The Metal and The Damage Done: Arsenic

No doubt you’ve heard of the movie Arsenic and Old Lace where the dashing Cary Grant plays a character, who discovers that his delusional elderly aunts have been poisoning old lonely bachelors with Arsenic to put them out of their misery!

Clearly, Arsenic in the wrong hands can be used as a deadly poison! But did you know that it’s one of four heavy metals that we ingest, inhale or otherwise are exposed to every day? Scary huh? The other three are Cadmium, Lead and Mercury. I call them the Fearsome Four. When you learn just how much damage they can do to our bodies and our health, you will understand why!

First off, it helps to know why they’re called heavy metals. A metal is considered “heavy” if its gravity is at least 5 times heavier than water. The density of heavy metals increases the probability that they will end up in soil and water, which is why we’re so readily exposed to them. Several factors determine a person’s susceptibility to heavy metal toxicity. Three of the biggest include diet, exposure to pollution and genetic make-up. Although a large percent of metals are excreted from the body through sweat, urine, and the bowels, whatever your body can’t eliminate gets socked away in places that aren’t vital to maintaining life –mainly body fat, teeth, and bones. When heavy metals build up faster than the body can eliminate them you have what’s known as “bioaccumulation”.

There are two types of Arsenic –organic and inorganic. The former occurs naturally in the earth and small amounts are actually necessary for proper bodily function. The latter is a known carcinogen released into the air by burning fuels and coal as well as through widespread use of weed killers and pesticides. The wood industry is one of the biggest contributors to arsenic pollution and has used arsenic to preserve wood since the 1940s. An estimated 90% of wooden play structures, decks and picnic tables are made from arsenic-laced wood. Adults and children can absorb arsenic simply by touching wood treated with it. Other sources of arsenic exposure include herbicides and many foods, including meat, poultry and even wine (arsenic-containing pesticides are often sprayed on wine grapes).

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Groups Skin Deep cosmetics database identified Arsenic as a contaminant in about 641 beauty products –approximately 2.5% of all the products listed in the database.

The average person’s body contains about 10 to 20 mg of Arsenic. The good news is that the body efficiently rids itself of this metal. The bad news is that chronic exposure to low levels of arsenic can create problems for all your organ systems and is strongly linked to lung and skin cancer.

To lower your exposure to Arsenic:

  • Eat organic, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid insecticides and weed-killers (if you have to spray avoid products containing lead arsenate)
  • Keep children away from wood treated with chemicals
  • Avoid eating food directly off picnic tables or food that has come in direct contact with picnic tables Consider replacing treated wood in and around your home with newer, non-toxic alternatives like bamboo.

And as an added measure for protection, add more Vitamin C to your diet.

Heavy Metal Overload: The Key to Your Unexplained Symptoms?

Have you ever experienced depression, irritability, mood swings, tremors, autoimmune diseases, chronic infections, felt sluggish, or lost in a state of brain fog? Maybe you sought the opinion or help of a medical professional or health care practitioner in diagnosing or treating troublesome symptoms like temporary memory loss, fatigue, insomnia, joint pain, or headaches, only to have them tell you they can’t find anything wrong with you, or your blood work up, that points to a treatable diagnosis?

Even worse, when you get a diagnosis and are treated for it but the symptoms persist! This can often happen because symptoms like these are consistent with a variety of different health problems or conditions –including clinical depression, Lyme Disease, chronic fatigue, even cancer –which makes them hard to pin down.

If you or someone you know has had an experience like this, you may be suffering the effects of heavy metal toxicity. The most abundant and potentially deadly heavy metals in the environment are lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, which separately and collectively can damage your nervous, immune, and reproductive systems.

These metals are naturally occurring in soil, present in herbicides and pesticides, and are released into the air via wood-burning stoves, car exhaust, fuel additives like MTBE, and even cigarette smoke. What makes them heavy is their gravity relative to that of water. The scary part is that these metals enter into your body on a daily basis, through your lungs, digestive tract, and skin, and can affect just about anyone regardless of profession or economic status.

Like it or not, if you eat fish, inhale second-hand smoke, drink water, or simply breathe the air, there’s a good chance you’re getting exposed to them and probably more often than you realize.

Chronic exposure to low levels of heavy metals don’t cause health problems right away, so unless you have a an acute case of something like Mercury poisoning   –which manifests distinct symptoms like impairment of peripheral vision, tingling in the hands and feet, lack of coordination, muscle weakness, and impairment of speech, hearing, and walking– then you could be building up exposure over a long period of time which can lead to problems down the road.

When confronted with the symptoms of metal toxicity, most physicians don’t think to look at heavy metals as the underlying cause of the ailment or the disease that may have resulted from it. To confound matters, sensitivity can vary, with some people developing symptoms at lower levels of exposure than others.

The only effective way to remove metals from the body is through a process of either oral or intravenous chelation. This is the natural detoxification process whereby specific organic molecules (usually amino acids) “grab” onto the metal molecules in your body to form complex ring-like structures called chelates that move the metals out. Many amino acids like NAC (N-acetyl Cysteine) and ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid), and liver supporting herbs like Silymarin (Milk Thistle), as well as sulfur compounds, are chelating agents that help the body excrete metals.

Two Things You Can Do Right Now to Reduce or Eliminate Your Exposure to Common Toxins in Skin Care Products

The two most important things you can do right now to avoid or minimize your risk of toxicity are:

1) Read and understand the ingredient labels on the products you currently use, or before you buy a new product

2) Throw away any products you have that contain toxic ingredients and replace them with authentic natural personal care products

Today I want to talk to you a little about the first one because learning to read and really understand labels and ingredient panels is critical to your ability to select products that are not just safe but effective too.

By law, manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order of their concentration. That’s why creams and lotions usually have water (or Aqua) listed as the first ingredient. However, manufacturers are not required to indicate how much of each ingredient is used, so if a product contains a lot of ingredients there is simply no way to know how much of each is used. That’s where knowing the difference between natural and synthetic ingredients comes in handy.

Many companies combine natural ingredients with synthetic ones and call them “natural,” to take advantage of the latest marketing trends. Even organic ingredients are sometimes combined with ingredients like mineral oil, petrolatum, propylene glycol (the main ingredient in anti-freeze), and parabens –to name a few. It’s a practice that’s called “Green Washing.” Be especially aware of lotions, moisturizers, or other products whose water content is high, that claim to be 100% organic since lotions are usually made up of around 70% or more water, there is no such thing as a lotion that is totally organic. In that case you should look to see how much of the non-water content is natural and/or organic to get an idea of how safe it is.

As you become more comfortable and knowledgeable with deciphering labels, your focus should be on learning to identify and avoid or eliminate your exposure to ingredients that have either been widely identified as risky or just appear to be iffy. You can learn more about this at the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics web site.

You can also look up specific products or companies on the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep web site where you’ll find an extensive database that includes several thousand well known and lesser-known body care and cosmetic products. The Skin Deep database is the first attempt of its kind to catalog the ingredients in personal care products – the majority of which have never been tested for safety and whose impact on our health are virtually unknown.