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Heavy metals occur naturally in the environment, water, and some foods and medications. But when they’re too much, how can you tell if you need help?

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Daily exposure to heavy metals from various sources, including food, air pollution, and contaminated water, is possible. While heavy metals can be harmful, some are essential for proper bodily functions, including immune function, growth, and development.

It’s important to test for heavy metals if you were exposed to potential sources of heavy metal contamination. Symptoms that may indicate heavy metal toxicity include unexplained fatigue, headaches, and digestive issues.

You should test for heavy metals with a healthcare professional. At-home tests may not be accurate or provide sufficient information to properly help diagnose heavy metal toxicity. Professional testing helps ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, if necessary.

Heavy metals are a group of metallic elements that occur naturally in the environment. Human activities, such as mining, agriculture, and industrial processes, can elevate their levels, increasing the likelihood of exposure. Exposure occurs through food, water, and air pollution.

Types of heavy metals

Heavy metals can be categorized based on their toxicity, which is important for understanding their effects on human health and the environment. Essential and nonessential heavy metals can accumulate in the body over time, potentially causing toxicity and harm to organs, tissues, and cells.

Essential heavy metals, such as iron, zinc, copper, and manganese are necessary for human health in small amounts. Deficiencies and excessive amounts can cause health concerns.

Nonessential or toxic heavy metals have no biological function in the human body. They can harm human health, even at low levels of exposure. Examples include lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic.

What is their role in my body?

Although certain heavy metals can be toxic, many are essential nutrients with important roles in various biological processes in the body. It’s important to maintain a balance of these metals since they are vital for maintaining good health. Since your body can’t produce them, you must obtain them in small amounts through a balanced diet.

Here are a few examples of essential heavy metals and their role in human health:

  • Iron: It’s essential for energy metabolism, immune function, and oxygen transportation throughout the body.
  • Zinc: It’s involved in immune function, wound healing, and DNA synthesis.
  • Copper: It’s important for iron metabolism, connective tissue formation, and neurotransmitter production.
  • Manganese: It’s involved in bone development, wound healing, and the metabolism of carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol.
  • Chromium: It’s important for regulating blood sugar levels and the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats.

Elevated levels of heavy metals can cause a variety of health concerns, the severity of which depends on factors, such as the type of metal, level, and duration of exposure. Age and overall health can also influence symptom severity.

Children, older adults, and people who are pregnant may be more vulnerable to the harmful effects of heavy metals due to differences in physiology and immune system function.

Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdomen pain
  • diarrhea
  • behavior changes
  • chills
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • tingling in hands and feet

Types and dangers of heavy metal poisoning

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says heavy metal poisoning can cause health concerns and death.

Health concerns associated with heavy metal exposure include:

  • Neurological effects: Heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and manganese can harm the central nervous system, leading to neurotoxicity linked to cognitive decline and memory deficits. Though evidence in humans is limited, some research suggests a link between heavy metal exposure and the development of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.
  • Cardiovascular effects: A 2021 review indicates that high levels of arsenic, lead, chromium, cadmium, and mercury may increase the risk of poisoning in humans. These heavy metals can have effects on a variety of different organs in a person. For example, arsenic, cadmium, and chromium may have an effect on genomic instability.
  • Gastrointestinal effects: Research suggests several heavy metals can cause digestive concerns, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Examples include lead, arsenic, zinc, and cadmium.

