In 2003 the Environmental Working Group published a study on 9 healthy Americans and found an average of 91 chemicals, pollutants and pesticides. Lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium are heavy metals that are found in air pollution, water contamination, and food exposure. These metals are associated with numerous health problems:
Lead is a toxic heavy metal that causes brain damage and kidney damage, interfering with the enzyme function in the human body. It can cause anemia, kidney disease, abdominal pain, miscarriage, insomnia, memory loss, headache, and fatigue. No level of lead is safe for children. Lead is linked to a variety of neurological impairments, including learning disabilities, seizures, and a lower IQ.
Arsenic consumption increases risk of cancer, liver disease, diabetes, neurological problems, and digestive issues. There is an association between adverse pregnancy outcomes and neurological effects in early life with inorganic arsenic exposure.
Mercury is a heavy metal that can cause brain damage, hence the term “mad hatter” syndrome. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include memory loss, tremors, fatigue, headaches, insomnia, mood swings, cardiovascular problems, endocrine disruption, thyroid enlargement, immune system impairment (Robin 2012).
Cadmium can cause damage to the heart, kidney, liver, and bones, while also impairing neurobehavioral development. Children are more susceptible than adults to exposure from low doses of cadmium over time. Cadmium also promotes the proliferation of breast cancer and lung cancer.
Below I highlight a list of products that contain lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium to limit or avoid:
1. Bottled water: Consumer reports (2019) identified 11 brands out of more than 130 that either self-reported or, based on tests we commissioned, had detectable amounts of arsenic. Of those, six had levels of 3 ppb or higher. These brands are Starkey (owned by Whole Foods), Peñafiel (owned by Keurig Dr Pepper), Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water, Volvic (owned by Danone), and two regional brands, Crystal Creamery and EartH₂O.
2. Bone broth: Bone broth diets have been particularly popular as a source of collagen. A small study of lead concentrations in three different types of organic chicken broth showed that such broths do indeed contain several times the lead concentration of the water with which the broth is made (Monro, 2013). Beef broth is no better, the larger the animal the higher the concentration of lead.
3. Wine: A study in 2015 tested 65 wines from the top four wine-producing states in the U.S. (California, Washington, New York, and Oregon) and found that all but one of the wines contained arsenic levels that exceed those allowed in drinking water by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
4. Juice: In 2011, Consumer reports found elevated levels of inorganic arsenic and lead in apple and grape juices. Twenty-one (47 percent) of the 45 juices had concerning levels of cadmium, inorganic arsenic, and/or lead.
5. Rice: Arsenic is commonly found in rice. In 2014, nearly half (47 percent) of 76 infant rice cereals sampled from retail stores in 2014 were above the threshold of 100 ppb inorganic arsenic. You can reduce arsenic by 40 to 60 percent by cooking rice in excess water (from six to 10 parts water to one part rice).
6. Fish: Fish species with the highest tissue mercury concentrations are king mackerel, shark, and swordfish at 0.73, 0.97, and 0.99 parts per million (mg per kg sample) respectively. Tuna is also known to accumulate high levels of mercury. The average mercury concentration for grocery store tuna was 0.68 parts per million (ppm), which is nearly double the FDA’s average concentration of 0.38 ppm for fresh or frozen tuna tested by the FDA.
7. Chocolate: As You Sow conducted independent laboratory testing of over 120 chocolate products for lead and cadmium. They found 96 of the 127 chocolate products tested contain lead and/or cadmium above California’s legal limit, including Trader Joe’s, Hershey’s, Mondelēz, Lindt, Whole Foods, Kroger, Godiva, See’s Candies, Mars, Theo Chocolate, Equal Exchange, Ghirardelli, and Chocolove.
8. Cigarettes: A single cigarette typically contains 1-2 mcg of cadmium. When burned, cadmium is present at a level of 1,000-3,000 ppb in the smoke. Approximately 40 to 60 percent of the cadmium inhaled from cigarette smoke is able to pass through the lungs and into the body. Recently, cadmium has also been identified in e-cigarettes and those that vape.
If you consume large amounts of the products I listed or have any symptoms associated heavy metal exposure, consider getting heavy metal testing. The first step to reducing heavy metals is prevention, by limiting consumption of toxic products. If found to have high levels of heavy metals on blood testing, we offer detox programs for patients covered by insurance.
1. As you sow. “Toxic Chocolate.” 2018. https://www.asyousow.org/
2. CBS News. “Very high levels of arsenic in top-selling wines.” CBS News. March 19, 2015. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/
3. Felton, Ryan. “Arsenic in Some Bottled Water Brands at Unsafe Levels, Consumer Reports Says.” Consumer Reports. June 28, 2019. https://www.consumerreports.
4. FDA. “FDA proposes limit for inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereal” FDA Press Release. April 1, 2016. https://www.fda.gov/news-
5. Hirsch, Jesse. “Arsenic and Lead Are in Your Fruit Juice: What You Need to Know.” Consumer Reports. January 30, 2019. https://www.consumerreports.
6. Monro J.A., Leon R., Puri B.K. The risk of lead contamination in bone broth diets, Medical Hypotheses, Volume 80, Issue 4, 2013, Pages 389-390.
7. Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Environmental Working Group, Commonwealth. “BodyBurden: findings & recommendations.” Environmental Working Group. http://www.ewg.org/sites/
8. Oceana. “Hold the Mercury: How to avoid mercury when buying fish.” Oceana. January 2008. https://oceana.org/sites/
9. Piadé J.-J., Jaccard G., Dolka C., Belushkin M., Wajrock S. Differences in cadmium transfer from tobacco to cigarette smoke, compared to arsenic or lead, Toxicology Reports, Volume 2, 2015, Pages 12-26.
10. Robin A. Bernhoft, “Mercury Toxicity and Treatment: A Review of the Literature,” Journal of Environmental and Public Health, vol. 2012, Article ID 460508, 10 pages, 2012. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/