Heavy metals can be found everywhere in our environment. They become problematic for people when they accumulate at high concentrations in the human body. Unfortunately some people have a genetic predisposition to toxicity from heavy metals. As with other toxins, people with unaddressed MTHFR mutations have trouble clearing metals from their systems. This can lead to behavioral, structural and functional abnormalities in the human body depending on which metals have built up.
The most common metals are aluminum, antimony (found in flame retardant materials), arsenic (found in chicken and the water supply), beryllium, bismuth, cadmium, lead (found in paint), mercury, nickel, platinum, thallium, thorium, tin, tungsten and uranium. Unfortunately it is next to impossible to avoid many of these in the environment. Even if you are not exposed to industrial areas, you can still pick up metals in your drinking water, from vaccinations, tattoo ink, mercury amalgam fillings, pre-1978 houses, cigarette smoke (including secondhand smoke) and contaminated food sources.
Symptoms of chronic toxic metal exposure can be subtle, often overlapping with those of other illnesses. Fatigue, digestive issues, joint pain, depression, blood sugar issues and female reproductive problems can all be caused by heavy metals. According to Dr. Kendal Stewart, metals are not water soluble and therefore can’t be regulated. They compete with other minerals that we need. In a normal person, the body acts as its own chelator by utilizing its own glutathione. Cysteine-rich proteins bind to the heavy metals and keep them out of the fat cells where they like to congregate, helping the person to eliminate them. Unfortunately people with methylation gene defects can’t excrete metals due to impaired cysteine metabolism and reduced glutathione. These people can’t properly regulate good minerals either.
Testing for heavy metals can be tricky as they like to hide in tissues. Blood tests are woefully inaccurate so an advised approach is to test via a combination of methods such as hair, feces and urine (see the link for pros and cons of each type of test). If you have a heavy metal burden it is important to work with an experienced practitioner to clear your system. Ideally this will include a complete assessment of the bodily pathways that are dysfunctional and a correction so that the build-up does not continue to happen. Chelation must be done carefully because, as Dr. Stewart explains, chelation can block hormones, other minerals and disrupt other processes in the body. It must be balanced without overwhelming the body. Chelation also presents opportunities for infections like yeast and viruses. The form of treatment must be appropriate to other issues the patient is experiencing.
Dr. Mercola provides a number of tips for reducing your body’s heavy metal burden. Unfortunately for those with MTHFR, avoidance may not be enough. You have to work actively to improve your methylation and detoxification processes.