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Remember looking at a periodic table in chemistry class? Hopefully, that didn’t bring back bad memories.  You probably learned a lot about the chemicals on the left and right-hand sides of the periodic table, but what about the middle? Most of the elements in the middle of the periodic table are metals. They’re found in places like our soil, water, and Earth’s crust. Heavy metals are called “heavy” because they tend to have a high density, high atomic weight, and high atomic number compared to other metals. Your body needs some heavy metals like iron for example. Iron is like your local mail deliverer, it transports oxygen throughout your body via red blood cells. If you don’t have enough iron in your blood, your body’s going to feel tired and weak and won’t make enough red blood cells (anemia). But too much iron can be a bad thing. And sometimes, heavy metals like lead and mercury are toxic to your body and cause symptoms like dehydration, numbness, tingling of the hands and feet, nausea, and vomiting. If you’re looking for the symptoms you could experience after being exposed to specific heavy metals, I explore 15 heavy metals in Part 1 of this blog series. Are you experiencing symptoms but aren’t sure what testing and treatment you need? Please continue reading to learn the three main testing methods and treatments I recommend to my functional medicine patients.

What Are 3 Testing Methods for Heavy Metals?

If you’re experiencing symptoms of heavy metal toxicity, it’s important to get tested to determine if it is one of the root causes of your symptoms. Testing will help determine:
  • If you’ve been exposed to heavy metals
  • Which heavy metals you were exposed to
  • How many heavy metals you were exposed to
All this information is crucial for treating your symptoms and preventing further exposure. Here are the three most common tests used:
  1. Heavy Metal Blood Test
Have you ever had an annual blood test done? Most doctors recommend that you get routine blood work done at least once a year.  But did you know your blood can also tell your doctors if you are currently exposed to heavy metals? The two most common metals detected in the blood are mercury and lead. Your mercury levels should be less than 5 ng/mL and lead less than 2 ng/mL. Your doctor may recommend that you avoid eating fish and shellfish at least 48 hours before testing since seafood can contain a high mercury level. While standard labs can check all mercury and lead levels in the blood, urine is the most comprehensive approach to test for the most amount of metals. The next two testing recommendations both involve a urine sample.
  1. Non-Provoked Urine Sample
A non-provoked urine sample just means a regular urine sample that’s taken and tested for heavy metals – nothing is added or done to the sample. I recommend non-provoked urine sample testing to look at the heavy metals my patients are currently exposed to. Urine samples also usually give us more information about other heavy metals besides mercury and lead that you are exposed to.
  1. Provoked Urine Sample
A provoked urine sample means I’m administering a chelating agent (something that bonds to a metal) before collecting a urine test. A chelating agent will pull out the heavy metal from common storage places like your bones and fat. The chelating agent brings metals to your bloodstream, where your kidneys filter them out so they show up in your urine. Pretty cool, right? A urine sample is collected 6 hours after you take the chelating agent. The provoked urine sample gives us a better idea of the amount of heavy metals currently stored in your body. A common chelating agent I administer is meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), and it’s given in the form of a capsule. To learn more about the testing process, check out my video blog.

What Are 3 Treatments for Toxicity From Heavy Metals?

After getting tested for heavy metals, it’s essential to determine the treatment you’ll need. Here are three treatments I recommend:
  1. Diet and Hydration
Just like it’s important to eat whole, real foods and drink water daily to prevent and heal diseases, it’s also important to do this for heavy metal toxicity too. A special emphasis on dietary fiber (especially modified citrus pectin) is needed. Citrus pectin is a fiber that’s commonly found in apple peels and citrus peels. Some people add it to thicken jams and jellies. However, many forms of dietary fiber can be helpful in removing toxins, as normal bowel movements need to take place to help you detoxify from heavy metals (part of phase 3 detoxification). Sulfur-rich foods like broccoli sprouts, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, garlic, onions, radishes, and arugula are helpful for elimination too. These foods will help you to enhance your body’s ability to detox from harmful heavy metals.
  1. Infrared Sauna Sessions
If you’ve ever been in a sauna at your gym or local spa, you probably remember it being really hot. A conventional sauna usually uses a hot stove to heat the room. An infrared sauna (IR) is different: it uses a special form of light to heat.  It has also been shown to increase detoxification up to 7x’s more than regular sweating alone. Sweating is part of your phase 3 detoxification, along with elimination via bowel movements, urine, and breath. To help you detoxify your body from heavy metals, I recommend IR sauna sessions up to 3-5 times per week at approximately 30-minute sessions each.  If you are new to using an IR sauna, you can set the temperature lower and/or shorten your sauna sessions and build up from there. Before you go into the sauna, be sure to drink enough water so you stay hydrated. You also want to drink water after your session and shower with an oil-containing soap to get toxins off your skin. For greater benefits, I recommend water that includes electrolytes during and after your IR sauna session. Some of my patients also take charcoal and/or clay binders orally and/or or put clay on their bodies to bind toxins before their sauna session. There are also other health benefits to infrared sauna use as well, including help with pain management.
  1. Chelating Agents in a Metal Detox Protocol From Your Doctor
During a metals detox protocol, patients normally take a chelating agent like DMSA and/or ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (EDTA) to help pull the metals out of their storage places so they can be detoxified by the body. The type of chelating agent they use and the dosage depend on which heavy metals they were exposed to and how much of that heavy metal was detected in testing. Supportive supplements for your liver are also usually taken to support phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways.  It’s also crucial to take extra minerals and nutrients and antioxidants during the process, as the chelation process can also lower some of your minerals.  This is why it is important to get a comprehensive blood work panel and work on gut health prior to undergoing a metals detoxification process.  Correcting nutrient deficiencies, especially those needed for phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification, as well as making sure regular and normal bowel movements are happening are crucial steps prior to undergoing the detox process. For a heavy metals detox protocol, I recommend that you speak to a medical provider.

Interested in Testing and Treatment for Heavy Metal Toxicity? Here’s What You Can Do

If you’re experiencing symptoms of heavy metal toxicity, I want you to know it’s possible to get the testing and treatment your body needs so you feel better. Contact us at Arizona Wellness Medicine here if you’re looking for a functional medicine approach to heavy metal detoxification. Here’s to your health, Dr. Parke
Dr. Emily Parke

Dr. Emily Parke

Dr. Emily Parke, D.O., is a certified functional medicine doctor, board-certified in anesthesiology & pediatric anesthesiology, and trained in medical acupuncture. She’s an experienced speaker in the medical and functional medicine community, and presently gives talks on a wide array of subjects.

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