Your body even naturally contains some. Zinc, iron, and copper, for example, are necessary for regular body function, as long as they aren’t present in toxic amounts. Heavy metal poisoning occurs when your body’s soft tissues absorb too much of a particular metal.
The most common metals that the human body can absorb in toxic amounts are:
You might be exposed to high concentrations of these metals from food, air or water pollution, as well as medicine, food containers with improper coating, industrial exposure, or lead-based paint.
It only occurs when you’ve been exposed to a significant amount of heavy metal, usually over a long period of time. But the popularity of over-the-counter (OTC) products that claim to detoxify your body of heavy metals can make it seem more common than it is.
Heavy metals can enter your body in different ways. You might consume them in the food you eat or absorb them through your skin, for example.
Here’s how you might be exposed to various heavy metals. Keep in mind that heavy metal poisoning occurs with heavy or frequent exposure, usually over a long period of time. Occasional exposure won’t lead to heavy metal poisoning.
How to Identify?
Doctors can usually check for heavy metal poisoning with a simple blood test known as a heavy metals panel or heavy metal toxicity test.
To do the test, they’ll take a small blood sample and test it for signs of heavy metals. If you have symptoms of heavy metal poisoning, but your blood test only shows low levels, you doctor might do some additional testing.
Symptoms across several types of heavy metal poisoning include:
- abdominal pain
- shortness of breath
- tingling in your hands and feet
What to Do?
For mild cases of heavy metal poisoning, just eliminating your exposure to heavy metals can be enough to treat the condition. Depending on the underlying cause, this might mean taking some time away from work or changing your diet. Your doctor can give you more specific recommendations on how to reduce your exposure. For more severe cases, the standard treatment is chelation therapy. This involves giving medication, either through a pill or injection, that binds to the heavy metals in your body.