Heavy metal poisoning - vital for autistic kids - think of when all else fails!

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Heavy metals (mercury, lead, cadmium, aluminium, arsenic, nickel) are a problem because bio-chemically they look very similar to essential trace elements. This means that they get incorporated into biological enzyme systems which then do not work as they should and therefore render those enzyme systems less efficient or malfunctioning. This means that enzyme systems go slow. If this affects a single organ it will cause organ failures, if it affects all cells it can present with a chronic fatigue syndrome and in the longer term it has the effect of accelerating the normal aging process.

Different metals have affinities for different parts of the body so for example, mercury will concentrate in the brain, (and is associated with Alzheimer's disease), in the heart (to cause cardiac dysrhythmias), in the bone (osteoporosis) and in the kidney (resulting in kidney failure).

  • Nickel appears to bio concentrate in hormone sensitive tissues in women and we see high levels in the breast and ovaries - nickel is also a known carcinogen and is a likely cause of breast and ovarian cancer.
  • Aluminium concentrates in the brain and is associated with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Lead also concentrates in the brain and is known to reduce intelligence in children. It is likely that all these metals bio-concentrate in bone and therefore could be a risk for osteoporosis.

All these heavy metals are known carcinogens and mutagens (cause birth defects) - this is because they get stuck in DNA and upset the reading of the genetic code.

The key to diagnosis is history - unless you think of it you won't find out! The problem with any poisoning is that the symptoms are usually non-specific - you have to suspect a problem, then test for it. In clinical UK practice the single most important heavy metal poisoning comes from mercury fillings, mercury preservatives in vaccinations and, increasingly, mercury in fish.

The symptoms and treatment of heavy metal poisoning is the same as for any chemical poisoning - see Chemical poisoning - general principles of diagnosis and treatment

Mercury (Hg)

The major source of Hg is from "silver" fillings - 50% of dental amalgam is Hg which is constantly released from the day they are put in. Dental amalgam is actually a liquid, albeit a very stiff one, and mercury evaporates from the surface. Watch a dramatic video, Smoking Mercury, demonstrating the level of release of vapours from mercury fillings.

Mercury has deleterious effects on the immune system, renal, reproductive, CNS, heart, oral and gut bacteria.

In children most Hg comes from vaccinations and fillings. Lyn Redwood calculated that her autistic son received 187.5mcg of mercury (thiomersal) during his first 6 months of life, largely from DTP and HIB vaccinations. This is 100 fold higher than "safe" limits for adults. In a study of autistic children (unpublished) Hg chelation was found to be the most effective treatment.

Amalgam is a solution, 8 amalgams will release 120 mcg Hg daily, of which 10 mcg is absorbed, compared to 2.6 mcg from other sources. Adjacent gold fillings will increase Hg release 10 fold. Hg combines with sulphur amino acids, bio-accumulates and is poorly excreted, so urine and blood levels are poor indicators of Hg status. Furthermore, the poor excreters will accumulate Hg more readily and so a low hair or sweat reading may be a bad sign! The choroid plexus acts as a sink for Hg and Hg is selectively concentrated in the medial basal nucleus, amygdala and hippocampus - areas of the brain responsible for memory, suggesting Hg may be a factor in Alzheimer's disease. Hg fillings have been banned in Germany, California, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and many other countries.

Hg toxicity is enhanced by low levels of sulphur, vitamins A C and E, thiamine. Fasting increases Hg absorption. Calcium inhibits absorption.

All metal toxicities are reduced by zinc (Zn), calcium (Ca), iron (Fe) and vit D.

Symptoms of Hg Toxicity

  • Brain - cognitive dysfunction, multiple sclerosis, psychological symptoms, tremor, polyneuropathy, paresthesia, emotional lability, personality change, weakness, blurred vision, dysarthria, unsteady gait.
  • Immune - autoimmunity, food allergies, immune suppression,
  • Kidney failure
  • Infertility - polycystic ovaries
  • Antibiotic resistant infections
  • Fatigue and insomnia
  • Cardiac abnormalities - especially dysrhythmias
  • Gut dysbiosis and "candida" problems

Testing for a mercury problem (toxicity or allergy)

  • The best test for total load is a urine provocation test (either done with Kelmer agent or zinc) - Mercury - Kelmer test. This measures mercury load. Mercury levels in the urine before and after chelation are then compared. Increased excretion of Hg by 150% is considered normal, but more than this indicates a Hg load.
  • Kelmer (DMSA) also increases the excretion of lead, arsenic, copper and zinc.
  • Hair Mineral Analysis may give a clue but even people with toxicity can produce normal results. This is because mercury gets stuck in tissues and is not deposited in the hair or excreted in sweat or urine unless kicked out by chelating agents or trace minerals. Lower than expected levels of heavy metals can indicate toxicity!

If you wish to see if the immune system is "allergic" to mercury, then I recommend doing the Lymphocyte sensitivity to metals and chemicals to test for sensitivity to mercury.

