Heavy Metals and Health – A Modern Day Challenge
By Dr Karen Coates
Understanding how vitamins and minerals work with the biochemistry of the human body allows an understanding of the potential risks of heavy metal burden.
Minerals work in balance and nutritional minerals are essential for human health. Healthy minerals function in multiple roles. For example, zinc has been shown to play a role in over 88 different chemical roles and iron over 100.
But there are some minerals which should never appear in bodies – minerals like mercury, lead and aluminium have zero roles to play but can act as barriers to other nutrients. They can block the normal function of essential minerals in the pathways which support cardiovascular health, immune function, nervous system and optimal thyroid function to name a few.
Understand that the way our bodies react to heavy metals like mercury and lead is a little like musical chairs with competing minerals trying to insert themselves into the pathways which make hormones, as well as affecting healthy cycles providing energy to cells. Even low levels of these toxic minerals can have a negative impact on health, particularly if the ‘good guy minerals’ are depleted. Zinc deficiency is a common finding in clinical practice today. Mercury and lead can antagonize the normal use of nutrients like zinc, together with iron, selenium and vitamin B12.
Look at the pathway of serotonin production as an example of how heavy metal total body burden can affect well-being. Serotonin production starts with protein based foods like turkey, chicken, fish and dairy. Eating these foods releases the amino acid building block known as tryptophan. Tryptophan is absorbed, with the help of good stomach acid, into the bowel wall and converted to serotonin in two relatively easy biochemical steps. Your amazing body does this conversion every day.
The enzymes which act as catalysts for these chemical reactions include zinc, iron and the B group vitamins. Adding heavy metals to the conversion process can inhibit the way zinc and iron act in this serotonin manufacturing workshop, and result in depleted amounts of this essential well being hormone.
Next, we examine in more detail the problems associated with mercury burden, and what to do about it.