Detrimental Effects of Heavy Metals

Any metal (or metalloid) species may be considered a “contaminant” if it occurs where it is unwanted, or in a form or concentration that causes a detrimental human or environmental effect. Heavy metals are the mineral compounds that essentially do not have any biological role and above a point can cause toxicity. Poisoning from heavy metals is caused when the same is accumulated in the soft tissues of a body. The poisoning result can vary depending upon the amount of metal accumulated. Zinc, iron, copper, manganese, cobalt and molybdenum are some heavy metals essential for body functioning when in extremely small amounts. But the same can cause serious damage when consumed in sufficient amounts by any means. Mercury, lead, cadmium and arsenic are the common heavy metals associated with poisoning and can cause adverse health effects.  

Any toxic metal may be called heavy metal, irrespective of their atomic mass or density. Heavy metals are a member of an ill-defined subset of elements that exhibit metallic properties. These include the transition metals, some metalloids, lanthanides, and actinides (Introduction). When heavy metals enter a body, they compete and make their way to replace the essential minerals, affecting several organs during the course. The symptoms of the poisoning, however, can vary based on the metal type. Here are a few points to help you understand the same:

Arsenic Poisoning

Used in the manufacturing of pesticides, fungicides and metal smelters, Arsenic poisoning accumulates in various organs like lungs, kidneys, liver, spleen and gastrointestinal tract leading a person to suffer from bronchitis, dermatitis and severe poisoning. Contaminated water and food, algae, seafood as well as exposure to paints are other factors that can lead a person to Arsenic poisoning. Depending upon the exposure, arsenic poisoning leads a person to suffer from headaches, drowsiness, mouth and throat burn, hypotension, abdominal pain, fever and hyperkeratosis, which can further range to seizures, intestinal haemorrhage, hemolysis, cardiomyopathy and other life-threatening complications. 

Lead Poisoning

Excess exposure to lead is known as “Lead Poisoning” or “Lead Intoxication” which can occur due to contaminated air, water, dust, food or consumer products. Children, in particular, are at higher risk of this poisoning because of their habit of putting everything in the mouth such as those that contain lead paint and absorb a greater proportion of the lead that they eat. Other sources of lead poisoning include pesticide, smoking, automobile emission, mining and burning of coal. Acute and chronic symptoms may differ depending upon age. The common effects include mental retardation in children, development delay, fatal infant encephalopathy, congenital paralysis, sensor neural deafness, acute or chronic damage to the nervous system, epilepticus as well as liver, kidney and gastrointestinal damage. Pregnant woman with higher levels of lead increases the risk of premature birth or low birth weight.

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury poisoning is caused due to exposure in the mirrors, x-ray machines, thermometers, incandescent lights, vacuum pumps, battery and paper industries as well as due to the consumption of pesticide foods. It is also highly used by hygienists, dental assistants and chemical workers who are generally exposed to health issues related to the brain, kidneys, skin and lungs. Several behavioural and neurological changes are linked with overexposure to mercury including permanent brain damage, progressive cerebellar syndrome, polyneuropathy, cerebellar ataxia and dysarthria among the many. Tremors, gingivitis, minor psychological changes, acrodynia characterised by pink hands and feet, spontaneous abortion, damage to nervous system and protoplasm poisoning are other effects on human health.

Cadmium Poisoning

Cadmium is a major heavy metal found in industrial processing, plant soils and smoking. This is also a major carcinogenic compound and due to its low permissible exposure, overexposure may occur even in situations where trace quantities of cadmium are found. Welding, electroplating, pesticide fertiliser, Cd and Ni batteries and nuclear fission plant are the major sources for Cadmium poisoning. Exposure to cadmium builds of risk of renal dysfunction, lung disease, lung cancer, bone defects (Osteomalacia, Osteoporosis), increases blood pressure, kidney damage, bronchitis, gastrointestinal disorder, bone marrow and cancer.

Copper Poisoning

Excess of copper in a body, also known as copperiedus, occurs from cooking food in uncoated copper vessels, drinking water contaminated with copper, mining, pesticide production, chemical industry and metal piping. Other factors can include side effects of estrogen birth control pills or the genetic condition, Wilson's disease. Acute symptoms of copperiedus include blood vomiting, low blood pressure, jaundice and gastrointestinal distress. Long term poisoning can lead to anemia, liver and kidney damage, stomach and intestinal irritation as well as fetal mortality.

Chromium Poisoning

Acute toxicity of the compound takes place because of its potent oxidative properties and people involved in the mining industry are highly prone to Chromium Poisoning. Other sources to develop the poisoning include industries that specialise in making leather products, paints, mortar, anti-corrosives and cement among the many. When the poison reaches the bloodstream, it causes damage to the nervous system, develops fatigue and also irritability to skin.

Statutory: Do check the packaged foods, drinks and supplements and always buy from a compliance regulated company.

Any issue related to health can ideally be controlled with a proper diet and maintaining a few such healthy habits. When it comes to heavy metal toxicity, we have collated a few simple tips that can give you positive results in the long run:

  1. Include fibre: The recommended fibre intake for an individual is 30 to 35 gm/day. Dietary fibre not only adds bulk to a diet but also helps in reducing cholesterol and toxic substances from the body. The soluble form of fibre intact toxic substances and helps in flushing them out from the body. Include whole cereal, pulses, fruits and vegetables to improve your digestion and gut health. 
  1. Include seasonal fruits and vegetables: Seasonal fruits and vegetables are the best sources of antioxidants in a diet. These antioxidants have the power to scavenge free radicals from the body produced by toxic reactions. They help in boosting immunity and also reduce inflammation.
  1. Hydrate well: Make water your favourite drink to have a healthy body. Adequate hydration helps in flushing toxins out of the body, keeping your internal organs healthy. Dehydration can lead to electrolytes and fluid imbalance in a body that can only worsen a condition. You can have fresh water and coconut water along with other herbal teas like green tea, chamomile tea, jasmine tea and so on. 
  1. Include physical activities: There is no doubt to the fact that regular activities have many benefits. An individual active in activities have better immunity and reduce the risk of many cardiovascular and lifestyle diseases. You too can include activities like running, cycling, gymming, aerobic, Zumba and much more to get the maximum benefits and ensuring doing them regularly and making them a part of your lifestyle. 
  1. Include organic seafood: Contaminated water because of industrial wastes is one of the major reasons for heavy metal toxicity in fishes living in that water. Eating too much of these fishes can lead to heavy metal toxicity in humans as well. Therefore, make sure to eat fish from a reliable source or preferably organic source to avoid any chance of heavy metal toxicity.

Whatever you consume, be it whole foods or those packed, ensure that you control and take careful measures so as to avoid any form of poisoning. The utensils you use should also be chosen with care to keep yourself and your loved ones away from the chances of developing any chronic diseases.

Ref Link - ( Heavy metals and living systems: An overview )

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