Toxic Metals and Thyroid Health

The modern world exposes us to chemicals and pollutants that don’t belong in our bodies. These include heavy metals such as mercury, aluminum, lead, and cadmium that embed into fatty organ tissue (e.g. thyroid, liver, adrenals and brain) and persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as PCBs (a broad class of industrial chemicals) that are known to disrupt the endocrine system. Symptoms of metal toxicity include:

  • headache
  • neurological problems (nerve pain, trembling, visual disturbances, vertigo, neuropathy)
  • skin rash (contact dermatitis, irritation, hives)
  • seizures
  • fatigue
  • digestive difficulties
  • suppression of immune system (autoimmunity)
  • difficulty breathing
  • fever and chills
  • muscle aches

To reduce the levels of toxic metals in the tissues, it’s important to take the obvious steps and minimize your everyday exposure to them. For example, with mercury you can try to limit overconsumption of larger, fatty fish, be wary toward certain vaccines (i.e. the flu vaccine), and consider replacing your dental amalgams at an appropriate time. Since cigarettes are a source of heavy metals, if you smoke or live with someone who smokes, then this needs to be addressed. Drinking water is a common source of different heavy metals, which is why you want to avoid drinking tap water, or at the very least get your tap water tested to detect the amount of heavy metals.

But why is mercury considered to be toxic? Mercury has the potential to bind to any molecule that contains sulfur. When mercury does this, it will prevent certain enzymes from doing their job. For example, mercury can actually bind to the cells of the thyroid gland. When this happens it can potentially lead to hypothyroidism by interfering with some of the minerals that are required to produce thyroid hormone. It can also affect the conversion of T4 to T3. And while most cases of hypothyroidism probably aren’t caused by mercury toxicity, this needs to be considered for anyone who is trying to restore their thyroid health naturally. In addition to the thyroid gland, mercury can affect other glands and organs of the body since it travels largely undisturbed throughout the vascular and lymphatic systems.

To truly detoxify the body, toxins have to be moved from storage sites (in fat cells and other tissues of the body) into metabolically active pathways. They travel through the lymph system and blood to the liver, where they are chemically altered to something the body can get rid of, and then moved through the bile into the digestive system, where they are eventually eliminated in the stool. All of that needs to happen rather seamlessly. Some therapies such as colonics, lymphatic massage, and infrared detox (and others) can be useful, but most are used out of context. For example, fat cells are not just a place of stored fuel; fat (safely) stores toxins. When we lose weight and burn off fat, these toxins are released into the blood stream. It has been shown that weight loss can increase the levels of pesticides in the blood and decrease levels of active T3. As such, detoxification should always be a consideration with weight loss programs. This is especially true if there is a history of hypothyroidism symptoms.

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For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.