a child. In these instances, the body must excrete the metal on its own.

Several prescription drugs are used to chelate toxic metals, says Tomas Guilarte, professor of environmental health sciences at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. He holds a doctorate in environmental health sciences.

Lead has no known biological function in the body, so any amount of it can be toxic, he says. Other metals, including zinc and manganese, which are essential trace elements, are physiologically relevant. When they appear in the body in excess amounts, however, they also become poisonous.

Most patients are diagnosed for treatment through blood, hair or urine tests, but manganese toxicity can be confirmed through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Mr. Guilarte says. The areas where the metal is deposited appear whiter on the scan.

“If you had an exposure a year ago, it might not show up in the blood,” Mr. Guilarte says. “Elimination of manganese from the blood is much quicker than from the brain.”

In general, people who regularly work with metals, such as welders, should be tested for heavy-metal poisoning if they are feeling ill.

The effects of lead in children may not be seen until years after exposure. If lead enters 2-year-old children, even if it is chelated, the metal can lower the children’s intelligence quotient by the time they are 5 years old, says Dr. Walter Rogan, epidemiologist at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at Research Triangle Park in North Carolina.

Dr. Rogan studied 780 children with mild lead poisoning in the mid-1990s. Some participants received the drug succimer while others received a placebo. Although the drug removed the lead, it made no difference in the children’s intelligence quotient, he says.

“It looks like the key is prevention,” Dr. Rogan says. “You want to keep the kids from being exposed in the first place.”

It’s also difficult to reverse the damage of mercury once it has been done, says Michael Aschner, professor of pediatrics and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University Medical School in Nashville. He holds a doctorate in neurobiology.

Mercury can affect basic functions of the brain, such as the communication of cells, he says.

“High levels in adults can cause problems with vision, balance and speech. It can lead to deafness, tremors, hearing loss, depression, confusion, memory problems and loss of appetite,” Mr. Aschner says. “The best thing to do is avoid the sources from which you could get mercury poisoning.”

The most common source of mercury is the water. The metal originates in the atmosphere from coal burning and other industries, Mr. Aschner says. Through rain, it is transferred to the ground and waterways, which make fish an easy target for the substance.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have recommended that women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. These groups of people also should eat just 12 ounces of fish lower in mercury per week, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish.

Also, people shouldn’t break mercury thermometers and vacuum the pieces, he says.

“If you vacuum it, it generates heat and spreads the mercury,” Mr. Aschner says. “Don’t do anything. Call the poison center.”

Mercury amalgams used to fill cavities in teeth are another way that poisoning can occur, says John Furlong, a naturopathic physician in private practice in Mansfield, Conn.

Although some people with mercury amalgams don’t experience toxic overload in their bodies, other people can become sick from it, says Dr. Furlong. It depends on the body’s ability to detoxify.

In addition to any prescription medication, patients should consider making sure their diets include elements that compete with toxic elements, Dr. Furlong says. High quality vitamin C and chlorella, a natural supplement, can help eliminate metals from the body.

“The ability of people to handle toxic elements varies widely,” Dr. Furlong says. “There are people who are genetically predisposed to problems with detoxifying.”





Insect poisons, wood preservatives

Nausea, vertigo, fatigue


Batteries, cigarettes, welding

Kidney damage, high blood pressure


Car batteries, paint

Irritability, low IQ in children, lethargy


Coal burning plants, fish, dental amalgams

Gingivitis, mental problems, nerve damage

Other potentially toxic metals include aluminum, antimony, beryllium, bismuth, manganese, nickel, platinum, thallium, thorium, tin, tungsten, uranium and zinc.

Sources: www.itsyourhealth2.com and www.diagnose-me.com

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