Heavy Metal Toxicity
Elucidating a Modern Scourge
Heavy metal is a loosely defined word, which describes a group of elements exhibiting metallic properties, principally including the transition metals (some actinides and rare earths) and some metalloids (elements such as silicon which exhibit metal-like properties). There is no clear definition, but they are commonly taken to be greater than 5 times the specific gravity of water . Some of these elements, such as manganese, iron and molybdenum, are required by humans for correct physiological function. Yet others, or the incorrect levels of those required, can poison or create ailments in the system.
There are a wide range of health inflictions caused by toxic metals in organs such as the brain and central nervous system, kidneys, liver and blood. Muscular and neurological degenerative diseases are not the uncommon outcome of long-term exposure to some of them.
Compared with only a couple of generations past, we live nowadays in a cocktail 'sea' of man-made or released chemicals bourne through air, water, soil and food, creating new health issues previously unencountered.
The Pervasion of heavy metals
Heavy metals occur extensively through our natural environment and are in large part the consequences of unnatural contamination and pollution... activity by man. Most people would not deny this to be true, however, the more revealing fact is that, irrespective of the correct disposal or recycling of contaminating materials, toxic heavy metals continue to be used in industry, in everyday products that we use or are exposed to. In some cases our modern living is dependant on their application, as being the only, best or most cost-effective means of creating products that support our sophisticated lives.
Common heavy metal pollutants are released through metal smelting, electroplating, pesticides, dyes and tyre-rubber particulates. Unfortunately the price we pay for our indescretion with the natural world, both historically and currently, is that as we continue to live in it and depend on it, we must also live with the contaminants and their effects on our health.
How do they effect our health?
Entering through inhalation, ingestion, the skin or mucosal membrane, toxic metals are those that the body cannot eliminate before accumulation in the soft tissues of the body. Exposure from industry is most prevalent in adults, as ingestion is for children, for example from putting contaminated soil in their mouths, but we are all susceptible to uptake of heavy metals from many different sources.
One of the more concerning issues regarding toxic metals is their ability to persist and acculumate in the organisms in an environment, often in marine species, some of which may be eaten later by us. This is known as bioaccumalation in the individual, and biomagnification is the continuous increase in concentration of that substance through the food chain as one organism injests another.
When absorbed heavy metals may compete with other metal ions, such as copper, zinc and calcium, preferentially binding to proteins, weakening enzyme activity which in the long term can lead to organ damage.