Heavy metal intoxication

Metal toxicity or metal poisoning is the toxic effect of certain metals in certain forms and doses on life. Moreover, metal intoxication refers to the accumulation of heavy metals, in toxic amounts, in the soft tissues of the body.

Examples of heavy metals are the following:

  • Aluminum
  • Antimony
  • Arsenic
  • Barium
  • Bismuth
  • Cadmium
  • Chromium
  • Cobalt
  • Copper
  • Gold
  • Iron
  • Lead
  • Lithium
  • Manganese
  • Mercury
  • Nickel
  • Phosphorous
  • Platinum
  • Selenium
  • Silver
  • Thallium
  • Tin
  • Zinc

Many of the heavy metals, such as zinc, copper, chromium, iron and manganese, are essential to body function in very small amounts, but if they accumulate in the body in great amounts serious damage may occur.

How do we get intoxicated with heavy metals?

There are multiple factors and ways that lead to metal poisoning such as: industrial exposure, air pollution, water pollution, foods, medicines, improperly coated food containers, ingestion of lead-based paints, ingestion of insecticides, herbicides, and pesticides.

What are the first symptoms of metal poisoning?

Well, for example, in case of cadmium overexposure, it may cause fatigue, headaches, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and loss of lung function. Chromium intoxication may cause diarrhea, lung and respiratory tract cancer as well as kidney diseases. In case of arsenic poisoning – very used in the manufacture of pesticides, the symptoms include: headaches, fever, chills, drowsiness, confusion, seizures and may cause even brain damage. Lead production workers, battery plant workers, welders and solders may be overexposed to lead if proper precautions are not taken. Lead is stored in the bone but may affect any organ system. The symptoms of intoxication may include: headaches, vomiting, abdominal pain, lack of appetite (anorexia), constipation, slurred speech (dysarthria), changes in kidney function, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, irritability, altered consciousness, fatigue.

If intoxicated with mercury, the symptoms that may occur are: include fatigue, depression, sluggishness (lethargy), irritability, and headaches. Mercury can affect the lungs, kidneys, brain, and/or skin. Respiratory symptoms associated with inhalation to mercury vapors include coughing, breathlessness (dyspnea), tightness or burning pain in the chest, and/or respiratory distress. There may be behavioral and neurological changes associated with overexposure to mercury poisoning, such as excitability and quick-tempered behavior, lack of concentration, and loss of memory. Shock and permanent brain damage may also be result from mercury poisoning.

If you have any suspicion of metal intoxication, it is recommended to contact your healthcare provider because certain laboratory tests are needed to confirm the diagnostic and it is also very important to start as soon as possible a treatment for metal intoxication.

What options do we have concerning the treatment?

The first thing we have to do is terminate the exposure to the metal. Then it is important to use chelating agents that cause the toxic element to bind with the chelator agent and be excreted in the urine. One of the best known chelating agent is DMSA (dimercaptosuccinic acid). Treatment with DMSA dates back to the 1950s when it was used as an antidote to mercury poisoning and a lor of studies have proven since then, the great efficiency of DMSA in heavy metal intoxication. It is the only chelating agent other than cilantro and d-penicillamine that penetrates brain cells. DMSA removes mercury both via the kidneys and via the bile.

Some other chelating agents that can be administered are: Zeolite and EDTA or DMPS – effective in accelerating metal excretion without causing severe adverse health effects in acute and chronic intoxication by organic and inorganic mercury, bismuth, arsenic, and chronic lead poisoning.





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