Heavy Metals

Heavy metals are trace elements that have a specific gravity at least 5 times higher than that of water and inorganic sources. Heavy metals commonly found in the diets of humans and animals include lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury. For example a wide range of heavy metals have been identified in honey, and the concentration and profile of these heavy metals varies depending on the location of the hives the honey is collected from. Heavy metals cannot be eliminated completely from the diet because they are present in most plant and animal foods and also in drinking water. There are three main ways that heavy metals can affect the health of humans. 

  1. Heavy metal accumulation can interfere with normal metabolic functions of the body because the heavy metals can displace trace elements in enzyme systems. 
  1. Heavy metals can cause the generation of free radicals which increases oxidative stress and causes inflammation. This inflammation can then damage DNA, potentially triggering cancer. 
  1. Heavy metals can prevent the absorption of essential trace minerals and thus cause a deficiency of various elements required by the body for normal metabolic function. 

Avoiding the potential damaging effects of a heavy metal overload is therefore a priority for those that wish to maintain their health. Eating a high quality diet containing high quality food is one step in this process. Diets high in fibre may bind heavy metals in the gut and prevent their absorption, and certain compounds in plants, such as vitamin C and other antioxidants have the potential to prevent the oxidative stress caused by heavy metals. Vitamin C may also chelate heavy metals in the body and increase their excretion rates. 

Eat Well, Stay Healthy, Protect Yourself


Fu, Z. and Xi, S. 2020. The effects of heavy metals on human metabolism. Toxicology mechanisms and methods. 30(3): 167-176

About Robert Barrington

Robert Barrington is a writer, nutritionist, lecturer and philosopher.
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