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Heavy Metals Causing Inflammation and Brain Dysfunction

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

The effect of heavy metals on your health

The use of heavy metals in industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical and technological applications have led to a dramatic increase in our exposure. [1] These elements raise a concern over their potential effects on human health and the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, heavy metals are known to induce multiple organ damage, even at lower levels of exposure. Furthermore, they are also classified as human carcinogens, which means that they are promoting the creation of cancer cells in your body.

Heavy metals interfere with the function of our hormonal system and our brain. Take mercury for example. It can be found in the flesh of fish, especially farm fish and tuna. High exposure to heavy metals was found to be associated with lower cognitive function (memory and behavior problems) in children and adults. Lead is another heavy metal that has shown to have harmful effects on the brain and body. The effect of lead on our cognitive function in adults is controversial. While some studies report that lead is not associated with decreased cognition in adults, [2] several studies found that high levels of lead are associated with cognitive dysfunction. [3] It is estimated that “normal” cognitive decline due to age may be caused by an accumulation of neurotoxins, such as lead, over time.

The damage of Heavy Metals

According to a review article published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health , several studies showed that mercury leads to dysfunction of the following organs: thyroid, breast, myocardium, muscles, adrenals, liver, kidneys, skin, sweat glands, pancreas, enterocytes, lungs, salivary glands, testes, and prostate. [5]

Lead can circulate in the blood or accumulate in bones and occasionally move back into the blood. Lead can also cross the blood-brain barrier and it is believed that it can increase oxidative stress, stimulate death of neurons, and affect brain function. [6] Children with high levels of lead in their blood ( <10 μg/dL) are at significant risk for reduced cognitive development and functioning, including lower IQ and poor academic performance. [7, 8]

Heavy metals can also change the expression of your genes, and unfortunately, express genes of disease. Research shows that early exposure to lead results in increased expression of genes associated with degenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer. [9]

Heavy metals and inflammation

Heavy metals in your body may increase free radicals, resulting in DNA damage, and depletion of protein (sulfhydryls) that protects your cells from damage, such as glutathione. This process may trigger an inflammatory reaction. [10] Studies show that chronic low-level lead exposure may trigger chronic inflammation and autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). [11] Several diseases involve inflammation, such as arthritis, joint or muscle pain, cardiovascular diseases, etc.

Elevated levels of lead, for example, can raise arterial pressure, thereby promoting the development of cardiovascular diseases. [12] Inorganic mercury, cadmium, and lead were also found in patients with fibromyalgia. [13] Mercury can also trigger and irritate your immune system and lead to autoimmune conditions with low grade-chronic exposure. [14]

It is important to remember that several of these metals, such as cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn) are essential nutrients that are required for healthy physiological functions. However, the chronic exposure to these elements in excess of what the body needs might lead to dysfunction and disease. [15]

How to reduce exposure?

Avoiding heavy metals is not easy. Since the industrial revolution, many factories have been contaminating our air, water, and food. Aluminum, for example, toxic heavy metal that cause neurological damage, is found in cosmetic products, antiperspirants, pharmaceuticals such as antacids or vaccines, and even in cheese, as Sodium aluminum phosphates. It can also leak from cookware, like Teflon pans. Make sure to replace worn or pitted pans and use glass for backing and stainless steel cookware for cooking. To reduce heavy metals in our body, we must understand the sources of exposure.

Where do we get exposed to most of the heavy metals?

  • Approximately 80% of mercury vapor is released from amalgams (dental fillings) and is absorbed through inhalation. [16] A study published in 2006, reported that individuals with more amalgam fillings have higher mercury levels in several tissues including the brain, thyroid, and pituitary glands. [17, 18]

  • Sources of atmospheric mercury include coal burning and mining (mercury and gold in particular). Mercury from the atmosphere settles in water, where it is converted by microorganisms into organic (methyl or ethyl) mercury. In the water, it is ingested by smaller creatures which are eventually consumed by larger fish. That is the reason why fish at the top of the food chain, such as tuna, king mackerel, tilefish, and swordfish, may have considerably higher levels of mercury in their tissues. Food and Drug Administration. [19]

  • Today, the number one source of lead poisoning in children comes from dust and chips from deteriorating lead paint on interior surfaces. [20]

  • Adults absorb 35 to 50% of lead through drinking water [21]

  • According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, homes built before 1986 are more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder.

