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Find out what role heavy metals have in eczema
Heavy metal poisoning is commonly associated with seawater fish, old lead pipes and contaminated drinking water. However, they can be found in other places too including in your work environment, diet and dental fillings. Exposure to heavy metals has been linked to a number of conditions ranging from organ failure to brain disorders. Eczema is one of the common results of heavy metal toxicity and some sufferers have reported dramatic improvement following detoxification. Find out how heavy metals can cause eczema, how to find out if your eczema is caused by heavy metals and how to “cure” your eczema by getting rid of these toxic metals.
by Brad Chase
The term “heavy metal” has different definitions. Generally, it describes elements with metallic properties but such elements may be selected as heavy metals because of their atomic weight, density, chemical properties or toxicity.
Usually, heavy metals are classified as metals heavier than carbon or elements with high relative densities.
However, some of these elements that qualify by that definition cannot be chemically or physically classified as metals. The common property of heavy metals is that they can accumulate in the body and/or environment in toxic concentrations.
Heavy metals may be toxic at certain concentrations but some of them are quite essential in low doses and safe when bound to transport proteins in the blood.
For example, humans need iron, copper, cobalt, manganese and zinc as long as the metals are not present in the blood in their free forms.
Heavy metals may get into the body through inhalation, ingestion or absorption through the skin and mucus membrane.
Among the heavy metals, lead and mercury are the most common sources of poisoning. This is because they are more commonly found in the environment. Lead, for example, can be found in old pipes, food cans, paints, batteries and fuel.
Heavy metal poisoning can affect any organ-system in the body. However, its most serious side effects are observed in the blood and central nervous system. Heavy metals can also seriously harm organs that remove toxins from the body (mostly the liver, kidneys and the lungs).
Certain chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis can also be caused by heavy metal poisoning.
Lastly, allergies are quite common with heavy metal poisoning. Therefore, allergy diseases such as asthma and eczema can be triggered by the accumulation of toxic metals in the body.
Arguably the greatest sources of constant heavy metal exposure for humans are tooth fillings and other dental materials.
For example, the mercury found in dental fillings constitutes a constant source of exposure to the heavy metal.
Exposure to the metals found in dental materials has been blamed for a number of hypersensitivity reactions and contact allergy. Heavy metals found in dental materials can also trigger autoimmune and inflammatory reactions.
Dental materials containing heavy metals include amalgam dental fillings, nickel, gold alloys and stainless steel crowns.
The mercury in amalgam dental fillings makes the dental material unstable. Mercury is a rather strange heavy metal because it is a liquid at room temperature. Also unique is the fact that mercury can vaporize into gas either from its solid or liquid state.
Therefore, there is a progressive loss of mercury from dental amalgam that seeps away as liquid or gas. This means that mercury is constantly leaking from amalgam dental fillings into gum tissues as well as the lungs and gut.
Mercury is not only dangerous but it is converted into other harmful compounds by the bacteria in the mouth and gut. One of these metabolites is methyl mercury.
The other heavy metals in amalgam dental fillings are also released following the vaporization of mercury.
While health regulatory bodies are quick to defend the safety of amalgam dental fillings, multiple independent studies confirm that the heavy metals released from dental materials concentrate in the muscles, connective tissues, nerve fibers, salivary glands and blood vessels found in the oral cavity.
The deposition of heavy metals in the oral cavity can cause lesions, tooth pain, gingivitis, metal mouth and other oral diseases.
However, these heavy metals are also dispersed to other parts of the body where they can cause similar lesions, infections and inflammatory reactions.
Heavy metal exposure can cause contact eczema. This is an important consideration for people who work or live close to sources of heavy metals.
Eczema caused by heavy metal poisoning involves skin irritation and damage to skin cells. Therefore, it can be a form of contact allergy. Heavy metals that can trigger contact allergy that appears as eczematous lesions include mercury, lead, copper, chromium, cobalt, palladium and nickel.
Contact eczema due to heavy metals can result from the presence of such metals in jewelries (especially rings), electronics, topical creams and other beauty products.
Heavy metal exposure from such sources usually sensitize the user so that subsequent exposure may lead to rapid and exaggerated hypersensitivity reactions resulting in serious eczema flare-ups.
However, heavy metals can do more than simply cause contact eczema. They can also cause systemic eczema. In the gastrointestinal tract, heavy metals damage the lining of the gut and gain entry into the bloodstream.
When heavy metals reach the blood in their free forms, they disturb normal cellular and metabolic processes as well as disrupt hormonal balance and also immune function.
The cells of the immune system recognize heavy metals as foreign bodies and antigens. Therefore, they raise antibodies to neutralize and remove them. Unfortunately, such immune response is usually ineffective at detoxification and only end up leading to inflammation and other presentations of eczema.
In a 2012 paper published in the journal, Clinical Toxicology, a group of researchers detailed the effects of non-essential heavy metals on the cells of innate immune system.
