How To Test For Heavy Metals

Assessing your heavy metal status isn’t easy. Questioning and a thorough investigation into your past and present provide some indication of exposure. However, exposure doesn’t indicate how much of those heavy metals stayed in your body. A DNA test gives us another angle of understanding, by assessing your detoxification capacity and thereby assessing how capable your body is of removing these harmful metals. However, we still don’t know for certain whether treatment is required until we directly test for heavy metals. Unfortunately, testing for heavy metals isn’t that simple.

Do you suffer from elevated heavy metals?

We are exposed to heavy metals every day. The air we breath, the food we eat, the water we drink, the clothes we wear, the cosmetic products we use and the place we sleep at night, all contribute to the toxic burden on our body.

What is a heavy metal?

Simply stated, a metal of relatively high density, or of high atomic weight that causes abnormal or negative disturbance in the body.

These heavy metals may be; carcinogenic (cause cancer), disrupt the nervous system (brain function), affect the microbiome (gut bacterial balance) and commonly affect the endocrine system (hormones).
The most common heavy metals and ones considered by the World Health Organization to be the biggest risk to the population are cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic.

cadmium

When we look at toxins in relation to our body, we often refer to them as toxic burden and toxic load. The “toxic burden” is the amount of toxins we are exposed to everyday. The “toxic load” is the amount of toxins we carry in our body.

Unfortunately, its not always apparent if you have a toxic build up in the body. Many toxins can be stowed away in the bodies various tissues such as bone, fat, nerves, red blood cells and kidneys. Therefore, it is extremely important to test your heavy metal load and burden to see if these may be contributing to your ill health.

However, testing your heavy metal load or burden isn’t as straightforward as you might think. There are many tests available on the market to check you levels. Some are complete quack, while others have some limitations. The most common tests include the examination of urine, whole blood, serum blood and hair.

So lets explore the positives and negatives of each of these common testing types and thereby provide you with the knowledge to get the right test, at the right time, for the right heavy metal.

Urine-Test

Heavy metal tests:

  1. Urine test

This test involves collecting urine and testing the concentration of heavy metal ions.

Pro:

Gives a reasonably accurate indication of recent exposure and long term exposure of a few heavy metals (listed below). Would also indicate if you are still currently exposing yourself to the heavy metal.

Con:

If there has been no recent exposure, it can show up with a very low or negative result, even though there could be elevated levels of heavy metals in your body. This is because some heavy metals are more easily excreted via the kidneys than others. Lead and methyl mercury are bound to protein structures in the body and therefore don’t show up in urine tests.

Thus, only look at the following heavy metals in urine tests:

Cadmium: Urinary cadmium is the best indicator of long-term exposure. Cadmium is concentrated in the kidneys and urinary levels represent cumulative cadmium exposure over the long term.Arsenic: Urinary arsenic is the best indicator of recent exposure, as 80% is excreted in urine after 3 days.
Urinary mercury is the best indicator of inorganic and elemental mercury exposure and kidney burden.

2. Urine challenge test


This test involves the administration of a chelating agent such as DMPA, DMSA or EDTA prior to collecting urine. The chelating agent can be administered orally or via I.V.


Pro:

The chelating agents mobilize stores of heavy metals in the body and thereby show results that reflect heavy metal stores instead of only recent exposure.

Con:

There are no regulations on how this test is completed; as such there are no high and low reference ranges. As each chelating agents works differently, the dose of chelating agent, the route of administration and the length of time before urine is collected, effects the result. Therefore, as there are no regulations to follow, everyone makes them up and the reference ranges most laboratories supply are similar to a non-challenged urine test. Therefore, almost everyone has elevated results but we have no reliable way to know if this is a sign of toxicity or normal daily excretion. Finally, taking high levels of chelating agents can be very damaging to your health as they can draw out essential minerals or mobilize toxic heavy metals.

blood-sample-in-test-tubes-with-health-analysis

3. Whole blood test

This test examines the heavy metal concentrations inside your red and white blood cells, but does not check the heavy metal levels in the fluid surrounding the cells (plasma).

Pro:

As blood cells live up to 120 days the level of heavy metal found reflects your exposure/blood levels over the last 120 days.

Con:

Not all heavy metals have an affinity to bind with red blood cells. Some heavy metals prefer to adhere to tissues in the kidneys or bone structures throughout the body. Therefore, those that do not have a high affinity with red blood cells will only be elevated if there has been very recent exposure or the body is extremely toxic.

The heavy metals that do have an affinity with red blood cells are:

Lead: Whole blood is the best indicator of lead status. Around 95% of lead is bound to red blood cells, while the rest binds to bone and other protein structures.
Mercury: Whole blood is the best indicator of organic (methyl or ethyl) mercury exposure with 70-95% bound to hemoglobin in red blood cells. Blood is however not a good indicator of inorganic or elemental mercury levels.
Cadmium: Whole blood cadmium levels reflect recent exposure within the last 50 days, but not overall toxicity levels.

4. Blood Plasma Test


This test examines the Heavy metal concentration of the fluid surrounding our red and white blood cells.

Pro:

The main reason to conduct this test is if liver or kidney damage is present, as urinary excretion will not be accurate or give false readings. In this case, plasma testing can replace this. However, It will only show recent exposure or severe toxicity.

Con:

Blood plasma testing will not show stores in the body or long-term exposure unless every other tissue is over saturated and toxicity levels are very high. Most heavy metals are bound to another molecule and either stick around in the body or are quickly excreted via the urine.

5. Hair mineral test

This test examines the heavy metal content of newly grown hair.

Pro:

This test shows a long-term picture of plasma concentrations of heavy metals. It can also indicate some protein bound stores that are used in the hair’s growth.

Con:

Not all heavy metals are mobilized in the growth of a hair follicle, therefore generally only plasma concentrations influence the heavy metal levels. There is also a large risk of contamination with hair testing as hair dyes, shampoos, conditioners and other products can contain heavy metals thereby providing false results.

The solution

As you may have noticed there are no perfect tests. Each and every one of the tests discussed, have some pretty significant drawbacks. However don’t despair, as there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel.

 

Introducing the Mercury Tri-Test

Quicksilver scientific utilizes a combination of 3 tests to examine mercury as well as tests for all other heavy metals in whole blood. The Tri test for mercury looks at samples of hair, whole blood and urine to assess for the body’s mercury burden and its ability to eliminate it. By combing the results of all three markers, we are bypassing the limitations of each test and thereby get a much more thorough and complete picture of your Mercury levels. The Blood metals give us a further snapshot of other metal burdens. Although there are limitations to testing all other heavy metals in your blood it is a great starting point.


Quicksilver scientific currently hold the patent for the mercury tri-test and all third party providers send their test samples to Quicksilver Scientific in the USA for testing. Certain states in the USA are able to order this test directly, everyone else must order through an accredited practitioner.

blood test

The Future and Today


The Mercury Tri test is a prime example of the future of heavy metal testing. Hopefully very soon, more test like this one will become available where the combination of urine, whole blood and possibly even hair is used to give us a thorough understanding of what’s actually going on. As time goes on we can also hope that challenging urine tests, which was once considered a gold standard, are put under the microscope and proper guidelines with corresponding reference ranges are established so we are able to properly utilize this test.


Until that time comes, we will use the tri test for mercury, urine for cadmium and arsenic and whole blood for lead and cadmium. By combing these 3 testing methods we have reliable way to understand the 4 major heavy metals that affect our system.

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