  • Industrial sources include metal processing in refineries, coal burning in power plants, petroleum combustion, nuclear power stations and high tension lines, plastics, textiles, microelectronics, wood preservation and paper processing plants. [22]

If you are eating fish, avoid farm-raised fish or tuna fish (especially canned) and look for deep sea salmon or organic seafood. In cosmetics, deodorants, creams, and toothpaste, look for clean and natural products that do not contain arsenic, mercury, or aluminum. Also, avoid taking medications or vaccines, unless it is medically necessary.

If you have any dental fillings, look for a dentist that has experience with safe removal and replacement of dental fillings that contain mercury. Studies show significant improvement of health and chronic diseases (including Multiple Sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases) after amalgam removal. [23]

Testing for heavy metals in your body

According to an article published in the Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology, there is no correlation between mercury levels in blood or urine, and the levels in body tissues or the severity of clinical symptoms. [24] Since levels in urine or blood can change daily, we measure heavy metals in hair samples. Analyzing an inch of your hair provides information on heavy metals and minerals inside your cells for a few weeks of exposure. Here is an example of hair analysis done with one of our patients.

The patient was a 27 year old, male who came to see us and reported the following:

  • Chronic pain in his joints, mostly back, neck, and occasionally elbows for several years.

  • General sensation of fatigue (“sleeps in almost every day”)

  • Difficulty concentrating sometimes (“stopped reading books and watch T.V. instead).

  • Light to a moderate physical job (“It takes him longer to recover after each shift at work”).

  • Try to eat vegetable whenever possible. Sometimes canned food when on the go or does not have time.

  • Tried massages and chiropractic for his back pain and reported only a temporary relief.

  • Takes ibuprofen occasionally for pain.

As you can see from his hair analysis, the patient has high levels of arsenic and uranium and even higher levels of silver and tin. The patient was using canned food almost every day with very little fresh vegetables or cooked food.

Treatment protocol included:

  • Microgreens, fiber, Selenium, and detox powder to assist with toxic elimination.

  • Replace preserved and processed food from cans with fresh food.

  • Supplements: e.g. Acetyl L-cysteine 600mg, two pills twice a day.

  • Herbs: 2g twice a day of each of the followings: Tumeric, Milk Thistle, Boswellia, Chisandra, and Polygonum multiflorum (Fo-Ti root or He Shou Wu) to support liver function to get rid of toxins.

  • A complex of B Vitamins from a whole food supplements (we used Cataplex B from Standard Process)

  • Acupuncture to stimulate the function of the liver and increase circulation.

After three months, the client reported:

  • No back or neck pain for a couple of weeks.

  • Energy increased significantly.

  • Wakes up in the morning earlier (“I have more time during the day because I don’t feel like sleeping in”)

  • Concentration improved (“going back to reading books”).

For more information on our process, evaluation, or treatments, call (503) 545-6285


  1. Bradl H, editor. Heavy Metals in the Environment: Origin, Interaction and Remediation Volume 6. London: Academic Press; 2002.

  2. Lead concentrations in elderly urban people related to blood pressure and mental performance: results from a population-based study. Nordberg M, Winblad B, Fratiglioni L, Basun H. Am J Ind Med. 2000 Sep; 38(3):290-4.

  3. Cumulative exposure to lead in relation to cognitive function in older women. Weuve J, Korrick SA, Weisskopf MG, Ryan LM, Schwartz J, Nie H, Grodstein F, Hu H. Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Apr; 117(4):574-80.

  4. Effects of lead on the adult brain: a 15-year exploration. Stewart WF, Schwartz BS. Am J Ind Med. 2007 Oct; 50(10):729-39.

  5. Robin A. Bernhoft, “Mercury Toxicity and Treatment: A Review of the Literature,” Journal of Environmental and Public Health, vol. 2012, Article ID 460508, 10 pages, 2012. doi:10.1155/2012/460508

  6. Cumulative lead dose and cognitive function in adults: a review of studies that measured both blood lead and bone lead. Shih RA, Hu H, Weisskopf MG, Schwartz BS. Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Mar; 115(3):483-92.

