Heavy Metal Poisoning – 6 Most Toxic Elements to Human Health

Metals that have high atomic weight, with a density five times greater than that of water, are grouped together as heavy metals. Heavy metal poisoning or toxicity relates to all harmful effects that can be brought about by these metals, posing huge danger to human health and the environment as a whole.

Not all heavy metals are menacing. It is only the inappropriate presence of these metals in body that prove detrimental to our health. Heavy metal poisoning greatly relates to metals such as; cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead. However, there are a number of other heavy metals and metalloids that prove equally hostile to our physical or mental well being.  A few of them have been listed in later sections.

Elemental Toxicity

Heavy metals can find their way into our body via ingestion, inhalation and absorption through skin. Thereafter, they inhibit normal functioning of body’s metabolism, leading to variety of disorders and diseases. 

List of 6 most toxic elements that are found naturally:

Here is a list of most poisonous elements that are of grave health concern:

  • Cadmium 
  • Mercury 
  • Lead
  • Arsenic 
  • Chromium
  • Iron

Cadmium Poisoning:

Cadmium is a naturally occurring metal and more abundantly found in industrial areas. It can enter the body if a person inhales high amount of cadmium or through food, and drinking water of high cadmium concentration.

Cadmium Sources:

  • Use of Phosphate fertilizers while farming that reach crops and vegetables we eat
  • Tobacco plants, rice and potatoes absorb high amounts of cadmium from soil 
  • Sweetmeat, shellfish and mushrooms have highest cadmium concentration
  • Local water supplies may also have high cadmium concentration 
  • Cigarettes have proved to be primary reasons and smokers have shown highest ratios of cadmium poisoning
  • People living in areas near sewage sludge or waste disposals have highest risk of cadmium inhalation 
  • Highest Cadmium inhalation takes place in industrial area

Cadmium Poisoning – Related Health Disordershealth-hazards-of-cadmium

Cadmium Poisoning can lead to any of the following health disorders:

  • Respiratory troubles, such as shortness of breath have been associated with cadmium toxicity. Lung diseases and cancers are also related to this type of poisoning.
  • Renal Tubular dysfunction holds cadmium poisoning as one of the primary reasons
  • Excessive cadmium exposure causes hypertension in humans 
  • Cadmium gets stored in bones and can cause osteomalacia and osteoporosis in later stages 
  • Cadmium poisoning has been greatly associated with ‘itai – itai‘ disease, that was first diagnosed in post menopausal Japanese women  

Cadmium Poisoning – Symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Breathing troubles
  • Flu like symptoms 
  • Weak and painful bones

Diagnosis of Cadmium Poisoning:

  • Chest X- ray 
  • Renal Function Test 
  • Blood Cadmium Test 
  • Oxygen saturation measurement 
  • Electrolytes test; only when acute cadmium poisoning is suspected

Mercury Poisoning:

Mercury is available in food, water and air. All forms of this metal can bring about detrimental effects on human health. Human fetus and people suffering from few kidney and lung disorders are susceptible to mercury toxicity. Mercury when touched, passes through skin; however, does not show severe consequences.

Mercury Sources:

  • Seafood – White tuna, shark, swordfish, Sea Bass, Grouper etc. 
  • Rice grown in paddy fields contaminated with industry waste 
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup(HFCS) that is used as an additive in processed food items such as; flavored milk, barbeque sauce, Jelly and bread
  • Amalgam used in dental procedures to restore teeth contains 50% Mercury 
  • Button cell batteries used in small electronic devices and Mercury oxide batteries used in medical equipment

Mercury Poisoning – Related Health Disorders:

Mercury  Poisoning can lead to any of the following health disorders:

  • Mercury is very dangerous for human nervous system 
  • Mercury exposure during pregnancy impairs growth and development of fetuses 
  • Some heart and cardiac disorders are also related to mercury toxicity 
  • Cancer has also been related to mercury toxicity 
  • Kidney and thyroid disorders have also been related to mercury poisoning 
  • Mercury poisoning brings about behavioral disorders     Mercury Poisoning symptoms

