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Common Heavy Metals: Sources and Specific Effects



Aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, mercury, and nickel are the most prevalent heavy metals. The specific sources of exposure, body tissues in which the metal tend to be deposited, and health effects of each metal are identified below.


  1. Aluminum

Source of exposure: Aluminum cookware, aluminum foil, antacids, antiperspirants, baking powder (aluminum containing), buffered aspirin, canned acidic foods, food additives, lipstick, medications and drugs (anti-diarrheal agents, hemorrhoid medications and vagina douches); processed cheese, "softened" water and tap water


Target tissues: Bones, brain, kidney, and stomach


Signs and symptoms: Colic, dementia, esophagitis, gastroenteritis, kidney damage, liver dysfunction, loss of appetite, loss of balance, muscle pain, psychosis, shortness of breath and weakness.


2. Arsenic


Source of exposure: Air pollution, antibiotics given to commercial livestock, certain marine plants, chemical processing, coal-fired power plants, defoliants, drinking water, drying agents for cotton, fish, herbicides, insecticides, meats (from commercially raised poultry and cattle), metal ore smelting, pesticides, seafood (fish, muscles, oysters), specialty glass and wood preservatives,


Target tissues: Most organs of the body, cell (cellular metabolism), gastrointestinal system, lungs and skin


Signs and symptoms: Abdominal pain, burning of the mouth and throat, cancer (especially lung and skin), coma, diarrhea, nausea, neuritis, peripheral vascular problems, skin lesions and vascular collapse


3. Cadmium


Source of exposure: Air pollution, art supplies, bone meal, cigarette smoke, food (coffee, fruits, grains, and vegetables grown in cadmium-laden soil, meats-kidney, liver poultry-or refined foods), freshwater fish, fungicides, highway dust, incinerators, mining, nickel-cadmium barrettes, oxide dusts, paints, phosphate fertilizers, power plants, seafood (crab, flounder, mussels, oysters, scallops), swage sludge, "softened" water, smelting plants, tobacco and tobacco smoke, welding fumes and dental materials


Target tissues: Appetite, smell and pain centers in the brain, brain, heart and blood vessels, kidneys (rental cortex), lungs and prostate


Signs and symptoms: Anemia, dry and scaly skin, emphysema, fatigue, hair loss, heart disease, depressed immune system response, hypertension, joint pain, kidney stones or damage, liver dysfunction or damage, loss of appetite, loss of sense of smell, lung cancer, pain the the back and legs, yellow teeth, prostatic hypertrophy


4. Lead


Source of exposure: Air pollution, ammunition (shot and bullets), bathtubs (cast iron, porcelain, steel), batteries, canned goods ceramics chemical fertilizers, cosmetics, dolomite, dust, food grow around industrial ares, gasoline, hair dyes and rinses, leaded glass, newsprint and colored advertisements, paints, pesticides, pewter, pottery, rubber toys, auto exhaust, soft coal,, soil, solder, tap water, tobacco smoke and vinyl "miniblinds"


Target tissues: Bones, brain, heart, kidneys, liver, nervous system, and pancreas


Signs and symptom: Abdominal pain, anemia, anorexia, anxiety, bone pain, brain damage, congestion, constipation, convulsions, dizziness, drowsiness fatigue headaches, hypertension, inability to concentrate, indigestion, irritability, loss of appetite, tremors, vomiting and weakness


5, Mercury


Source of exposure: Air pollutions, batteries, cosmetics, dental amalgams, diuretics, electrical devices and relays, explosives, foods (grains), fungicides fluorescent lights, freshwater fish (especially large bass, pike and trout), insecticides, mining, paints, pesticides, petroleum products, saltwater fish (especially large halibut, shrimp, snapper, and swordfish), shellfish and tap water


Target tissue: Appetite and pain center in the brain, cell membranes, kindest, immune system nervous systems (central and peripheral)


Signs and symptoms: Abnormal verbs and physical development (fetal and childhood), anemia, anorexia, anxiety, blood changes, blindness, blue line on gums, colitis, depression dermatitis difficulty chewing and swallowing, dizziness, drowsiness, emotional instability, fatigue, fever, hallucinations, headaches, hearing kiss, hypertension, inflamed gums, insomnia, kidney damage or failure, loss of appetite and sense of smell, loss of muscle coordination, memory loss, metallic taste in mouth, nerve dangle, numbness, psychosis, salivation, stomatitis, tremors, vision impairment, vomiting, weakness and weight loss


6. Nickel


Source of exposure: Appliances, buttons, ceramics, cocoa, cold-wave hair permanent, cooking utensils, cosmetics, coins, dental materials, food (chocolate, hydrogenated oils, nuts, food grown near industrial areas), hairspray, industrial waste, jewelry, medical implants, metal refineries, metal tools, nickel-cadmium batteries, orthodontic appliances, shampoo, solid-waste incinerators, stainless steel kitchen utensils, tap water, tobacco and tobacco smoke, water faucets and pipes and zippers


Target tissues: Areas of skin exposure, larynx (voice box), lungs and nasal passages


Signs and symptoms: Apathy, blue-colors lips, cancer (especially lung, nasal and larynx), contact dermatitis, diarrhea, fever, headaches, dizziness, gingivitis, insomnia, nausea, rapid heart rate, skin rashes (redness, itching, blisters), shortness of breath, stomatitis and vomiting

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