Welcome to week three of my 10-week series, 10 Barriers To Recovery From Lyme Disease. Number 3 on the list is heavy metals.
Toxic metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and aluminum can easily build up in the body. They may first float around in the blood stream, but then they will be taken up into the body tissues where they lodge and can cause strife. Where they lodge determines the amount and type of strife they cause. For some it may be in the connective tissue such as joints and muscles, causing arthritic symptoms and pain. For others it may be the cardiovascular system, contributing to heart disease (did you know that in some European countries, a patient presenting with blockage of coronary arteries will be detox’ed of lead before there is any consideration of bypass surgery?). For other people, toxic metals can lodge in the neurological tissue – yes, the brain. This can cause cognitive decline, memory loss, problems with focus and concentration, word-finding difficulties and a generally foggy-brained feeling. Sound familiar?!
Where do these metals come from? Mercury can come from eating the wrong kinds of fish, from vaccines including flu shots and from air pollution – coal-burning power plants pump out mercury vapor every day. Lead might still be coming from old lead pipes, lead paint and in very small quantities from tap water – another good reason to drink filtered water.
Assessing heavy metal load is best done through a urine test. Yes, almost all labs offer blood testing for heavy metals, but here’s the problem. Metals only stay in the bloodstream for an average of six to eight weeks once they enter the body – after that they are taken up into the tissues where they cause their problems. So unless the exposure is recent, the blood levels may well come up normal. Similarly, if one does a urine collection, without a provoking agent, it may well also come up normal, since urine is simply a filtration of the blood.
Therefore the method I use is a provoked urine test. We give a dose of DMSA, an agent that chelates heavy metals. (A chelator is an agent that prods metals out of the tissues, and shoves them back in the blood stream where the kidneys and bowels can excrete them through the stool and urine. Chelation is akin to detoxing, specific to toxic metals).
The DMSA causes a dump of metals, we collect urine for six hours following ingestion, and voila! we see metals coming out and can quantify them. I have run hundreds of these tests, and although it’s not a perfect science and doesn’t tell us exactly how much of these metals are left in the body, there is a definite correlation – the more metals that are dumped, the more there are in the body. Another way I know this is that when I retest my patients every two months throughout their treatment, I see the levels coming down on each test even though I’m giving them the same provoking dose. As their body stores go down, their levels on the provoked urine test do too.
The only time I hesitate to do the provoked urine test is in patients who are so super-sensitive that the dump of metals might produce too much detox and make them feel really lousy. Then we either lower the dose of DMSA, or embark on a slow and steady metal detox protocol until they’re strong enough to tolerate the test.
Much can be done to rid the body of heavy metals. I have some “slow and steady” protocols for very sick, highly sensitive patients, to “gung-ho” protocols for patients who are quite functional and we think that toxic metals are the key thing holding them back. Protocols typically involve a combination of either DMSA or EDTA (sometimes both), along with detox helpers such as alpha-lipoic acid, glutathione, and detox helpers such as Dr Nicola’s Detox Plus powder; and binders to ‘escort’ metals out of the bowels and prevent reabsorption such as Dr. Nicola’s Fiber Plus and chlorella.