Mercury Poisoning – Symptoms:

  • Mood Swings, emotional changes, irritation 
  • Tremors 
  • Needle prick sensations 
  • Vision, speech and hearing troubles 
  • Skin rashes and dermatitis 
  • Bloody Diarrhea 
  • Muscle weakness and lack of coordination

Diagnosis of Mercury Poisoning:

  • Physical examination 
  • Detecting mercury levels in blood or urine 
  • Mercury in blood plasma and mercury in RBCs is also tested 
  • Complete Blood Count 
  • X Rays

Lead Poisoning:

Lead build up in body may sometimes prove fatal. Children are most susceptible to lead toxicity. Lead poisoning takes few months time to come up with visible symptoms. Therefore, preventing oneself from lead exposure can control lead build up and thus the adverse effects it can bring about.

Lead Sources:

  • Lead is present in paints used for house renovation 
  • Children are greatly exposed to lead through toys 
  • Pottery items contain lead 
  • Household drinking water that passes through copper pipelines soldered with lead 
  • Kohl also contains lead traces 
  • Some canned foods and packaged edibles are lead tainted 
  • Household dust may contain lead

Lead Poisoning – Related Health Disorders:

Lead Poisoning can lead to any of the following health disorders:

  • Lead deeply affects the Central Nervous System 
  • Children who suffer and recover from lead poisoning have retarded mental growth 
  • Prolonged lead exposure can lead to coma
  • Renal impairment 
  • Impairs reproductive organs
  • Anemia 
  • Hypertension 
  • Behavioral disorders
  • It has devastating effects on kidneys, liver and bones    Lead Poisoning Disorders

Lead Poisoning – Symptoms:

  • Learning difficulties and lack of concentration in children
  • Irritation and other behavioral changes 
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Confusion leading to memory loss 
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Numbness in hands and legs 
  • Severe headaches and continuous fatigue

Diagnosis of Lead Poisoning:

  • Blood Lead Test 
  • X rays 
  • Bone Marrow Biopsy
  • Blood test to check for iron storing cells in body

Arsenic Poisoning:

Large amounts of arsenic can enter the body; either by ingestion, inhalation or absorption and cause poisoning. Arsenic poisoning can cause death if not treated at an early stage. Arsenic poisoning was falsely rumored to cause sudden death if prawns are eaten just after taking Vitamin C. Arsenic has many other sources and is abundantly available in groundwater across the globe.

Arsenic Sources:

  • Rice is very susceptible to arsenic accumulation from soil 
  • Arsenic salts are present in drinking water; especially, well water 
  • Beer and wine contain arsenic 
  • Chicken and dairy products may be tainted with arsenic 
  • Dark meat fish contain arsenic and therefore consumption of these fishes need to be restricted

Arsenic Poisoning – Related Health Disorders: health-hazards-of-arsenic-on-human-body

Arsenic Poisoning can lead to any of the following health disorders:

  • Pigmentation of skin leading to various skin disorders and even skin cancer. You can get detailed information about skin cancer treatment here
  • Ingesting arsenic can cause lung and bladder cancer. Read more about lung cancer treatment & bladder cancer treatment
  • Inhibits cardiovascular and nervous system functions
  • Chronic arsenic exposure causes Black Foot Disease 
  • Peripheral Vascular Diseases 
  • Severe Diarrhea 
  • Vertigo

Arsenic Poisoning – Symptoms:

  • Passing dark urine frequently
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Garlic odor in breath and urine 
  • Whitish lines in fingernails
  • Skin bumps, corns and warts 
  • Hyper salivation
  • Gangrene of hands and feet 
  • Skin rashes

Diagnosis of Arsenic Poisoning:

  • Physical examination
  • Serum Electrolyte test 
  • Blood Cell counts 
  • Urine “spot” tests 
  • Blood Test 
  • Electrocardiograms – ECG and EKG

Chromium Poisoning:

Chromium Poisoning refers to the toxicity caused by chromium VI. Not all forms of chromium are toxic. As for example, water insoluble chromium is not considered as health hazard. Chromium salts or chromates are also detrimental to health causing several health disorders. Chromium poisoning may lead to multiple health disorders discussed below.

