Metal Toxicity: Your Brain Under Siege

IMAGE Under normal circumstances the human body is equipped with a highly effective immune system to deal with environmental toxins, such as cigarette smoke or radiation from the sun. Heavy metals, however, are a group of toxic invaders that can get past the body's defenses to cause several health problems. Awareness is the key to prevention.Ordinary household items can cause metal poisoning and alter normal brain functioning, so it is important to be aware of where these toxins are found and what you can do to avoid them.

Natural Toxins

Metals are different from many other toxic substances because they are naturally occurring elements. For most people, food consumption and air inhalation are the main sources of exposure to metals, because metals in the soil and water can readily enter the food chain. Other common sources of exposure include:
  • Consumer products
  • Occupational
  • Industrial waste
  • Aluminum—medications (antacids) or medical procedures (dialysis and IV tube feeding)
  • Lead—young children can be exposed by eating contaminated paint or soil

The Brain As a Target Organ

Toxins target specific organs. For example, radiation from the sun can cause skin damage. Likewise, the brain is a target organ for some toxins. The brain is made of special cells called neurons. Although neurons are similar to other types of cells, they have some unique features that place them at risk. Symptoms of central nervous system toxicity (brain and spinal cord) caused by metal poisoning include:
  • Changes in mental status or personality
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Delirium
  • Tremor
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • Numbness and tingling of the extremities
  • Jerking of a muscle (myoclonus)
  • Changes in or loss of hearing, vision, or taste
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Seizures
These are general symptoms of central nervous system abnormalities. If you experience these symptoms, they may or may not be caused by metal poisoning. Your doctor can order tests to assess the cause.

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