Testing for toxic metals is more important than ever before as our world continues to be burdened by increased environmental pollutants. These toxicants accumulate not only in the environment but also in our bodies via bioaccumulation, which is the buildup of toxins in the body.
Heavy metals can have both immediate and long-lasting toxic impacts on various bodily systems. These can include disruptions to the digestive and renal systems, complications with the nervous system, skin abnormalities, damage to the circulatory system, issues with the immune system, congenital anomalies, and potentially, cancer – and these are just some of the health complications that can arise from heavy metal toxicity.
In this article, we will be discussing Vibrant Wellness’s Heavy Metals Lab Test. We will cover the biomarkers it measures, when to suspect heavy metal toxicity, and how to use the test in practice.
What is The Heavy Metals Test?
Heavy metals are found naturally in the environment, but they can also be present in medicines, supplements, and foods, as well as in chemicals used in industry and farming. These sources can lead to contamination of the air, soil, and water, allowing heavy metals to enter the human body through various means.
Although it's normal to have some heavy metals in the body, an excessive amount can lead to heavy metal poisoning, causing organ damage, behavioral changes, and difficulties with thinking and memory. The symptoms and severity of heavy metal poisoning depend on the specific metal, the amount in the body, and the individual's age, with children and unborn babies at the highest risk for serious, long-term health problems.
The underlying mechanism of heavy metal toxicity involves a disruption of metabolic balance at the cellular level. When there is an excess of heavy metals in the body, they accumulate in various tissues, leading to interference in enzymatic, metabolic, and mitochondrial functions. The dysfunction and subsequent damage depend on the individual metal's characteristics and the route of exposure. This understanding is vital for early detection and appropriate management of heavy metal exposure, reinforcing the importance of the heavy metal test in maintaining overall health.
In the context of healthcare, the heavy metals test plays an essential role in early detection and timely intervention to improve health outcomes. The test's ability to identify potential toxic exposure is an important part of promoting individual and community health, especially in areas where environmental exposure to heavy metals may be of particular concern.
What Does The Heavy Metals Test Measure?
The Vibrant Wellness Heavy Metals Test measures levels of twenty toxic or potentially harmful metals in the body. Even though certain heavy metals are safe in small quantities, overexposure can result in metal poisoning. Without proper treatment, heavy metal poisoning can lead to serious consequences and sometimes death. The following tested metals are:
Aluminum is typically present in small, non-destructive amounts in air, water, and soil, without significant accumulation in most plants or animals. Humans are routinely exposed to aluminum through food, with increased exposure possible in dusty or industrial areas or through consumption of aluminum-rich substances. Despite common perceptions, the contribution of aluminum from cooking utensils to the overall bodily intake is negligible.
Exposure to antimony occurs primarily through food, drinking water, and air, with additional exposure possible from plastic water bottles. Increased levels of antimony exposure may occur near waste sites such as smelters, coal-fired plants, and garbage incinerators that process or release antimony.
Arsenic is a widespread, naturally occurring element used in wood preservation and pesticides. The element, undestroyable in the environment, can dissolve in water and accumulate in aquatic life, often in less harmful forms. Human exposure to elevated arsenic levels is predominantly through contaminated food and water, inhaling dust, or working in specific industries such as metal smelting or pesticide application.
Barium is utilized in several industries, including oil and gas, to make products like drilling muds, paint, and ceramics, as well as for medical purposes like X-rays. Human exposure to barium primarily occurs through ingestion of contaminated food and water or through occupational exposure in industries involving barium.
Beryllium is extensively utilized in the electronics, aerospace, defense, energy, medical, and dental industries. Exposure to beryllium generally occurs through inhalation of airborne particles, food consumption, or particularly in workplaces associated with beryllium manufacturing, fabrication, or reclamation. Additionally, individuals residing near these facilities or municipal waste sites, as well as cigarette smokers, may face increased exposure to beryllium.
Bismuth compounds are commonly found in certain medicinal products and cosmetics, which can cause health issues with prolonged exposure.