Aluminium (Al)

This is becoming an increasing problem since aluminium is now being used in vaccinations instead of mercury. Many antacids contain aluminium (although some are being phased out), furthermore aluminium foil, aluminium cookware and aluminium used in tin cans are all possible sources of toxicity.

Cadmium (Cd)

The major source is from smoking, but also Cd is in water and air from our polluted environment.

High cadmium causes abnormal calcium metabolism with decalcification and abnormal bone modelling. Low iron increases toxicity of cadmium and lead, causing impaired cognitive function. Cd also replaces zinc in metallothionine (the mechanism by which zinc is absorbed from the gut).

Again, sensitivity to cadmium can be ascertained by lymphocyte sensitivity testing - see link above.

Lead (Pb)

The main source was leaded fuel, but levels have been falling since lead free petrol. Lead water pipes are a significant source for some. Paints used to contain lead so beware old painted furniture etc. Lead and zinc compete at tissue sites so zinc and copper are protective against lead poisoning.

Protection against heavy metal poisoning

Protection occurs in the following ways:

  1. Competition for enzyme sites - trace elements in abundance help prevent heavy metals binding to enzyme sites. Because we live in a polluted world and we all have a certain load of toxic metals, this increases the imperative for us all to be taking micronutrient supplements - see Nutritional Supplements
  2. A major problem is the upper fermenting gut which may increase absorption of heavy metals. A fermenting gut may produce hydrogen sulphide which converts insoluble inorganic metals into soluble and absorbable organic metals. A paleo ketogenic diet which is of low glycaemic index reduces the risk of fermenting gut - see Ketogenic diet - the practical details. Please see also My book The PK Cookbook - Go Paleo-ketogenic and get the best of both worlds.
  3. Take natural chelating agents such as vitamin C 2-4 grams daily and iodine such as Lugol's iodine 1-3mgs (iodine binds to heavy metals to allow their excretion) - see Iodine - what is the correct daily dose?.
  4. Antioxidants are also protective against the damage caused by heavy metals.

Treatment of Metal Toxicity

  • Identify and remove the source. In UK the major toxic mineral problem is mercury from fillings and vaccinations. Before chelation is undertaken, the source of the Hg should be removed. This means getting fillings removed and this must be done in conjunction with a trained dentist - the Society for mercury free dentistry provide a list of its members. Hg is released during extraction and scavenging techniques are ideal.
  • Put in place the above interventions to protect against heavy metal poisoning as above ie paleo ketogenic diet and nutritional supplements.
  • Take extra trace elements such as zinc (for lead, cadmium, nickel, thallium) maximum 50mgs daily and/or selenium (mercury, aluminium) maximum 500mcgms daily combined with a sulphur containing amino acid such as glutathione 250-500mgs daily and/or methionine 250-500mgs daily.
  • Take vitamin C to bowel tolerance -
  • Take 10-15mgs of iodine as Lugol's iodine or Iodoral
  • COnsider Chelation. The idea of chelation is to use a substance which forms a metal complex (often a ring compound) which is readily excreted. In practice two agents are commonly used, namely DMSA and DMPS, along with nutritional therapies. They are not completely selective for heavy metals - they will bind with many metals, so at the time of chelation do not use high dose micronutrient supplements! Minerals should be used as a rescue package following chelation therapy.
    • Trial of chelating agents[1]: This trial initially involved 191 polysymptomatic patients, of which 179 patients (age range 18-82) completed the study - 106 women 73 men. In the trial 4 agents were tested for efficacy in promoting Hg excretion:
      • DL- 2-3-dimercapto-succinic acid magnesium salt (DMSA) 30mg/kg
      • 2,3,dimercapto-1-propane-sulphonic acid sodium salt (DMPS) 10mg/kg
      • N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) 30mg/kg (care in patients with severe respiratory insufficiency or asthma)
      • Potassium citrate 5 grams (care in patients with renal or adrenal insufficiency, or dehydration) three time daily
Peak excretion of Hg occurred at 3 hours. It was found that:
  • Potassium citrate increased the efficacy of DMPS and NAC but not DMSA
  • Sweat Hg also increased with chelation proportionate to the total body load
There were no hypersensitivity reactions reported, in this trial, patients reported mild GI discomfort, slight fatigue, mild mental fuzziness, slight headache, slight diuresis but no worse.
Other possible chelating agents - hyaluronic acid, chlorella, sulphur, garlic and MSM, chitin, cilantro.
Oral DMSA is available in 250mg capsules from Rainbow Pharmaceuticals and Health Pty ltd, Unit 1, 13 Elizabeth St, Melbourne-Doncaster East,Victoria 3109, Australia. Tel 613 9848 7890 Fax 613 9848 7839. E-mail graemew@bigpond.net.au Requires a doctor's prescription.

Related Tests

Related Articles

External links

  • Smoking Mercury This dramatic video shows the level of release of vapours from mercury fillings.


  1. Mercury from dental amalgam fillings: studies on oral chelating agents for assessing and reducing mercury burdens in humans. Hibberd AR, Howard M.A, and Hunnisett A.G.; Journal of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (1998) 8, 219-231.

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