Dealing with Toxic Metals in Your Environment
This article is part 1 of Beeyoutiful’s 2-part series on heavy metal toxicity Part Two: Metal Urgency.
by Dr. Doty Murphy
Sheep fascinate me. But then, so do horses, cows, dogs, goats, and of course, people. Each living member of the animal kingdom represents a remarkable collection of miracles at work. A flock of lazy sheep grazing on a verdant meadow are there because the soft, green grass grew initially from countless hard, brown seeds. Inside the sheep, the grass becomes white bones, red blood, white, brown, black, or gray wool, green bile, and yellow fat. The amazing substances responsible for the orderly progression of these processes-from grass to wool-include enzymes.
Enzymes are delicate molecules designed to work optimally at a temperature (in humans) of 98.6° F. Without enzymes, plant and animal life cannot be maintained. Yet with normal operation of these molecules, life, health, reproduction, movement-even your thoughts-can occur. Your reading these words, your choosing and digesting foods, your moving or thinking or laughing all depend on critical enzymatic functions throughout your body. This proper functioning requires cofactors-minerals, vitamins, proteins, carbohydrates, or lipids-or enzymatic function will be inhibited. In addition, if an enzyme encounters certain noxious or toxic materials, it may be damaged, destroyed, or inactivated. Such damage and destruction usually results in malfunction of the operating systems within cells, potentially causing cell death, premature aging, susceptibility to diseases, and ultimately, death of the organism. Among the toxic materials that can harm enzymes are what we call heavy metals.
Too Many Heavy Metals
With such high stakes, the presence of heavy metals in our environment poses a grave risk. Heavy metals include lead, mercury, cadmium, antimony, and aluminum. These substances threaten our enzymes- and as a result, life and optimal health. They exist throughout our environment. Wherever we live and breathe, drink or ingest them, heavy metals guarantee a negative impact on our individual and community well-being.
Historically, several heavy metals have impacted people, nations, and empires (through their damaged or destroyed enzymes). Much like us, the ancient Romans delighted in “progress” and comfort. They enjoyed piped-in water for their homes. Using lead for pipes, easy to form and connect, they achieved monumental advances in plumbing (not coincidentally, the atomic symbol for lead is Pb, based on the Latin word for lead). Unfortunately, this handy piping material insidiously released small but cumulative doses of lead each day. Through years of ingestion, lead impaired and even destroyed many of Rome’s political leaders, intelligentsia, and most grievously, the children of Rome. All these acquired enough lead to affect health and life, thinking and drive. Some historians suggest that lead pipes contributed significantly to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.
In modern times, lead found use in paints. Around the world, homeowners and landlords welcomed the beauty of lead-based paints. Sadly, children who innocently chewed on any lead-containing paint-whether on walls, baseboards, or sills-developed chronic lead poisoning with devastating long-term consequences: diminished intelligence, poor health, and even death.
Today, most governments ban lead-based paints for interior use. Unfortunately, some still allow (or ignore) the use of paint containing lead for toys and other objects. Playthings produced in China, for instance, heavily contaminated with lead, have damaged some of our children. Fortunately, the federal government has banned further importing of these products. Nevertheless, we may continue to be exposed to lead in other ways: automobile batteries, chemical and industrial waste, solder, and lead-based paint in older homes. Any lead exposure contributes to a toxic load for the exposed individual, making optimal health much more difficult to achieve and maintain. So, being aware of the sources of lead is a crucial first step in avoiding it debilitating effects.
The Special Threat from Mercury
Mercury, an extraordinary but dangerous metal, exists as a liquid rather than a solid at ambient temperatures. But mercury vapor (unseen and odorless) can enter the body through the lungs. Although the immune system quickly eliminates this toxin from the bloodstream, it is deposited in nerve tissue, bones, glandular organs, skin, and kidneys. Mercury retention in these areas damages many enzymes, and the effect is compounded with each additional exposure. Our bodies attempt to excrete the noxious mercury, but frequently the toxin inhibits or overwhelms the body’s defenses, thus preventing elimination. Scientists estimate that the half-life of mercury in humans from a single exposure is greater than 25 years! (“Half-life” is the time required to eliminate one-half of the mercury in that single exposure.)