Cadmium is commonly encountered in the workplace, cigarette smoke, and certain foods, and it is known to cause damage to kidneys, lungs, and bones. It persists in the environment and can enter the soil, water, and air through industrial processes, mining, and the burning of coal and household wastes.
Cesium exposure, both stable and radioactive, can occur through inhalation, consumption of food or water containing cesium, or proximity to a source of radioactive cesium. Significant exposure sources include food and drinking water, workplaces dealing with natural cesium or its compounds, and residing near uncontrolled radioactive waste sites containing cesium.
Gadolinium is often used as a contrast agent in medical imaging procedures, leading to potential exposure in healthcare settings. Occupational exposure may happen in industries processing gadolinium or its compounds. Living in proximity to sites where gadolinium waste is disposed of may also contribute to exposure.
Exposure to lead can occur by ingesting food or water contaminated with it, particularly if sourced from lead-soldered pipes. Deteriorating lead-based paints in older homes can increase exposure risk. Occupations or hobbies involving lead or residing in areas with lead-contaminated soil can also contribute to exposure. Additionally, some healthcare products from other countries, alternative treatments, or folk remedies may contain lead.
Mercury exposure is frequently associated with the consumption of contaminated fish and seafood, and it can also be found in dental fillings.
Nickel exposure primarily occurs through ingestion of nickel-containing food. Direct skin contact with nickel-bearing soil, water, metals, coins, or jewelry also contributes to exposure. Ingesting water with trace amounts of nickel and inhaling air or smoking tobacco with nickel presence are other exposure pathways.
Palladium has applications in several industrial processes and dental restorations.
Platinum is often found in automotive catalysts and medical equipment, with exposure typically occurring in industrial settings.
Exposure to Tellurium often happens in industries involved in the production of metal alloys.
Exposure to thallium primarily occurs via the consumption of contaminated food and workplace air in industries using thallium. Additional exposure routes include cigarette smoking, residing near thallium-contaminated hazardous waste sites, and direct contact with or ingestion of thallium-contaminated soil, especially for children.
Exposure to thorium is ubiquitous due to its natural presence in air, water, and food. However, residing near or working in facilities that process uranium, phosphate, or tin ore or being in proximity to a radioactive waste disposal site or areas with high soil thorium levels can significantly increase exposure levels.
Individuals can be exposed to tin and its compounds through the consumption of food or drinks from tin-lined cans, particularly those not protected with lacquer. Additional exposure can occur through inhaling air or contacting dust containing tin in workplaces or near hazardous waste sites, as well as consuming seafood from coastal waters or using household products, such as certain plastics, that contain organotin compounds.
Tungsten exposure can occur in workplaces where tungsten-containing products are manufactured.
Uranium exposure primarily occurs through ingestion of food and water; root vegetables like potatoes and parsnips can have higher concentrations due to soil adherence. Drinking water may contain uranium, especially in areas with naturally occurring uranium in the local geology. Those living near uranium mining, processing, and manufacturing facilities or near areas where depleted uranium weapons are used may be exposed to higher levels.
Urine Creatinine is often measured alongside heavy metals testing to assess kidney function, which may be altered with increased amounts of heavy metals.
When to Consider The Heavy Metals Test
Healthcare providers should consider testing heavy metal exposure in patients presenting with consistent symptoms or known exposure to the substance(s). The most common considerations and symptoms include:
High levels of aluminum exposure can impact health, potentially causing lung problems, neurological decline, and bone or brain diseases, especially in individuals with kidney disease. While some studies suggest a link between high aluminum exposure and Alzheimer's, this connection is not definitively proven. Considering these potential risks, a heavy metal test for aluminum is recommended for individuals with substantial occupational exposure, kidney diseases, or unexplained neurological, bone, or brain conditions (9).
Antimony, when used medicinally, can have beneficial effects but may also cause side effects such as heart problems, nausea, vomiting, and muscle and joint pain. Long-term exposure, especially through inhalation, has been linked to lung and heart damage, gastrointestinal issues, and in some cases, lung cancer, and should therefore be tested in patients with these symptoms who have been potentially exposed (10).
