Heavy Metal Detoxification
Heavy metals with adverse health effects in human metabolism (including lead, cadmium, and mercury) present obvious concerns due to their persistence in the environment and documented potential for serious health consequences (ATSDR 2000; ATSDR 2004; ATSDR 2007a; ATSDR 2007b; ATSDR 2008a; ATSDR 2008b; ATSDR 2011).
Acute heavy metal intoxications may damage central nervous function, the cardiovascular and gastrointestinal (GI) systems, lungs, kidneys, liver, endocrine glands, and bones (Jang 2011; Adal 2013). Chronic heavy metal exposure has been implicated in several degenerative diseases of these same systems and may increase the risk of some cancers (Galanis 2009; Wu 2012).
Heavy metals are ubiquitous in the environment (Pohl 2011). Humans risk overexposure from environmental concentrations that occur naturally (eg, arsenic-rich mineral deposits) or human activities (eg, lead or mercury release as a result of industrial pollution) (Orloff 2009; Hutton 1986).
It is not possible to completely avoid exposure to toxic metals (Singh 2011). Even people who are not occupationally exposed carry certain metals in their body as a result of exposure from other sources, such as food, beverages, or air (Washam 2011; Satarug 2010). It is, however, possible to reduce metal toxicity risk through lifestyle choices that diminish the probability of harmful heavy metal uptake, such as dietary measures that may promote the safe metabolism or excretion of ingested heavy metals (Peraza 1998).
This protocol will discuss the general features of heavy metal toxicity, with emphasis on the three metals that present the highest risk for environmental exposure and are most frequently implicated in acute toxicities: lead, mercury, and cadmium, as well as the toxic metalloid arsenic. We will also present strategies for minimizing the risk of toxicity.