Heart disease is an ever-increasing global health problem. Nearly half of all Americans have some form of heart disease, 48% women and 46% men. It remains the leading disease-based cause of death in the United States.
Traditionally, one was only thought to be at risk for developing heart disease if they smoked, were overweight or diabetic, and had elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and/or triglycerides. Today, recent research has begun to shed new light between the association of chronic heavy metal exposure (lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic) and heart disease.
The association between chronic heavy metal exposure and heart disease has a number of implications.
- First: until recently, it was widely believed that heavy metal toxicity had little-to-no effect on the cardiovascular system. Translation: This is why most MDs and cardiologists today have no knowledge of the connection between heavy metals and your heart health.
- Second: a new view of how heavy metals create heart disease by creating an imbalance in antioxidants and cardio-protective mechanisms inherent in the human body. Translation: Your body can protect itself from heart disease with natural antioxidants and this process is diminished when heavy metals are present.
- Thirdly: genetic expression is altered by the presence of heavy metals. Translation: Heart disease doesn’t run in your family. Heavy metal toxins could turn on heart disease genes – thus activating the disease expression when present and deactivating the expression when absent.
Heavy Metals & Heart Disease
Heavy metals are toxic because they may have cumulative damaging effects that can cause chronic degenerative changes, especially in the nervous system, liver, and kidneys, and, in some cases, they also have carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects. The exact mechanism of toxicity with heavy metals still remains unknown, although enzymatic inhibition, impaired antioxidants metabolism, and oxidative stress have been studied and observed. Heavy metals generate many of their adverse health effects through the formation of free radicals, resulting in DNA damage, lipid peroxidation, and depletion of detoxification proteins (e.g., glutathione).
As a result of the extensive use of heavy metals and their compounds in industry and consumer products, these agents have been widely exposed to our environment. Because metals are not biodegradable, they can persist in the environment and produce a variety of adverse effects. Maximum levels for heavy metals in food have been set in consideration for possible chemical contaminants, however it’s difficult to determine exactly how much exposure is considered toxic. Many foods and items are known to be contaminated, i.e., mercury in amalgam fillings, large fish and fish oil supplements, lead and arsenic in plant based protein powders (rice), lead in chicken based bone broth protein powders, cadmium in cigarettes, e-cigarettes and fertilizers etc.
Mercury and Heart Disease
Mercury exposure has been shown to promote atherosclerosis. The potential harmfulness of mercury in CVD was first observed in the Kuopio Ischemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) study, which found almost a direct correlation between levels of mercury in urine and risk associations for heart disease. The Health Professionals follow up study (HPFS) also noted increased heart disease risks with dentists, who have a large occupational exposure to mercury vapor when putting in amalgam fillings. Mercury can bind to and thus form complexes with antioxidants like glutathione, which plays a critical role in regenerating vitamins C and E from their inactivated byproducts. In addition, glutathione-mercury complexes appear to be the primary form in which mercury is transported and eliminated from the body, further decreasing cellular defenses against oxidation.
Additionally mercury has the ability to bind with selenium, forming an insoluble complex which reduces selenium’s antioxidative defenses and promote free radical stress and lipid oxidation (cholesterol plaques) in the human body. This interaction between mercury and selenium may represent the one mechanism through which mercury increases the risk of CVD, for instance, by reducing the bioavailability of selenium or by deactivating the activity of glutathione.
Lead and Heart Disease
Lead toxicity has been shown to promote atherosclerosis by physically binding to various sites of the cardiovascular system directly, inviting oxidation of fatty acid deposits. Chronic lead exposure can also alter fatty acid metabolism, increasing production of LDL cholesterol, decreasing HDL cholesterol and increasing overall oxidative stress in the body leading to the generation of myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). Recent epidemiological studies have reported that low level lead exposure has a graded association also with hypertension (elevated blood pressure) and peripheral artery disease. Lead can cause hypertension by inducing a hormone that creates vasoconstriction (tightening of arteries and veins), and increased hormone production in the kidneys which decreases nitric oxide (a powerful vasodilator i.e., opener of arteries). Lead has also been shown to compete with calcium, such that if the heart muscle intakes lead rather than calcium, the cell becomes increasingly filled with lead which then decreases the ability for calcium to regulate blood pressure.
Signs and Symptoms Of Heart Disease
Heart disease is often called “The Silent Killer” – mostly because there are no direct symptoms associated with the severity of heart disease (for example you could have 99% blockage in the main artery of your heart – yet feel 100% ok.) But we have identified some signs and symptoms which are labeled “risk factors.” (Something to ponder – all the the risk factors associated are signs and symptoms of heavy metal toxicity – I guess it took science this long to connect the dots!)
Symptoms of Heavy Metal Toxicity / Risk Factors for Heart disease
- Weight loss resistance (ie overweight/obesity)
- Swelling in extremities (ankles)
- Heart burn (acid reflux)
- Brain fog
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive sweating
- Diagnosis of high blood pressure
- Elevated cholesterol ratios (Total/HDL, Total/Triglycerides, LDL/HDL)
- Elevated inflammatory markers (CRP/Homocysteine)
- Elevated blood sugars.
If you have never been tested for heavy metal toxicity – now may be the time – especially if you have any of the above symptoms or diagnoses.