Ingesting or inhaling inorganic arsenic can result in both acute and chronic health effects, from nausea, vomiting, and "pins and needles" sensations to abnormal heart rhythms, blood cell production disruption, and potential skin changes. Long-term exposure can significantly increase the risk of developing cancers of the skin, liver, bladder, and lungs. In contrast, organic arsenic compounds are less understood but appear to be less toxic, though they can cause kidney damage (11).
Barium's health effects depend on its solubility; compounds like barium sulfate that do not dissolve well are not generally harmful. However, exposure to soluble barium compounds at levels above EPA drinking water standards can cause gastrointestinal issues, muscular weakness, changes in blood pressure, facial numbness, and in severe cases, heart rhythm changes, paralysis, or death (12).
Beryllium inhalation can cause severe lung diseases, including acute and chronic beryllium diseases, leading to lung irritation, breathing difficulties, fatigue, and possible lung scarring. It also carries a risk of developing lung cancer. Beryllium skin contact can cause an allergic response and potentially lead to sensitization (13).
While generally considered non-toxic, long-term use of bismuth can lead to side effects and toxicity, often resulting from accidental or intentional overdosage of bismuth-based drugs. The toxicity of bismuth varies depending on the specific compound and absorption levels. Insoluble bismuth compounds tend to be less toxic, while soluble compounds are associated with higher toxicity, including neurotoxicity and nephrotoxicity. Bismuth accumulates in various organs, including the kidneys, lungs, liver, and brain. Acute and chronic exposures can cause neurotoxicity, gastrointestinal toxicity, nephrotoxicity, and hepatotoxicity. However, most side effects can be alleviated upon discontinuation of bismuth therapies (14).
High levels of cadmium exposure, through inhalation or ingestion, can cause severe lung damage and gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and diarrhea. Long-term exposure to lower levels can result in the accumulation of cadmium in the kidneys, potentially leading to kidney disease. Other chronic effects include further lung damage and fragile bones (15)
While exposure to high levels of stable cesium is unlikely and only results in behavioral changes in laboratory animals, exposure to significant amounts of radioactive cesium can have serious health implications due to radiation. This can lead to cell damage in the body, acute radiation syndrome, and in severe cases, coma or death. Symptoms of acute radiation syndrome include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding (16).
Gadolinium-based contrast agents, commonly used in MRI procedures, are generally considered safe, but there have been reports of side effects. These can include nausea, headaches, and allergic reactions. More seriously, people with kidney disease who are administered these agents are at risk of developing a rare and serious condition called nephrogenic systemic fibrosis. Additionally, recent studies suggest that gadolinium may remain in the brain and other tissues for an extended period after injection, though the long-term health effects of this retention are currently unknown. Healthcare providers should thus consider testing for gadolinium in patients with kidney disease, those showing symptoms following MRI with contrast, or those with long-term exposure to gadolinium-based agents (17).
Lead exposure, whether through inhalation or ingestion, can impact nearly every organ and system, with the nervous system being particularly vulnerable in both children and adults. Chronic exposure can lead to cognitive impairments like decreased learning, memory, and attention, physical weakness, anemia, kidney damage, and hypertension, especially in older individuals. High lead levels can cause severe brain and kidney damage, miscarriages in pregnant women, damage to male reproductive organs, and even death (18).
Exposure to mercury, in any form, can impact the nervous system and kidneys. Factors influencing health effects include the amount and type of mercury, exposure route and duration, and individual age. Symptoms seen in workers exposed to elemental mercury vapor or in people consuming foods with high methylmercury levels include tremors, coordination issues, vision impairment, memory and learning problems, and mood changes. In communities consuming high organic mercury foods, children have exhibited learning, sensory, and movement issues. High dietary methylmercury levels have also led to birth defects. Exposure to mercury can result in high blood pressure, immune system alterations, kidney damage, decreased fertility, and birth defects (19).