A famous case from history, Sir Isaac Newton (of gravity fame) experimented with mercury substances. These experiments resulted in toxicity for him and caused not only his premature graying but also an extended period of unproductive mental illness. His illness finally resolved because the sickness required that he discontinue the experiments and hence, the exposure to mercury.
Researchers, physicians, and public health officials long failed to understand the full danger of mercury even though it had been known to damage kidney cells and impair proper functioning of that organ. For example, injecting a water-soluble form of mercury into the body provokes a significant increase in the volume of urine. This loss of body water produces a timely decrease in high blood pressure-a perceived benefit. Unfortunately, repeated use can also produce significant kidney damage, sometimes resulting in irreversible, permanent effects. Though no longer allowed in America today, mercury diuretics represented an important and integral part of a physician’s arsenal against hypertension as recently as the 1970’s.
Even until early in this century, mercury (in the form of Thimerasol, another water-soluble form of the metal) was the most commonly used preservative in childhood vaccines. Through multiple injections of mercury-containing vaccines, infants and children routinely received more mercury in 18 months than the Environmental Protection Agency allowed for adults working in factories or shops-and these vaccines were mainlined into infants and toddlers by injection! Such exposure had never been documented to be safe, and it likely produced damage to many developing organs and tissues. Great controversy still exists as to whether the spike in autism in the late 20th century resulted from this widespread, unwise use of mercury, particularly in toddlers who received the recommended multiple vaccines at age 15 to 18 months. It has been reported that our government actually permitted vaccine companies to deliver their already-produced, mercury-containing vaccines after the regulation forbidding use had been posted! What’s more, influenza vaccine, aimed primarily at adults, continued to contain Thimerasol for several years after mercury had been forbidden in pediatric vaccines.
A Deadly Mix
One significant source of continued mercury exposure in the United States involves the use of dental “amalgam” materials for fillings. Used in dentistry, an amalgam (mixture) involves silver, tin, mercury, and occasionally other metals, but mercury generally represents more than 50% of each. What makes this so serious is that no chemical reaction occurs when these amalgams are assembled. As a result, the toxic effects of mercury exposure are not minimized or eliminated.
Significant toxic effects have been documented from the mercury in dental amalgams. (Tin also has unwanted toxic effects that are not eliminated by its inclusion in amalgams.) Each time someone with mercury-containing fillings chews his or her food, grinds teeth, drinks hot or cold liquids, chews gum, etc., mercury vapor is released and absorbed into the body. Scandinavian studies have documented that the more numerous the amalgam surfaces in a mouth, the greater release and accumulation of mercury into the body. Such accumulation increases the risk for significant toxicity.
This health threat, long recognized and prohibited in some European countries and Japan, remains very real in the United States. Most dentists deny any risk, and many continue to place amalgams. But in so doing, they ignore the very real threat to their patients and to themselves! Dentists typically have higher levels of mercury in their organs at autopsy than the general population, and dentists have higher levels of mental illness, suicide, and psychiatric disease than other health professionals.
I’ve shared here just a few examples of heavy metal toxicity. Other significant exposures include cadmium in cigarette smoke, antimony as a flame retardant in children’s sleeping clothes, as well as bismuth, manganese, iron, copper, and aluminum.
Researchers have suggested that aluminum aggravates cross connections in the brain, perhaps inducing or worsening Alzheimer’s disease. Unfortunately, aluminum, existing in abundance on planet earth, has found widespread use in everything from cans to foil, from antiperspirants to antacids. There are ways around this dismal situation, and Beeyoutiful offers many products that can help. I’ll talk more about heavy metal avoidance and toxicity treatment next time.
Dr. Murphy, a third generation medical doctor, hails from El Dorado, AR. He attended RiceUniversity in Houston and received his MD from the University of Arkansas. His medical training includes a Pediatrics residency and two years in the US Public Health service. He has spent 35 years in practice, with emphasis on nutrition and complementary medicine, including heavy metal toxicity and cardiovascular disease. His wife Phyllis and he, have 6 children and 7 grandchildren. The Murphys live in Springdale, AR, where Dr. Murphy now ministers as a Biblical counselor.