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canstockphoto2606280Toxic metals in one’s system can lead to all kinds of health issues, ranging from autistic traits in children, up to full-blown neurological and cardiovascular disease in adults.  Many of my patients have high levels of heavy metals, especially mercury and lead.  So how does one find out if they have toxic levels of metals ?  There are a couple of ways of testing for heavy metals:

Hair analysis is one option.  I mentioned it yesterday on my post about tests that I like when I’m evaluating kids with autism.  I use hair testing on really little kids, say between 2 and 4 ish years of age.  It is good in that it’s non-invasive (other than leaving a really short spot in the back of their hair), not painful for the child, and it does provide information not only about toxic metals, but about minerals too.  My problem with hair testing, though, is that I would always hear presenters talking about it at autism conferences – if there was very little mercury showing up, they’d say “oooooh, look this child can’t excrete mercury, he must be toxic”.  Then if there were high levels of mercury, they’d say “oooooh look at all that mercury being excreted, he’s definitely toxic”.  This is not meant as a criticism of those doctors, they are the best in the field, it’s just a limitation of the test, that opposing results can mean the same thing.  Being practical though, I don’t like a test where completely opposite results can be interpreted as the same result.  That seems a bit subjective which is not what lab testing is supposed to be.

My favorite test is the provoked urine test.  That means that the person takes a dose of a chelator (i.e. a substance that helps to prod the metals out of the tissues so that they can be filtered by the kidneys and therefore show up and be measured in the urine.  I typically use oral DMSA, and it is dosed according to body weight, so it still can be safely used by children.  Some facilities will do a provocation with intravenous DMSA and/ or EDTA, but I haven’t found that to be necessary even with adults.  Oral DMSA is given as a single dose in the morning and all urine is collected for six hours.  A small sample of that collection is then sent in to the lab, where levels of various metals will be tested. To be fair, the amount that “dumps” with the provocation does not tell exactly how much is left in the body, but it’s a pretty good reflection.  Certainly, I have seen levels come down over time with treatment, and using the same provocation, so I know there is a correlation between total body stores and how much is excreted post-provocation.

The test that is used the most in mainstream medicine but is perhaps the least accurate in chronic conditions is a routine blood test.  Heavy metals only stay in the blood for a few weeks, then they’re taken up into the tissues.  Therefore unless it is an acute/ recent exposure, blood levels are not a good reflection of total body load.

I think heavy metal testing is important to consider in any chronic health issue.  I’ve had a Parkinson’s patient reduce their tremors significantly after detoxing lead from their system.  In Germany, chelation is routinely undertaken in cases of cardiovascular disease.  And I’ve seen kids with autism experience significant improvements in cognition, emotional status and behavior after detoxing mercury.  Certainly in any case of chronic arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme disease, looking at toxic metals is key.

There is a lot that can be done for high levels of heavy metals, from the most gentle detox to full-blown chelation protocols.  Testing to see what levels look like is the starting point.