  7. Very low lead exposures and children's neurodevelopment. Bellinger DC. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2008 Apr; 20(2):172-7.

  8. Blood lead concentrations &lt; 10 microg/dL and child intelligence at 6 years of age. Jusko TA, Henderson CR, Lanphear BP, Cory-Slechta DA, Parsons PJ, Canfield RL. Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Feb; 116(2):243-8.

  9. Alzheimer's disease (AD)-like pathology in aged monkeys after infantile exposure to environmental metal lead (Pb): evidence for a developmental origin and environmental link for AD. Wu J, Basha MR, Brock B, Cox DP, Cardozo-Pelaez F, McPherson CA, Harry J, Rice DC, Maloney B, Chen D, Lahiri DK, Zawia NH. J Neurosci. 2008 Jan 2; 28(1):3-9.

  10. M. Valko, H. Morris, and M. T. Cronin, “Metals, toxicity and oxidative stress,” Current Medicinal Chemistry, vol. 12, no. 10, pp. 1161–1208, 2005.

  11. Dental amalgam as one of the risk factors in autoimmune diseases. Bártová J, Procházková J, Krátká Z, Benetková K, Venclíková Z, Sterzl I. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2003 Feb-Apr; 24(1-2):65-7.

  12. N. D. Vaziri, Y. Ding, Z. Ni, and H. C. Gonick, “Altered nitric oxide metabolism and increased oxygen free radical activity in lead induced hypertension: effect of lazaroid therapy,” Kidney International, vol. 52, no. 4, pp. 1042–1046, 1997

  13. Stejskal, Vera & Ockert, Karin & Bjorklund, Geir. (2013). Metal-induced inflammation triggers fibromyalgia in metal-allergic patients. Neuro endocrinology letters. 34. 559-65.

  14. Mercury exposure and early effects: an overview. Kazantzis G. Med Lav. 2002 May-Jun; 93(3):139-47.

  15. WHO/FAO/IAEA. World Health Organization. Switzerland: Geneva; 1996. Trace Elements in Human Nutrition and Health.

  16. A. Berglund, L. Pohl, S. Olsson, and M. Bergman, “Determination of the rate of release of intra-oral mercury vapor from amalgam,” Journal of Dental Research, vol. 67, no. 9, pp. 1235–1242, 1988.

  17. Dental amalgam and mercury levels in autopsy tissues: food for thought. Guzzi G, Grandi M, Cattaneo C, Calza S, Minoia C, Ronchi A, Gatti A, Severi G. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2006 Mar; 27(1):42-5.

  18. Mercury in human brain, blood, muscle and toenails in relation to exposure: an autopsy study. Björkman L, Lundekvam BF, Laegreid T, Bertelsen BI, Morild I, Lilleng P, Lind B, Palm B, Vahter M. Environ Health. 2007 Oct 11; 6():30.

  19. What you need to know about mercury in fish and shellfish. 2004 Retrieved from

  20. The contribution of lead-contaminated house dust and residential soil to children's blood lead levels. A pooled analysis of 12 epidemiologic studies. Lanphear BP, Matte TD, Rogers J, Clickner RP, Dietz B, Bornschein RL, Succop P, Mahaffey KR, Dixon S, Galke W, Rabinowitz M, Farfel M, Rohde C, Schwartz J, Ashley P, Jacobs DE. Environ Res. 1998 Oct; 79(1):51-68

  21. Flora SJS, Flora GJS, Saxena G. Environmental occurrence, health effects and management of lead poisoning. In: Cascas SB, Sordo J, editors. Lead: Chemistry, Analytical Aspects, Environmental Impacts and Health Effects. Netherlands: Elsevier Publication; 2006. pp. 158–228

  22. Pacyna JM. Monitoring and assessment of metal contaminants in the air. In: Chang LW, Magos L, Suzuli T, editors. Toxicology of Metals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1996. pp. 9–28.

  23. Symptoms and differential diagnosis of patients fearing mercury toxicity from amalgam fillings. Stenman S, Grans L. Scand J Work Environ Health. 1997; 23 Suppl 3():59-63.

  24. Mutter J. Is dental amalgam safe for humans? The opinion of the scientific committee of the European Commission. Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology (London, England). 2011;6:2. doi:10.1186/1745-6673-6-2.

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