Did you know your body can naturally scavenge toxic substances? It’s smarter than you realize…
As often as metal exposure seems to occur, when we breathe, eat or touch things, a healthy individual will rarely get near toxic levels. Nonetheless, ALL metals (including zinc, copper, nickel, iron, etc.) can cause toxicity if consumed in extremely high amounts. It is important to remember WHAT GOES IN, OFTEN GOES OUT. Various factors affect the absorption and retention of heavy metals thus a food’s heavy metal content will not necessarily be the amount retained in your body. Through proper diet, your body has natural ways of eliminating and/or reducing the toxic effects of heavy metals either while consuming them or after absorption, if any.
Metal exposure is inevitable. Fortunately, there are nutrients in common foods which you can stock up on in order to increase protection:
- Vitamin A – found primarily in sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, red peppers, apricots – has antioxidant activity
- Vitamin C – found primarily in citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc.), red peppers, broccoli, strawberries – has antioxidant activity
- Vitamin E – found primarily in sunflower seeds/oil, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts – has antioxidant activity
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid – formed by the body, but found in nutritional yeast, spinach, broccoli and many meats – has antioxidant activity
- Glutathione – formed by the body with amino acids (cysteine, glycine, glutamine) from dietary protein – has antioxidant activity; combines with many toxic substances and converts them into harmless forms that are then excreted from the body
- Lactoferrin – found in dairy milk – has antioxidant activity
- Zinc – found primarily in beef, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, quinoa – provides antioxidant activity
- Selenium – found primarily in seafood (tuna, shrimp, salmon, sardines), poultry, brown rice and brazilnuts – provides antioxidant activity
- Metallothionein – formed in the body in the presence of cysteine and zinc – binds various metals and has been shown to protect especially against cadmium toxicity (1).
Additionally, certain plants, most notably in the micro-algae family have been studied as heavy-metal “scavengers” though most research has shown these properties to occur within the plant itself, in test-tubes, or in animal studies. Chlorella and spirulina are popular micro-algae purported and sold by many natural product companies for their metal-binding capabilities, though studies on the effects in humans remain limited.
The health benefits of a healthy plant-based diet far outweighs most consequences. Studies show vegans live longer and vegetarians are healthier. Plant-based diets have been increasingly supported by health professionals and backed by scientific studies. Supplying the body with proper nutrients from a balanced diet (rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein) will help the body equip itself against the burden of heavy metals. Needless to say, immediate medical attention should be sought should an actual toxicity exist.
1. Klaassen CD, Liu J, Chouhuri S. Metallothionein: An intracellular protein to protect against cadmium toxicity. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol. 1999. 39: 267–94.