Nickel exposure can lead to allergic reactions in 10-20% of the population, with symptoms including skin rashes and, less commonly, asthma attacks. Workers in nickel-related industries may experience chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function, stomach aches, and effects on their blood and kidneys due to high exposure (20).
Testing for Palladium should be considered for dental workers and individuals in certain industrial occupations presenting symptoms like allergic reactions, eye irritations, or skin conditions.
Patients presenting with garlic breath odor, skin conditions, or drowsiness, particularly workers in metal alloy industries, might require Tellurium testing (23).
Exposure to high levels of thallium can lead to harmful effects on various organs, including the nervous system, lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys, with symptoms like numbness of fingers and toes, vomiting, diarrhea, and temporary hair loss. In severe cases, it can cause death. However, the impact of low-level, long-term exposure or its effects on reproduction and contact via the skin is not yet known (24).
Workers from certain industries have been observed to suffer pulmonary damage after long-term exposure to thorium, although usually from levels higher than those found in the environment. Thorium is not known to cause birth defects or affect fertility in humans, but this has been observed in animal studies (25).
Ingesting large amounts of inorganic tin compounds can lead to stomach aches, anemia, and liver and kidney problems. Certain organotin compounds, if inhaled, ingested, or in contact with skin, can interfere with brain and nervous system function and even lead to death in severe cases (26).
Testing for Tungsten should be considered for individuals with symptoms like skin rashes, changes in lung function, or vision problems, particularly if they work in industries manufacturing tungsten-containing products.
Exposure to uranium primarily affects the kidneys and can lead to damage when ingested or inhaled. While uranium compounds can cause skin irritation, the health effects from natural and depleted uranium are chemical, not radiological (28).
Regular testing for urine creatinine can provide insights into kidney function and can help validate the accuracy of heavy metal test results. This can be particularly important for patients presenting with symptoms of kidney disease (29).
How To Use The Heavy Metals Test in Clinic
Patients should avoid collecting samples while menstruating and abstain from certain foods, including seafood, dairy, seaweed/kelp, Brazil nuts, and other foods high in iodine or selenium, for 48 hours before collection. Patients should also avoid drinking more than 8 oz of water in the hour prior to urine collection.
For the sample collection, the first-morning urine is preferred and can be collected in a single collection or a 24-hour period. For each, the urine is collected in a provided cup, transferred into a specimen tube using a pipette, and labeled with the patient's name, date of birth, and the collection date and time (33).
Following the collection, samples must be placed in a biohazard bag, which is then placed in the provided return bubble mailer, along with the completed requisition form. The samples must be returned to the lab as soon as possible using FedEx, Monday through Friday only (33).
Results are typically available 7-14 days after the lab receives the samples. The provider will notify the patient once the results are in and schedule a follow-up appointment to review them together. Depending on the results, further testing may be needed to pinpoint specific sources of exposure or to monitor levels of heavy metals over time (33).
If the test results indicate abnormal levels of heavy metals, it is important to identify and adjust the patient's habits that may be leading to exposure. This could include changing dietary habits, reducing the use of certain consumer products, or modifying work practices in high-risk occupations. A follow-up test should be scheduled, which is open to practitioner discretion and the type of toxin but may be approximately 3-6 months after the initial test and after changes have been implemented. This retesting allows healthcare providers to monitor changes in the levels of heavy metals and evaluate the effectiveness of the interventions taken. Continued monitoring is essential, especially if symptoms persist or worsen, despite efforts to reduce exposure (8).
In the face of escalating environmental pollution, testing for toxic metals has become increasingly essential. The Vibrant Wellness’s Heavy Metals Lab Test enables early detection of heavy metal toxicity and timely intervention, thus improving health outcomes. The test examines twenty different metals, with the understanding of each metal's effects on health, aiding in effective management. In conclusion, comprehensive testing, result interpretation, and follow-up strategies can help mitigate the effects of heavy metal exposure, underlining the importance of these tests in safeguarding public health.
Lab Tests in This Article
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