Did you know that the metals may be ingested unknowingly such as with an event in the 1970s when cobalt was added to the beer on tap and resulted in “beer drinker’s cardiomyopathy” in Quebec and Minnesota? According to the National Poisoning Data System (NPDS), 8884 exposures to metals occurred in a year in the United States, with lead being the most frequently reported. They estimated that 4 million homes in the US have children exposed to lead.
Metals occur naturally in the environment - in the air, the soil, and the water - and can be absorbed by plants and by cattle and fish, which then can be consumed by humans. Metals found in work environments can also be inhaled, or absorbed through skin contact.
Certain metals are necessary in small quantities for human body functioning such as iron, copper and zinc. However, too much of certain metals, such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and thallium, can lead to toxicity and organ damage. Some supplements and medications can also lead to toxicity such as overconsumption of iron tablets or blood transfusions, and the occasional use of arsenic trioxide for leukemia.
Symptoms that may occur with exposure to toxic metals include gut pain, fatigue, confusion, chills, dehydration, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and weakness.
Testing for exposure to metals can use blood, urine, saliva, or hair samples for analysis. A variety of testing panels are available through Rupa Health.
Some examples from this focus include:
Along with metals testing, a physical examination, a health history with diet and lifestyle practices, and an environmental history are helpful to determine potential location and type of exposure (ingestion, absorption, inhalation).
With identification of the metal causing toxicity, best treatment is to remove the source where possible. Treatment plans can include: