We can control heavy metal levels in our bodies in various ways, including blood, feces, hair or urine tests. In my case, the doctor performed a simple blood test.
The blood panel was divided into two main sections: "nutrients" and "toxic elements".
Under nutrients, the test included potassium, magnesium, calcium, zinc, copper and selenium. Although high levels of these elements can cause health problems, these are metals that are beneficial to our health in small doses.
The toxic elements of the test included aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury. These are metals without known health benefits, but they can have many devastating effects.
How to read the results
Before telling you what my results were, let me quickly explain how to read the results.
The laboratory that my doctor uses has provided an easy to read bar chart in addition to the more technical language.
Each element is drawn on a horizontal bar divided into zones with color code: green, yellow and red. As your instincts could tell you, green indicates the normal range, yellow means you are moving in the wrong direction (or in the right direction, if your levels were previously higher), and red gets rid of you, to put it bluntly terms, in the danger zone.
In the nutrient section (eg Potassium, magnesium and calcium), the result can fall into a red area on both ends of the bar: red at the left end means that the element is lacking, while the red at the right end of the bar means that you have an excess amount of the item. You want to fall somewhere in the middle – the green section – of the bar.
With the toxic elements, however, the red is only on the right side of the bar. You can not be deficient in aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead or mercury! Any amount of these items is unwanted. So the goal here is to have the result shown as far to the left of the bar as possible.
My surprising results
When the results of my test arrived two weeks later, the results were not what I expected.
What surprised me most was the fact that my mercury level was above the roof! The diamond-shaped result indicator was entirely in the red zone.
Mercury is highly toxic and, according to EPA, is a neurotoxin that can cause all types of neurological disorders, including loss of vision and problems with speech, hearing, walking and other motor skills. . To say I was nervous is a euphemism.
Before even meeting my doctor to talk about the results, he sent me an e-mail and said: "Cut all the tuna". (I have more to share with you on mercury and fish below).
Almost astonishing as the excessive level of mercury was my high level of arsenic.
On the arsenic chart, my diamond counter was wedged between the yellow and red areas. It was not as high as mercury, but almost shocking because I had no idea that arsenic was something people had to worry about, unless someone was trying to poison them intentionally.
I soon learned that chronic exposure to arsenic has been confirmed to be carcinogenic and can lead to skin, lung and bladder cancer. It is also associated with liver and prostate cancer, diabetes, neurological and cardiac disorders and mood disorders. The fact that the toxicity of arsenic could also lead to insomnia and anxiety now seemed a minor problem.
My doctor had a good idea where arsenic came from – more about the one below.
The rest of the test seemed ok, but not exceptional. My aluminum and cadmium levels were "borderline", according to my doctor, with the results that fell in the last quarter of the green zone. The only toxic element that was comfortably low was lead.
As for nutrient levels, everything fell into the green range except potassium and magnesium, which were slightly deficient. Nothing to worry about: the doctor has simply recommended supplements to increase these levels.
What caused my mercury toxicity
When I went to discuss the results with my doctor, the first thing he asked me was the fish in my diet. I told her I ate Japanese food – mostly sushi – a few times a week. It's my favorite food, and I happen to live in a part of town that has at least a dozen Japanese restaurants within walking distance.
I knew where it was headed – some fish have high levels of mercury.
In fact, although the exposure to mercury comes from polluted air and water, as well as from amalgam fillings in our teeth, up to 90% of the mercury accumulated in the body comes from the consumption of certain types of fish and molluscs.
I had known that eating too much albacore tuna could be toxic – it is one of the foods that I eliminated from my diet when I was pregnant with both of my daughters – but I did not think to eat it a couple of times a week post-pregnancy would be a big problem.
Yet, I have since discovered that, according to EPA, methylmercury (a "powerful neurotoxin") from eating fish and shellfish it accumulates slowly in our bodies. If, on rare occasions, you have it three times in a week, it should not be a big deal. But consume it three or more times a week over many years and you may have a problem. When we notice the symptoms, our levels could be dangerously high.
This does not mean that we should avoid fish altogether. Fish and seafood are an important food in many people's diets, with essential nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids that can help maintain a healthy heart. We just need to be aware of which fish are safe to eat up to twice a week, and which fish have such high levels of mercury that we should try to avoid them completely. The FDA has a table that helps us understand it.
Since my local tap water (Department of Water and the power of Los Angeles) is considered safe and I have no dental fills, fish and shellfish seem to be the main cause of my toxic mercury level.
What caused my toxic level of arsenic
The doctor surprised me once again when he said that all the sushi I ate could also contribute to my high level of arsenic – not from the fish, but from the rice.
For years, rice was a huge part of my diet.
Not only did I eat a good amount of rice from my weekly consumption of Japanese food, I also avoided gluten for years (just because the others in my family were gluten intolerant, not because I was). Most gluten-free products are made with rice flour.
To add insult to injury, I was studying to get a certificate of sake advice (which I received, thank you very much), and I often tasted sake for "research" (heh heh). Of course, sake is based on rice.
Since then I have learned that millions of people are exposed to arsenic through polluted air, water and soil and, according to the FDA, we are exposed to arsenic through rice more than any other food. Rice is a natural accumulator of arsenic: the plant uses silica from the soil due to its structure. But silica and arsenic are chemically similar, so the rice plant also takes over the arsenic that is often found in water.
Since my drinking water is not known to have high levels of heavy metals, it seems likely that my high level of arsenic was related to my strong consumption of rice and rice products.