The heavy metals most commonly associated with poisoning of humans are lead, mercury, arsenic and cadmium. It may also occur as a result of industrial exposure, air or water pollution, food/containers, and through medicines. A blood test can detect the following 22 elements and their levels in the body
Causes– Lead poisoning may be caused by exposure to deteriorating lead paint in older houses, contamination of water from lead pipes. Additional causes include calcium products, progressive hair dyes, kajal, Surma, kohl, and digestive remedies.
Signs and symptoms- In adults, overexposure to lead may cause high blood pressure and damage to the reproductive organs. Additional symptoms may include fever, headaches, fatigue, sluggishness, digestive/neurological issues, joint pain, insomnia, decreased muscle strength and endurance; kidney disease and behavioural changes such as hostility, depression, and/or anxiety.
Causes– Mercury poisoning may be caused by exposure to large amounts of mercury in the manufacturing of thermometers, mirrors, incandescent lights, x-ray machines, and vacuum pumps. Another cause of mercury poisoning is contaminated water and fish.
Signs and symptoms– General symptoms include fatigue, depression, sluggishness, irritability, skin changes and headaches.
Respiratory symptoms associated with inhalation to mercury vapours include coughing, breathlessness, tightness or burning pain in the chest, and/or respiratory distress.
Nervous system: There may be behavioural, sensory and neurological changes associated with overexposure to mercury poisonings, such as excitability and quick-tempered behaviour, lack of concentration, and loss of memory. Shock and permanent brain damage may also result. Additional symptoms include non-inflammatory degenerative disease of the nerves, tremors in the limbs and, in some cases, seizures and/or slurred speech. In rare cases, a personality disorder known as erethism or mad hatter syndrome may occur.
Digestive symptoms: In some cases, affected individuals may experience stomach and intestinal disturbances, inflammation of the gums, accompanied by vomiting and/or abdominal cramps with bloody stools.
Causes– Arsenic poisoning may be caused by medications including Fowler’s solution (potassium arsenite) and some topical creams used in the treatment of some skin conditions. Ingestion of herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, fungicides, or rodenticides containing arsenic may cause arsenic poisoning. Arsenic is also found in contaminated water, seafood, and algae.
Signs and symptoms– Overexposure may cause neurological and digestive complications. Other symptoms include the breakdown of the haemoglobin of red blood cells, anaemia and low blood pressure. Some individuals may experience a garlic-like odour that may be detectable on the breath.
The onset of symptoms in chronic arsenic poisoning is about two to eight weeks after exposure.
Causes- Cadmium poisoning may be caused by ingestion of food (e.g. grains, cereals, and leafy vegetables) and cigarette smoke.
Signs and symptoms– The onset of symptoms may be delayed for two to four hours after exposure. Overexposure may cause neurological and digestive complications. In addition, progressive loss of lung function may also be present. In some cases, affected individuals may exhibit increased salivation, yellowing of the teeth, an unusually rapid heartbeat, anaemia and/or an impaired sense of smell, kidney or liver damage, and/or softening of bones.
Additional metals that may cause poisoning include the following: Common symptoms of poisoning from these metals cause gastrointestinal/ renal disturbances and neurological symptoms such as headaches, irritability, psychosis, stupor, coma, and convulsions.
~ Mayuri Mangire, Clinical Nutritionist, Mind Your Fitness!