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Surprising sources of heavy metal poisoning

Recent claims of presence of mercury in sugar have raised awareness on the risks of toxic heavy metals. Just like mercury, one can get exposed to heavy metals even in clean environments through the food we eat, air we breathe and water we drink, writes Evelyn Makena

1. Antimony from driving barefoot

A fertility specialist recently told of how one staff at his clinic had trouble conceiving. Almost at his wits end after many failed interventions, the specialist suggested that the staff detoxifies. Just like that, she conceived. The bout of infertility was caused by high levels of antimony in her body, which she had accumulated from driving barefoot. Antimony is one of the metals on the lining of car pedals. Direct contact with the pedals by driving barefoot exposes one to the metal. Long-term exposure to antimony causes infertility, allergies, headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, weight loss and kidney malfunctions.

2. Mercury in fish

The health benefits of eating fish are numerous. Unfortunately, fish has been found to contain varying amounts of the toxic mercury. Fish absorb pollutants such as mercury found in water in the form of methyl mercury, a highly toxic organic compound of mercury. Eating mercury-laden fish exposes one to risk of health complications including damage of the nervous system and reproductive troubles. Mercury poisoning is particularly more harmful to pregnant women as it puts foetuses at the risk of being born with low intelligence, attention deficiency and poor language skills. 

3. Aluminium from cookware

Aluminium is a preferred material for cookware since it’s cheap and conducts heat easily. However, exposure to the metal takes place through leaching. This occurs if the food being cooked is too acidic such as vinegar, tomato sauce and lemon juice or too basic such as baking soda, constituting a health hazard. Apart from cookware, aluminum naturally occurs in the soil, minerals and rocks and finds its way to plants we eat. It’s used as an ingredient in some cosmetics, toothpastes and antacids.  If ingested in large amounts, aluminum can cause damage to the lungs and damage the nervous system.

4. Lead in lipstick

Lead is contained in dyes that give lipstick its colour. Regardless of whether it’s high or low, lead contamination poses health risks. Low levels of lead cause high blood pressure, anaemia, and body weakness, while high exposure can damage the brain and kidney dysfunction.

5. Cadmium in cigarette smoke

Cadmium is a naturally occurring heavy metal. It’s present in plants in low amounts. Cigarettes contain cadmium with its level increasing when it’s burnt. Close to 60 per cent of cadmium in cigarette smoke finds its way to the body through the lungs. Smokers have twice the amount of cadmium compared to non-smokers. Cadmium affects blood pressure, prostate function, testosterone levels and cause damage to the kidneys. In expectant women, cadmium is known to cross to the foetus through the placenta affecting brain development and causing low birth.

6. Copper in birth control pills

Birth control pills and oestrogen medications contain copper. The metal is used in contraceptives to block sperms going towards the fallopian tube to hinder conception. Birth control pills increase levels of copper in the body. High copper levels in the body lowers iron, zinc and vitamin C. Copper also raises the levels of the powerful estrogen hormone, which in excess can lead to migraines, allergic reactions, chronic fatigue, post-menstrual syndrome and weakening of the bones.

7. Mercury in dental amalgam

Mercury is contained in dental fillings also called amalgams. Since mercury is not a stable metal, exposure to acidic saliva, extremely cold or hot beverages and biting causes it to release gas, which gets into the body through inhalation or gulping. Mercury can enter the circulation system and cause toxicity to internal vital organs such as the kidneys, heart and liver. Indications of mercury toxicity are weakness, anxiety, poor coordination, confusion, loss of libido, cerebral pain and blurred vision.

8. Arsenic in rice

Arsenic is a toxic naturally occurring element found in earth’s crust. It’s also found in pesticides and through mining activities. Rice absorbs arsenic from irrigation water and soil. In fact, rice accumulates more arsenic than any other crop. Arsenic poisoning is more serious in places where rice is a staple food. Mixing up rice with other grains naturally lowers levels of arsenic. Exposure to arsenic is linked to heart, kidney, brain disease, diabetes, skin cancer and low immunity in infants.

9. Lead in bone broth

Bone broth is a nutritional powerhouse with benefits that range from boosting immunity, healing colds, strengthening bones to fighting inflammation. Unfortunately, when animals or humans are exposed to lead, it accumulates in the bones. Drinking bone broth from an animal that was exposed to lead, therefore ends up doing more harm than good.

10. Tin in canned foods

Consumption of canned foods and beverages puts you at a high risk of tin toxicity. The containers are lined with a protective layer, which may be compromised when the food or drinks are too acidic causing the tin to leach. Tin toxicity causes health problems including abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, skin irritation, nausea, tremors, kidney problems and heart palpitations.

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