Poisonous metals are part of our environment. The degree of contagion is so severe that its presence is not questioned, but rather how much of it exists. Acute toxins like lead and mercury manifest in obvious signs of poisoning, but effects from long-term exposure are more inconspicuous. Constant exposure brings about a variety of disturbances from psychological to violent behavior, memory lapses, depression (therapy might be necessary), and irritability, to physical, such as fatigue, organ dysfunctions, migraines, and infections.
Unfortunately, the problem remains chronic, despite the multitude of efforts being made to impede the circulation of toxins. Every year, thousands of these toxins and harmful wastes are discarded. We even still face the repercussions of industrial contamination that have occurred decades ago. There are namely two worst culprits of this age-old crisis—lead and mercury.
Statistically, an estimated 64 million households in the US have lead paint, a majority of which has been revealed as “very perilous” by the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. EPA also estimates that lead poisoning affects 1,700,000 kids in the country. Children with a significant amount of lead in their system manifest lower IQ scores, reading disabilities, aggressive behavior, and short attention spans.
Herbert Needleman, M.D., from the Psychiatry and Pediatrics Dept. of the University of Pittsburgh, established from his study that girls with raised lead levels in their system have a tendency to be dependent, will have poor communication skills, and to “display an unbending and unsuitable method to doing tasks,” while boys had troubles with simple directions and commands.
These effects of lead toxicity during childhood may also follow individuals into their adult life. A research done by Stokes and his group discerned that a total of 281 young people who had previously been visible to lead have shown adverse neurobehavioral effects even after 20 years from initial exposure. The primary source of this problem is lead-based paint, which contains fifty percent lead. Other sources that might be overlooked are water pipes, pesticides, factory emissions, and cosmetics.
A study conducted by Maryse Bouchard, Ph.D. and collaborators, found out that, “higher blood lead was associated with increased odds of major depression and panic disorder. Exposure to lead at levels generally considered safe could result in adverse mental health outcomes.”
Some people are more vulnerable to heavy metal toxicity than others, as everyone possesses a different detoxification system for battling heavy metal exposure. Lead is absorbable via the GI tract and can be inhaled because of its small particles. Continuing exposure might even lead to a considerable build-up in internal parts such as the brain, soft tissue, and bones. Lead that has decayed into the skeleton can remain there for many years, and can slowly be discharged through the bloodstream.
According to Dr. Gregg Jantz, Ph.D., “As a heavy metal, lead is toxic to the body in large doses.” He also added that “a depressed mental state can occur from lead poisoning.”
Mercury is an even more hazardous toxin. Unlike lead, mercury is not readily absorbed through the GI tract. However, mercury vapor is readily drawn in through the lungs, then immediately proceeds to the brain. Mercury centralizes in the nervous system, the liver, and the kidneys. It is a potent cellular toxin that decreases neurotransmitter production and disrupts the secretion of essential hormones.
“The significance of neuropsychiatric symptoms of mercury poisoning, such as insomnia, excessive dreaming, fatigue, weakness, memory loss, irritability, and feeling easily overwhelmed, may be easily missed by psychiatrists, as these symptoms can be easily confused with general neurotic or somatization problems,” Xuebing Huang, M.D. and co-authors wrote.
“Silver” amalgam fillings are proven to be the most significant supply of inorganic mercury exposure. Despite this, the FDA and the American Dental Association insists that these are safe. An increasing number of doctors and scientists still maintain that mercury from amalgam fillings present a substantial hazard. Other general sources of mercury include pesticides, laxatives, batteries, drinking water, and paint products.
The history of exposure, the symptoms, and the methods performed must be considered during diagnosis. While the “acceptable level” of lead in the bloodstream has decreased since fifteen years ago, blood tests may not reflect the levels of poisonous metals in an individual accurately. High blood levels are only observed in those with acute exposure, due to the toxins redistributing all over the body.
Hair can be a sign of lead exposure, as its growth is gradual and the toxins accumulate over a prolonged period. Therefore it may be a more appropriate measure of levels. Another valid method is a urine test with a chelating agent, which binds to metals within the body, and then are excreted in the urine along with the toxins.
Fortunately, effective treatments for heavy metal exposure exist. An FDA-approved chelating agent, DMSA, is useful for lead and mercury poisoning, while EDTA is beneficial for lead poisoning. Both of these agents also eliminate other poisonous metals aside from the current lead or mercury.
Toxic metals are found everywhere, and exposure may result in symptoms that mimic psychiatric “diseases,” leading to prescription drugs or unnecessary treatments. Biochemical, genetic, and nutritional aspects make certain people more vulnerable to the effects of toxins. Thus each must be assessed accordingly. Fortunately, the number of health care practitioners specializing in functional and orthomolecular medicine continues to grow, all of whom are familiar with the correct diagnosis and treatment involved in metal toxicity.