A summary of their findings is provided in the table below.
The authors found similar trends for vanadium, platinum and palladium.
They also found that heavy metals are most harmful to epithelial cells. Therefore, these metals can easily damage the soft tissues lining the surfaces of the lungs, gastrointestinal tract, liver and other major organs in the body.
An earlier study published in the International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health in 2001 also reached similar conclusions about the effects of heavy metals on the immune system.
In this study, the researchers found that heavy metals influence immune cells (and indeed other cells in the body) by reacting with certain structures on the surfaces of these cells and then gaining entry through L-type calcium channels.
The results of the study showed that, at low doses, heavy metals stimulate the production of inflammatory cytokines which then allows the Th2-arm of the immune system to predominate.
Because the Th2-arm is involved with hypersensitivity reactions and linked with allergy, it is easy to see how heavy metals may promote allergy diseases such as atopic eczema.
Other studies have detailed the mechanisms by which heavy metals disrupt the immune system. For example, lead and cadmium can switch B lymphocytes from producing IgM and IgG antibodies to producing IgE antibodies.
This is an important change because IgG and IgM are needed to fight bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents while IgE is associated with allergic and hypersensitivity reactions.
Therefore, heavy metals train the immune system to allow infections while promoting allergy diseases such as atopic eczema and asthma.
However, researchers found that T lymphocytes are even more sensitive to the influences of heavy metals than B lymphocytes. Heavy metals such as lead skew the balance of the Th1 and Th2 arms of the immune system by inhibiting Th1 and promoting Th2.
Such imbalance also lowers immune defense against invading pathogens while encouraging allergies.
A 2006 study published in the German journal, Unwelt Medizin Gesellschaft, confirmed that the mercury found in the dental amalgam fillings of pregnant women can find its way to fetuses and still be present in tissues of newborns.
The mercury passed from tooth fillings from mother to child during pregnancy was identified as the chief cause of atopic eczema among newborns.
This study also confirmed that the newborns’ eczema disappeared after the infants underwent mercury detoxification.
Other studies that found out that dental amalgam fillings caused the appearance of eczematous lichenoid lesions on the skin include a 2003 report published in Sweden’s Dental Material Commission – Care and Consideration, two studies published in 2003 in the British Journal of Dermatology, and another 2 studies published in the journal, Contact Dermatitis, in the same year.
One of the studies published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that the eczema-like lichenoid bodies disappeared in all patients after their dental amalgam fillings were removed whether they tested positive for high levels of mercury or not.
This study not only confirms that mercury can cause eczema but also shows that blood tests for heavy metal poisoning is not definitive for ruling out mercury leakage from tooth fillings.
To confirm that your eczema is caused by heavy metal poisoning, you need to know which heavy metals are present in your body.
First, your doctor may ask about your home and work environments to determine if one of them may serve as a source of heavy metal poisoning. Old homes may still have lead pipes and your supply of drinking water may have high levels of certain heavy metals.
Thereafter, blood tests may be ordered. Such blood tests screen with standardized panels for common heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, chromium and cadmium.
However, blood tests are not foolproof because heavy metals can migrate from the blood to the bones.
Therefore, results that only indicate low blood levels of heavy metals are not really useful. Blood tests for heavy metals are informative only if they indicate that there are high blood levels of certain heavy metals.
Lead, for example, soon moves from the blood and accumulates in the bones. Iron can deposit in the heart while aluminum and mercury lodge in the brain.
Besides blood tests, doctors can also order 24-hour urine collection (for mercury and arsenic), hair analysis (believed to be superior to blood and urine tests for heavy metal toxicity) and X-rays of long bones (for children).
Only after determining the kind of heavy metal poisoning responsible for your eczema can the right treatment be prescribed.
Both conventional and alternative medicine practitioners agree that the only effective way to remove heavy metals from the body is through a technique known as chelation.
In chelation, heavy metals are trapped by the chelating agent and then gradually and safely eliminated from the body through excretion.
The most important chelating agent is EDTA or ethylene diamine tetraacetic acid.
It is administered via an IV (intravenous) infusion and delivered directly in the blood stream. While EDTA is commonly used for lead poisoning, other chelating agents are also used to clear away common heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, cobalt, chromium, zinc, aluminum, nickel, selenium, manganese, tin and thallium.
Once the heavy metals responsible for your eczema are removed, you should see a quick improvement in your eczema symptoms. Most people experience total clearance of their eczema after chelation therapy.
While chelation is effective, it can be too effective. Chelating agents can clear away essential heavy metals that are present in safe, trace amounts along with toxic metals.
Essential heavy metals that may be lost in this way include zinc, selenium, manganese, iron, cobalt and even calcium.
Therefore, it is important to replace these good metals after undergoing chelation therapy.
Plants are usually good sources of safe heavy metals as long as they are grown in soils devoid of toxic metals. Therefore, choose vegetables, fruits and nuts to replace the good metals lost to chelation.
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