Chromium Sources:

  • Human activities have made Chromium very readily available in air 
  • Leather tanning and textile industries release a good amount of chromium in surface water that eventually reaches drinking water supplies
  • Acidic food kept in stainless steel utensils may lead to chromium poisoning
  • Coming in contact with wood preservatives, cement, etc. for long duration may cause chromium poisoning
  • Living in industrial areas, makes you prone to chromium exposure 
  • Occupations such as painting, candle making, dye making and rubber making have high chromium exposure

Chromium Poisoning – Related Health Disorders: chromium-health-hazards

Chromium Poisoning can lead to any of the following health disorders:

  • Large amounts of chromium may prove fatal 
  • Prolonged exposure to chromium may lead to damaged lung tissues 
  • Chronic bronchitis and sinusitis 
  • Occupational asthma has been related to chromium poisoning 
  • Skin ulcers and allergies 
  • Chromium VI has been listed as carcinogenic substance 
  • Chromium inhalation causes severe nose bleeding

Chromium Poisoning – Symptoms:

  • Inflammation of nose and respiratory tract 
  • Minute holes in the skin 
  • Skin burns 
  • Vomiting and diarrhea 
  • Abdominal Pain 
  • Unconsciousness and convulsions 
  • Fever 
  • Loss of weight 
  • Coughing and wheezing

Chromium Poisoning – Diagnosis:

  • Patient history and physical examination 
  • Complete Blood Count 
  • SGOT and SGPT for Cr (VI) diagnosis 
  • Blood Urea Nitrogen
  • Urinalysis 
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) 
  • Liver Function Test 
  • Creatinine

Iron Poisoning:

As iron is so very essential for our body and to know that it can have some toxic effects is perhaps difficult to believe. However, people do suffer from iron poisoning that may lead to multiple health disorders. Children suffer serious health troubles due to iron overdose.

Iron Sources:

  • Iron Supplement overdose 

Iron Poisoning – Related Health Disorders:

Iron Poisoning can lead to any of the following health disorders:

  • Iron overdose can effect nervous system and in rarest of cases may lead to Coma
  • Iron is considered to be bad for your heart health and causes low blood pressure in adults 
  • Greatly effects stomach lining and abdomen causing bloody vomit at times 
  • Various lung disorders have been associated with iron poisoning
  • Liver damage 
  • Fluid buildup in lungs    Iron Poisoning

Iron Poisoning – Symptoms:

  • Metallic taste in mouth 
  • Chills, convulsions and dizziness 
  • Black stool and sometimes bloody stool
  • Severe diarrhea 
  • Bluish colored lips and fingernails 
  • Skin pigmentation and loss of skin color 
  • Patients experience a lack of desire to do anything 

All symptoms are seen after 6 hours of iron overdose.

Iron Poisoning – Diagnosis

  • Patient history and reported symptoms 
  • Serum Transferrin Saturation
  • Serum Ferritin 
  • Liver function test 
  • MRI 
  • Liver Biopsy 
  • Testing for gene mutation

These were few of the elements that are known to cause severe toxicity in human. In addition to these above mentioned elements, there are many others that can cause poisoning.

Elemental toxicity can lead to several health disorders and malfunction of organs. However, all of these toxicity cases discussed above can be treated if early diagnosis and prevention is considered. As you now know that toxicity is more or less dependent on our diet and the lifestyle we follow, you can definitely fight this by bringing about some changes in your food habits. Moreover, taking care of this environment and minimizing industrial pollutants are two important steps towards improving our own health standards and overcoming toxic elements.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *