Heavy metals are toxins that we come into contact with on a daily basis due to the increasing contamination of our food and water supply, and the air we breathe. Exposure to heavy metals has been linked to many chronic health conditions including autoimmunity, ME, cancer, neurological diseases and developmental problems in children.
What are heavy metals?
Heavy metals are, by definition, metals of high relative density or atomic weight. Some heavy metals are seen to be beneficial or harmless in appropriate doses, such as zinc, cobalt and iron, whereas others are highly toxic. These include mercury, lead, chromium (in its hexavalent form), cadmium and arsenic. Aluminium is often grouped into this category, where as it is in fact a light metal, although still toxic and capable of causing harm to health.
All of these heavy metals appear to have a strong affinity for sulphur and bind, via thiol groups, to create sulphur-metal bonds. These bonds can then inhibit the enzymes that control metabolic reactions, causing DNA damage and deterioration in human health with wide ranging symptoms and consequences throughout the body including the respiratory, digestion, immune and central nervous systems. Heavy metals are also found in the placenta during pregnancy, and in mother’s breast milk, impacting the health of the baby during pregnancy and beyond.
How are we exposed to heavy metals?
• Lead – found in many places including exhaust fumes and paints (thankfully now banned), industrial waste, batteries and water supply from lead pipes. Exposure mainly occurs through inhalation of lead-contaminated dust particles, in crystal and ceramic containers, cosmetics – namely lipsticks, and ingesting lead-contaminated food and water.
• Mercury – mercury that has been released into the air from factories, as well from pesticides, has permeated our soils and waterways. Many fish are contaminated with mercury, with larger fish further up the food chain, such as tuna and swordfish, more saturated than smaller fish, such as sardines and anchovies. Many of us are also exposed to elemental mercury from amalgam fillings in our teeth. The vapor given off by the elemental mercury is highly lipophilic and absorbed through the lungs as well as tissues lining the mouth. Other sources include cosmetics and vaccines.
It is essential that all people with Amalgam filling have these out at some point soon in their life as Mercury is considered either the first or second most toxic element in existence and finds its way into the tissues.
• Cadmium – used in alloys, pigments and batteries, plus it has been found in toy jewellery. Exposure tends to come predominantly from cigarette smoke and through food such as vegetables, organ meats and shellfish, plus through emissions from contaminated industries such as mining and smelting. It is very difficult to remove from the body because it has a long half-life of 10-20 years.
• Arsenic – several arsenic-containing compounds have been used to manufacture pesticides and wood preservatives. Arsenic-based drugs are used to treat certain tropical diseases and in veterinary medicine to treat parasites. Recently, arsenic trioxide has been approved for use in the treatment of leukemia. Several million people are chronically exposed to arsenic in countries like Bangladesh, India, China, Mexico, and Taiwan, where the ground water is highly contaminated. Arsenic also finds its way into our diets through the intake of rice, and children under five are not recommended to consume rice milk for this reason.
• Chromium – hexavalent chromium is a toxic industrial pollutant that enters the air, water and soil from industries such as metal processing, chromate production and stainless steel welding.
Symptoms of heavy metal toxicity
Symptoms are varied and dependent on the level and duration of exposure, including…
Poor attention span
Numbness and tingling
Loss of peripheral vision
Skin rashes and dermatitis
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea
Gum and mouth inflammation
Testing for heavy metals
There are various ways of testing for heavy metals and we detail those below:
1. Provoked urine toxic metals test
2. Melisa test for metal sensitivity which shows loss of immune tolerance and is useful for assessing compatible dental materials
3.https://londonclinicofnutrition.co.uk/services/health-and-nutrition-testing/toxicity-testing/ Cyrex array 11 chemical immune reactivity $414
4. Mercury Tri Test – this test uniquely measures body burden of mercury both organic and inorganic. It also measures the excretion/detox ability.
Detoxification of heavy metals from the body
When considering heavy metal detoxification, it is first important to mention glutathione, because it plays a crucial part in the body’s ability to detoxify harmful substances. Glutathione is an intra-mitochondrial antioxidant found inside every cell and in highest concentrations in the liver. Glutathione is used extensively in the body, mopping up free radicals and binding with toxins, such as heavy metals, for excretion via the liver and in urine. It can easily become depleted if demand exceeds supply, and if there is insufficient glutathione then the body will be less able to deal with heavy metal exposure, and harmful levels will accumulate. Depletion of glutathione is linked to neurodegenerative, immune, cardiovascular and liver disease, plus cystic fibrosis and accelerated ageing – all are indicative of glutathione depletion and suggest the need to increase levels.
So how do we get more glutathione? Or more importantly, how do we get more reduced glutathione, which is the form we need for cell protection? Reduced glutathione is made available to the body in 3 ways…
1. De novo glutathione synthesis – a process that converts the amino acid cysteine into glutathione. Availability of cysteine is therefore crucial.
2. Regeneration of oxidised (damaged) to reduced glutathione – oxidised glutathione naturally pairs with available glutathione in the cell, returning the oxidised glutathione back to reduced glutathione.
3. Recycling of cysteine from conjugated glutathione, ready for further glutathione synthesis.
To increase reduced glutathione in the body:
• Decrease depletion of glutathione through reduction or avoidance of stress, smoking, processed foods, pesticides, exhaust fumes and excessive exercise.
• Increase levels through direct administration, such as topical liposomal cream, s-acetyl glutathione supplements, and in serious cases, IV glutathione, nebulized glutathione and intranasal glutathione.
• Use supportive nutrients that raise glutathione levels such as milk thistle, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), selenium, cordyceps, gotu kola and L-glutamine
• Pay attention to diet and lifestyle activities that increase glutathione levels such as eating cruciferous vegetables, antioxidant-rich foods, moderate aerobic and strength exercises, and meditation.
Alongside optimising glutathione protection, there are several other factors that both reduce our exposure to heavy metals, and help to remove them from the body.
• Eat plenty of fibre from vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds to help to carry the toxins out of the body and promote regular bowel movements, which is essential for ensuring the heavy metals are being excreted rather than recirculating and settling in other tissues
• Stay hydrated by drinking at least 8 glasses of purified water every day to help flush out toxins and support healthy bowel function
• Eat organic foods to avoid pesticide exposure
• Limit intake of large oily fish such as tuna, large salmon and swordfish that are higher in mercury
• Eat coriander and parsley regularly; both are thought to help remove heavy metals from the body. Add them to green juices/smoothies daily
• Citrus pectin – a type of fibre thought to be helpful for clearing toxins such as heavy metals from the body
• Chlorella – recent research has shown that chlorella is helpful for cadmium and lead detoxification
• NAC is thought to clear mercury and lead through the urine and it increases the production of glutathione. Used orally it is very safe except in those sensitive to sulphur, in which case S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) may be a better choice
• Curcumin – is supportive because it decreases the oxidative damage from toxins
Chelating agents are used to bind heavy metals and pull them out of the body, such as DMSA, which is taken by mouth as a tablet, and EDTA, which is administered through an IV or rectal suppository. They must be used under the guidance of an expert, due to possible side effects. DMSA appears to have the best safety and tolerance records especially when used carefully and slowly, although those sensitive to sulphur may react. Other supportive agents, such as ALA, vitamins C and E, probiotics and fibre used alongside DMSA can reduce cellular damage and increase the rate of toxin excretion. Replenishment with beneficial minerals alongside chelation is key because chelation can bind these minerals too and remove them from the body.
• Saunas – regular use can increase the excretion of arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury through sweat. It is thought sweat is the best way to remove cadmium from the body
• Hydrotherapy – a study in the UK found hydrotherapy increased the urinary excretion of lead by 250%
• Enemas – can be used safely at home to ensure toxins are being excreted from the bowel effectively.
Written by Emma Rushe and Oliver Barnett
The sebaceous gland - located in the dermis - is responsible for producing an oily substance called sebum. Sebum provides lubrication to the skin and helps to make it waterproof. In some people, the sebaceous glands can produce too much oil which leads oily skin. The most common condition caused by excessive sebum production is acne. The key the successful treatment of oily skin is to identify and address the following underlying causes:
- Genetic factors - a positive family history is often a good indicator.
- Imbalance of the skin’s and the gut’s microbiome (the gut-skin axis).
- Systemic inflammation.
- Insulin resistance - exacerbates oily and acne prone skin by increasing the proliferation of keratinocytes and it also stimulates the synthesis of androgens.
- High androgens - testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT, the more metabolically active form of testosterone) cause the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum in the skin.
- Changes in female hormone levels - before menstruation, oestrogen and progesterone levels fall and result in proportionally higher levels of testosterone.
- Stress and other environmental factors.
The best vitamins to consider when treating oily, acne prone skin:
Vitamin A is by far the most researched vitamin in relation to oily and acne prone skin. Vitamin A is well known for its role in supporting barrier function, it also heals the skin and modulates sebum production. Consuming dietary beta carotene, the precursor of Vitamin A, may be the most optimal option to achieve good levels of Vitamin A in the body.
Vitamin E stimulates skin regeneration and has anti-inflammatory properties, making it a promising tool in the treatment of oily, acne prone skin.
Vitamin C has also been shown to improve oily skin due to its anti-inflammatory properties.Vitamin C may help to reduce redness and swelling and is good for accelerating the healing process of the skin.
Vitamin B3 and B5 regulate the amount of oil the sebaceous glands produce and prevent them from going overdrive (9).
What vitamins are good for hair, nails and skin?
The skin, together with hair and nails, forms the integumentary system, a major protective barrier which guards us from chemicals, pathogens and other elements of our environment. Both hair and nails develop from the epidermis and are composed of (dead stratified squamous) epithelium cells which are rich in protein, especially keratin. Strong nails and glossy hair are considered great signs of health and vitality. From a naturopathic point of view, brittle nails and dry, lifeless hair can be a good indicator that some of the key vitamins and minerals are deficient.
The best vitamins for skin, hair and nails and their mechanisms discussed below:
Vitamin C and Vitamin E may be useful in supporting the integumentary system. There is growing evidence to suggest that oxidative stress is a pivotal mechanism behind hair graying and hair loss (10) thus ensuring these nutrients are adequate should be part of your intervention.
Biotin is one of the B vitamins and has many vital roles relating to the health of skin, hair and nails (11). It helps to protect your skin from water loss and regulates fatty acid metabolism and it has been shown to promote hair growth, particularly in people who are deficient (12). Brittle nails, scaly scalp, hair loss and dandruff can be signs of biotin deficiency.
Vitamin B12 and iron are essential for the production of red blood cells and haemoglobin and deficiency of these nutrients have been implicated in hair loss (13).
Nutrients that are essential in providing the building blocks for hair and nail growth: zinc, iron, copper, selenium, silicon, calcium and magnesium, silica. Proteins are also crucial for the health and vitality of our skin, hair and nails, especially the amino acids methionine, lysine, cysteine, glycine and proline.
What vitamins are good for skin elasticity?
Skin elasticity is the skin’s ability to return to its original shape after stretching. Your skin gets its stretchiness and resilience from two important proteins, collagen and elastin. The loss of elasticity, called elastosis, is a natural part of the ageing process which starts to appear in our 30s or in your 40s - if you’re one of the lucky ones (14). This ageing process is a result of both intrinsic (as with all internal organs) and extrinsic factors (sun exposure, stress, poor nutrition, high alcohol intake, smoking and air pollution) (15). Hormonal changes are also key factors, particularly the natural decline in oestrogen (16) and testosterone (17) production.
Here are the best vitamins essential for skin elasticity:
Vitamin A (retinol) is converted to retinoic acid in the skin and it has been shown to modulate gene expression and influence cellular processes in both the epidermis and dermis, thereby exerting potent anti-ageing effects on our skin. Vitamin A has a key role in the prevention and treatment of UV-induced skin damage (18), making it the most important vitamin in the prevention of wrinkles and loss of elasticity.
Vitamin C is vital for the formation of collagen and elastin. This great but humble vitamin is also a powerful antioxidant, which means that it can trap free radicals that contribute to many processes of ageing, including loss of elasticity of the skin.
Vitamin E is another skin-friendly antioxidant and has been extensively investigated for its role in UV damage protection (19). Vitamin E appears to improve skin elasticity and vitality.
B vitamins – contribute to the production of collagen in the human body. Studies have shown that deficiency of Vitamin B2 & B6 is directly correlated with low collagen content of the skin so including a good B complex may be beneficial.
Get in touch and find out more about our Skin and beauty IV therapy, available here at our clinic in London.
What vitamins are good for skin with eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition, characterised by red, dry and itchy patches. It’s commonly found on the skin of our neck, hands, feet, elbows and the back of the legs. Atopic eczema (atopic means ‘with a genetic predisposition’) is the most common form affecting 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in the UK (20).
Usually, healthy skin cells are tightly packed together creating a good natural barrier for immune defence. When you have eczema this barrier function is impaired and the skin’s delicate balance of beneficial bacteria is disrupted. This disruption allows toxins and pathogens to enter the skin (a process similar to leaky gut), which leads to an immune response and ultimately to an inflamed, irritated skin.
The best vitamins and nutrients for the management of eczema:
Vitamin D has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of eczema through its immune-regulatory, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activities in the skin. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in eczema (21) and supplementation of at least 1000IU daily has been shown to reduce symptoms. Your practitioner will be able to assess your vitamin D levels through a simple finger prick test.
Vitamin A - the great ‘skin-vitamin’ - strengthens the skin’s protective layer and supports healing (22) and has been implicated in the treatment of eczema.
Vitamin E accumulates in the mitochondria within skin cells and promotes collagen and fibroblast synthesis. In a recent study, 400iu of vitamin E significantly improved the severity of eczema symptoms, including itching (23).
Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s a natural antihistamine and due to its effect on collagen production it’s a really useful vitamin for the treatment of eczema. Vitamin C might also help alleviate redness, itchiness and long-term damage to the skin.
Eczema is a multifactorial condition and its development often starts as early as birth so it’s important to approach it with a holistic, in-depth and comprehensive support. Read more about our expert practitioners who can offer more personalised support and advice.
Which is the best vitamin for skin complexion and makes your skin glow?
I’m sure we’ve all met someone who has a beautiful, blemish-free skin with an inner glow and luminance to it. Great skin is a true reflection of our inner wellbeing and you can achieve it by having good nutrition and looking after your physical and mental health.
The best vitamins for a healthy glow and great complexion:
Vitamin C, as mentioned above, is a powerful antioxidant that stimulates collagen production (24) making it your number one ticket to a luminescent skin. When applied topically Vitamin C has been shown to brighten the skin by reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation.
Vitamin A again. Vitamin A has the ability to even skin tone and to give your skin a beautiful, healthy glow.
Biotin, helps to protect your skin from water loss and regulates fatty acid metabolism, giving your skin a healthy complexion.
Vitamin B3 is known to increase keratin, a protein that keeps your skin firm and healthy.
IV- nutrient therapy with glutathione can give your skin a natural ‘refreshed’ glow and may even reduce pigmentation and redness of the skin.
Do Multivitamins help skin?
A well-balanced multivitamin that contains the key nutrients discussed above can be a great tool to support your skin health and your overall wellbeing. Choose a carefully formulated complex that is effective, pure, ethical and contains therapeutic doses of vitamins and minerals in their most bioavailable and easily absorbed from. Look for Vitamin D3 vs D2, methylfolate vs folic acid, iron citrate vs iron sulphate and so on. For the best skin support, choose a good multi that contains the most important nutrients: vitamins A, C, D, E, B complex, zinc, iron, selenium and chromium. Any plant derived antioxidants like green tea, rosehip, blueberry, turmeric is a bonus!
Have you tried IV nutrient therapy before? Here, at the London Clinic of Nutrition, we offer a range of conventional and bespoke infusions to revitalise our clients’ health and help them reverse chronic disease. Find out more here.
Dietary and lifestyle considerations for a healthy and glowing skin
- If your skin complaints continue to persist, consider eliminating allergens such as wheat, dairy and eggs.
- Include probiotic rich foods such as kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, fermented tofu and kefir to support the skin’s (and gut) microbiome.
- Take a good quality and pure omega 3 supplement to support skin hydration and regulate inflammatory response of the skin (26).
- Consider supplementing with marine collagen, a natural source of type 1 collagen that is easily absorbed.
- Support methylation and detoxification with vitamins and minerals like methylfolate, methylcobalamine, vitamin B6, zinc and copper.
- Consume organic produce wherever possible.
- Although sun exposure is vital for vitamin D production and our circadian rhythm, a sensible approach is recommended to avoid sun damage.
- Protect your skin from damage with antioxidants. Eat plenty of vegetables and (some) fruits of rainbow of colours. Particularly green and orange ones for their carotenoid and polyphenol content.
- Include protein rich foods - protein supports the growth and maintenance of collagen and elastin fibres. Amino acids proline and lysine work together with vitamin C to enhance the formation of collagen.
- Choose more natural household products to minimise exposure to environmental toxins.
- Manage stress through mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Improve sleep hygiene by reducing blue light in the evenings.
Consult one of our expert team members to discuss functional tests to assess gut issues, liver function, hormonal irregularities and genetic predisposition for vitamin inefficiencies (for example MTHFR and VDR).
Call us today on 020 3332 0030 and a member of the team will be available to answer any queries you have.
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The London Clinic of Nutrition is a multi-disciplined health practice offering personalised nutritional medicine and naturopathy using the functional medicine approach.
100 Seymour Place
020 3332 0030