Heavy metal toxicity can also contribute to health concerns, such as:

  • anemia
  • liver damage
  • kidney damage
  • cancer
  • neurological disorders
  • developmental delays
  • sensitization
  • skin disease
  • lung disease
  • reproductive concerns
  • behavioral issues

The table below provides a more detailed look at the symptoms each type of heavy metal can induce in a person.

red or swollen skin
skin changes, including new warts or lesions
abdomen pain
nausea and vomiting
irregular heart rhythm
muscle cramps
tingling in fingers and toes
breathing problems
muscle pain
chronic exposure can lead to toxicity of kidney and bones
lung cancer
Lead constipation
aggressive behavior
sleep concerns
high blood pressure
decreased appetite
memory loss
loss of developmental skills in children
Mercury poor coordination
muscle weakness
hearing and speech difficulties
nerve damage in the hands and face
vision changes
difficulty walking

To determine whether heavy metal testing is necessary, the recommendation of a medical professional is essential. In general, laboratory tests are more sensitive and can provide more comprehensive and accurate results than at-home tests.

Accurate interpretation of the test results can be complex and require guidance from a healthcare professional or environmental expert.

At-home heavy metal tests are not worth it due to their inconsistency and potential limitations. They may only detect certain heavy metals and may not provide a comprehensive analysis.

Because heavy metals are part of everyday life, at-home heavy metal testing could bring on anxiety and an influx of medical costs because the user may not know the baseline of how much metals are in the body.

Many home tests use a urine or hair sample, which are not suitable for all heavy metals. Daily exposure to heavy metals can impact the accuracy of hair samples. Urine spot tests may be less accurate than 24-hour urine tests due to variations in urine concentration throughout the day.

Without knowledge of baseline levels of metals in the body, interpretation of home heavy metal tests may be inaccurate. One study found 9% of patients had inappropriate or unvalidated environmental tests done prior to the clinic visit. The most commonly ordered inappropriate tests were metal testing and hair analysis.

The testing doesn’t pose harm to consumers, but the results lead to high levels of stress and anxiety. It can also lead to high health-related costs for treatment. Also, using chelating agents in some urine tests can affect the accuracy of the results.

Incorrectly attributing a health condition to heavy metal toxicity can result in unnecessary anxiety, costly treatment, and additional medical attention.

See a doctor if you’re concerned about heavy metal exposure, suspect that you have heavy metal poisoning, or have symptoms that may be related to heavy metal exposure. A healthcare professional can determine if testing is necessary and recommend appropriate treatment.

Serious symptoms of heavy metal poisoning can include a wide range of health issues, including neurological respiratory, and cardiovascular conditions. Additionally, kidney damage and digestive concerns may arise.

To determine if a heavy metal test is necessary, a healthcare professional will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and assess any signs or symptoms of heavy metal exposure. They may identify potential sources of exposure.

A healthcare professional can provide guidance on testing and appropriate measures to take. They may recommend blood or urine tests to measure the levels of specific heavy metals in the body. If test results indicate elevated levels of a particular heavy metal, the healthcare professional may recommend further testing or treatment.

If you still feel the need to take a peek at your metal levels, we recommend the nutrient test below. It detects mild imbalances in your body, which can help in a discussion with a healthcare professional on what steps you can take next.

Our vetting team conducted extensive research on at-home tests, their qualifications, and whether they followed state and federal regulations, including certification from the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). They helped form our point of view on heavy metal tests, and based on the information we provide in this article, we can recommend the test below.

Best for dietary data

LetsGetChecked Micronutrient Test

  • Price: $$
  • Metals tested: zinc, copper, magnesium, and selenium
  • Collection method: blood
  • Key features: provides clear directions, fast in-app results, and ongoing nursing team support
  • Pros: user-friendly, convenient, uses CLIA certified labs
  • Cons: unavailable in New York state, some customers say they received an expired test

Read our review of LetsGetChecked.

The LetsGetChecked Micronutrient Test is great for detecting mild mineral or vitamin imbalances. You can use your results to make dietary changes to enhance your immunity and overall well-being.

Once you activate your test, you can send your finger-prick blood sample to the lab. You’ll receive your online results in 2 to 5 days.

We recommend talking and working with a healthcare professional after you receive your results to form a plan of action that’s best and customized for you. Remember, don’t stop or start taking any medication without consulting a healthcare professional.

This test is not available in New York state.