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Heavy metals: if you’re immersed in the health and wellness world, this may just sound like another buzzword, another dreaded ingredient to avoid, another “toxin.” Heavy metals like cadmium, mercury, and lead are definitely bad news for our bodies. But let’s talk about why…
Heavy metals and other toxins are not readily metabolized and excreted by the body. This is what allows them to build up in our body’s tissue and bones which can make us sick. (1)
Those working in home renovation and construction may be among the most affected by heavy metal exposure (1), but is this something everyone needs to worry about?
In short: Yes and no. Many common household products contain heavy metals like: toothpaste, deodorant, sunscreens, moisturizers and color cosmetics. (2) This doesn’t mean that you should forgo brushing your teeth, but it is important to become familiar with the labels and practices of the companies you choose and reduce exposure to these heavy metals and other toxic ingredients.
Heavy metals have an especially harmful impact for pregnant and nursing women. When pregnant women are consistently exposed to toxins, like heavy metals, pesticides, and chemicals, they can be found in the blood, cord blood and amniotic fluid, exposing baby to the potentially harmful impacts as well. (3) Prenatal heavy metal exposure is linked to low birth weight, preterm labor and miscarriage or stillbirth. (4,5,6)
Exposure concerns also extend to breastfeeding, too. The nutritional content of the breast milk is directly influenced by mom’s diet and nutrient stores. Take lead for example, when lead builds up in the body it is usually found in our bones. When mom is breastfeeding, there is an increased need for calcium which also happens to be stored in our bones. However, any lead that was previously stored in mom’s bones can be mobilized with calcium in order to meet the increased calcium needs that breast milk requires. (7) Common sources of lead exposure are old water pipes, cell phone batteries and as cosmetics. (7)
Keep in mind: occasional exposure to trace amounts of heavy metals is unavoidable. These are naturally occurring elements in our soil! But the good news is the body is equipped to filter toxin exposure. WIth occasional exposure, it can take a long time for heavy metals to store to the point of toxicity. Repeated exposure from products used daily is the main cause for concern. Using products, drinking water or eating food contaminated with heavy metals daily (or multiple times per day!) increases exposure and heavy metal build-up. So, while we can’t avoid all heavy metals, our daily routine is the place we have the greatest power to reduce exposure!
Get your home water tested for lead! With old pipes still in some homes it’s a good idea to send a water sample to a local water treatment facility to assess for quality. This is typically a free and simple service provided by local water companies.
Eat a wide variety of organic fruits and vegetables! Supporting the body with foods like fiber and leafy greens help boost the liver’s natural detoxification pathways. Variety is key here! Diverse produce means diverse soil microbiomes and reduced repeat exposure to the same is exposed to different soil microbiomes and heavy metals as well.
Research your current skincare and makeup ingredients with the EWG’s Skin Deep Database. Color cosmetics are more often than not contaminated with heavy metals. Yes, even your organic mineral makeup or perhaps, especially that mineral makeup. Be sure to research your products, know the ingredients and ask about 3rd party testing for heavy metal contamination both in the supply chain and finished product.
Reproductive health and the workplace. www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/repro/heavymetals.html. Updated April 20, 2017. Accessed July 31, 2018.
Lead and other heavy metals. www.safecosmetics.org. http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/lead-and-other-heavy-metals/. Accessed July 31, 2018.
Maekawa R. et. al. Evidence of exposure to chemicals and heavy metals during pregnancy in Japanese women. Reprod Med Biol. 2017 Oct; 16(4): 337–348.
Wai KM. et. al. Prenatal Heavy Metal Exposure and Adverse Birth Outcomes in Myanmar: A Birth-Cohort Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Nov; 14(11): 1339.
Amadi CN, et. al. Heavy metals in miscarriages and stillbirths in developing nations. Middle East Fertil Soc J. 2017 June;22(2): 91-100.
Banu SK. et. al. Editor’s Highlight: Exposure to CrVI during Early Pregnancy Increases Oxidative Stress and Disrupts the Expression of Antioxidant Proteins in Placental Compartments. Toxicol Sci. 2017 Feb 1;155(2):497-511.
Dursun A, Yurdakok K, Yalcin SS, Tekinalp G, Aykut O, Orhan G, Morgil GK. Maternal risk factors associated with lead, mercury and cadmium levels in umbilical cord blood, breast milk and newborn hair. J Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2016 Mar;29(6):954-61.
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