Heavy metal toxicity is an important health concern that can often be overlooked. Heavy metals, such as lead, mercury, and arsenic, can cause a wide range of health issues, including poor digestive health and autoimmune conditions. To identify whether you have heavy metal toxicity, it's important to run functional medicine lab tests. The hair tissue test is one of the most reliable and accurate ways to test for heavy metals. In this blog post, we will discuss the dangers of heavy metal toxicity, how it can lead to poor digestive health and autoimmune conditions, and how to test for heavy metals.
Symptoms of Heavy Metal Exposure
If you are struggling with gut health, it might be worth considering heavy metal exposure as a root cause, as symptoms of heavy metal toxicity can be very similar to some of the systematic gut health symptoms you may be facing.
Below are common symptoms of heavy metal exposure:
- Digestive problems (bloating, change in bowel habits, indigestion)
- Hormonal issues (amenorrhea, irregular cycles, sex hormone imbalances)
- Nervous system imbalances (childhood behavioral disorders, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and tics)
Most of these symptoms can occur for many different reasons, as a result of different imbalances in the body, and do not always seem to be directly tied to the gut, however, the gut can impact overall bodily function due to the interconnectivity of the body. This is why it is important to run functional medicine lab tests and have a general understanding of how heavy metals impact the gut and the consequent symptoms.
How Heavy Metals Impact the Gut
- Gut irritation: Heavy metals can irritate the gut lining, leading to inflammation and potentially leaky gut syndrome.
- Inflammation: Inflammation caused by heavy metal exposure can lead to leaky gut.
- Systemic inflammation: Leaky gut syndrome can lead to systemic inflammation which can have a negative impact on overall health and wellbeing.
- Malabsorption: Exposure to heavy metals can also impair nutrient absorption, which further contributes to poor gut health.
It’s important to note that heavy metal toxicity can manifest in different ways, so it’s important to be mindful of any changes in your digestion and overall health that may indicate heavy metal exposure. Heavy metals are EVERYWHERE, in cosmetics, food preparation products, fish, environmental pollution and in our tap water, so it's not a potential root cause to be ignored.
How Heavy Metals Impact the Microbiome
- Lead and cadmium are two of the most toxic heavy metals that can significantly damage the microbiome, leading to an imbalance in gut bacteria.
- Exposure to heavy metals can lead to an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria, which can cause digestive issues, inflammation and systemic health problems.
- Studies have found that heavy metals can reduce the number of beneficial bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria.
- The presence of heavy metals can also damage the cell walls of our good bacteria, making them more vulnerable to attacks from pathogenic organisms.
- An imbalance in the gut microbiome can lead to decreased nutrient absorption, increased food sensitivities, and a weakened immune system.
By understanding the potential dangers of heavy metal toxicity, and how it affects the gut microbiome, you can take steps to protect yourself from its effects.
How Heavy Metals Lead to Autoimmune Conditions
Our immune system is like an army, and heavy metals can trigger a specific immune response that we'll call "Soldier-M". When Soldier-M is activated, it calls in a team of T-cells, kind of like police dogs, to find and attack the heavy metal.
Before the T-cells are sent on their mission, they're trained to only attack the heavy metal and leave the rest of our body alone. However, heavy metal exposure can prevent these T-cells from being properly trained, so they end up attacking our own body instead of just the heavy metal. It's like the police dogs attacking innocent people instead of just the intended culprit.
Interestingly, research shows that genetics play a role in whether heavy metal exposure leads to autoimmunity or not. Some people are naturally predisposed to developing autoimmune diseases from heavy metal exposure, while others are more resistant. Does this mean that genetics dictate your destiny? Of course not, genetics load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger!
But that's not all - heavy metal exposure can also cause inflammation, which can contribute to other autoimmune conditions. And because a large part of our immune system is located in our gut, heavy metal exposure can also disrupt our gut flora and trigger autoimmune disease in a similar way as described above. So, it's important to be aware of heavy metal exposure and take steps to protect ourselves!
Heavy metals have been linked to two main types of autoimmune diseases that affect the large intestine: Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. If you or a family member has either of these conditions, it's crucial to check for heavy metal accumulation as it may be hindering your gut healing process.
Testing For Heavy Metals
Heavy metals in the body are best tested through a functional medicine hair analysis test, which shows heavy metal exposure alongside other mineral levels to get a comprehensive look at your health and toxicity build-up. This testing method is simple, accurate, and non-invasive.
Blood tests can look at current circulating levels of heavy metals, but it is the stored and long-term exposure that is more important in autoimmune disease. For this reason, blood tests provide less information than other tests, such as the hair tissue test.
Healing The Gut
Healing the gut isn't an overnight fix and, if the issues stem from heavy metals, you will need to remove the sources of the heavy metals, detox the body via a functional medicine detox such as the 21 Day Reset, and then begin the process of healing your gut.
- Remove Heavy Metals: One of the key steps to healing your gut from heavy metal exposure is to remove the heavy metals from your body.
- Diet: It is also important to consider what you are eating and drinking when healing your gut from heavy metal exposure. This means avoiding foods that may have been exposed to heavy metals, such as farmed fish, shellfish, and certain fruits and vegetables.
- Supplements: An integrative health practitioner will be able to help you find effective supplementation based on the specific results from your functional medicine lab test.
- Stress Management: Stress has been linked to poor gut health, so it is important to manage your stress levels when healing your gut from heavy metal exposure. Regular exercise, relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation, and getting enough sleep are all important for managing stress levels and helping to heal your gut. We have a wide range of meditations in our membership platform which you can access for free by signing up to the 7 Day Free Trial. These are brilliant ways to maintain gut health after completing a gut protocol, such as the GI Protocol.
Healing your gut from heavy metal exposure is possible but it takes time and effort. Working with a trusted practitioner and being mindful of your environment and diet are important steps in removing heavy metals from the body and healing your gut.
Breton J, et al. Does oral exposure to cadmium and lead mediate susceptibility to colitis? The dark-and-bright sides of heavy metals in gut ecology. Sci Rep. 2016. 6:19200.
Pollard MK, Hultman P and Kono DH. Toxicology of autoimmune disease. Chem Res Toxicol. 2010. 23(3):455-66.