If you remember the periodic table from high school chemistry class, you may recall aluminum and other heavy metals listed there along with other chemical elements. You may have forgotten all about it, thinking you would never need this knowledge. That is until you started experiencing chronic symptoms that may be related to heavy metal toxicity …

Fortunately, you don’t have to understand the periodic table and the ins and outs of chemistry to understand heavy metals and the potential damage they may cause in your body. Once you recognize heavy metal toxicity as a potential underlying issue behind your chronic health problems, you can finally address it and reclaim your health.

Let’s dive in and look at heavy metal toxicity and then more specifically how it can impact mast cell activation. You will also learn how to decrease your heavy metal exposure in your daily life, detoxify from heavy metals, and improve your overall health.


metal toxicity

What Are Heavy Metals?

I’m not talking about the music, of course. Heavy metals are metals with a density of 5 g/cm3 or more. Though heavy metals are natural materials, they present no benefits for the human body. And although we have historically called these metals “heavy”, there are some toxic metals that are NOT heavy in terms of weight, so a better name is toxic metals. Moving forward, I will use the term toxic metals in this article.

In large amounts, toxic metals have adverse effects on living organisms and our environment. They can negatively impact normal biological processes in your body. They can bind to proteins that would normally be activated by zinc, magnesium, or other minerals. This can seriously disrupt your body’s cellular processes, cause oxidative stress, and increase inflammation (1).


metal toxicity

Common Toxic Metals

Common toxic metals may include:

  • Lead: Did you know that about 25% of homes in the US still have a worrisome amount of lead in their paint, indoor air, and soil? Municipal tap water also carries the risk of lead contamination. Other common sources of lead exposure may include cosmetics, tobacco products, firearm use, and contaminated foods. Lead exposure may increase the risk of poor fetal development, digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, mood disorders, brain fog, and poor memory (2, 3, 4).
  • Arsenic: Arsenic can be found in pesticides, commercially-grown produce, apple juice, and rice products. Arsenic can be high in certain areas in the groundwater. Occupational exposure from smelting, glasswork, and semiconductor production is also common. Arsenic may lead to mitochondrial damage, inflammation, neuropathy, diabetes, skin lesions, premature birth, fetal mortality, memory issues, bladder, liver, kidney, or other cancer (5, 6, 7, 8).
  • Mercury: Mercury is one of the most dangerous toxic metals. Dental amalgam fillings and certain seafood (e.g., shark, tuna, swordfish) may cause mercury toxicity. It may lead to oxidative stress, inflammation, brain fog, brain damage, headaches, weakness, fatigue, memory issues, neurodegeneration, liver damage, kidney damage, cardiovascular issues, and cancer (9, 10).
  • Cadmium: Cadmium can be found in tobacco and contaminated foods. Occupational exposure from metalworking, soldering, and battery manufacturing may occur. As a water-soluble heavy metal, cadmium may absorb easily. It may lead to poor calcium metabolism, kidney damage, kidney stones, and osteoporosis (11, 12, 13).
  • Aluminum: Aluminum may be found in antiperspirant deodorants, municipal tap water, canned food and drinks, and processed foods. Aluminum exposure may increase the risk of poor cognitive function, neurodegeneration, anemia, bone disorders, and breast cancer (14, 15).


Woman with fatigue from heavy metals

Symptoms of Toxic Metal Exposure

Symptoms of toxic metal exposure may include:

  • Chronic inflammation
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia and sleep issues
  • Brain fog
  • Digestive issues
  • Mood swings
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Anxiety and depression
  • High or low blood pressure
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Skin problems
  • Autoimmunity


metal toxicity

Common Sources of Toxic Metal Exposure

Common sources of toxic metals may include:

  • Lead paint dust in older homes (built before 1978)
  • Water contamination from old pipes or groundwater contamination
  • Industrial manufacturing and occupational exposure
  • Air pollution
  • Fish and seafood with high levels of mercury
  • Mercury amalgam fillings from dental work
  • Mercury in high fructose corn syrup
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Non-organic fertilizer use on crops
  • Unsafe coatings in cookware and food containers
  • Certain cosmetics, hair dyes, and beauty products
  • Certain medications and herbal supplements

We are all exposed to these chemicals to a certain extent. Exposure doesn’t necessarily mean that you will end up with chronic symptoms. The health effects of toxic metal exposure depend on the metal involved, the length of exposure, your personal sensitivities, and your overall health. Reducing your toxic metal exposure and supporting your health may greatly reduce related health issues.


Auto Mechanic Repairing Bus Engine.

Who Is Susceptible to Heavy Metal Toxicity?

The truth is: anyone can be susceptible to heavy metal toxicity. However, certain occupations may increase your risk of chronic toxic metal exposure and certain health issues may increase your risk of developing chronic symptoms and health issues.

Occupations with higher exposure to toxic heavy metals may include:

  • Auto repair
  • Painting
  • Construction work
  • Dental work
  • Industrial agriculture
  • Any occupation working with industrial chemicals

You may be more susceptible to toxic metal toxicity and related health issues if you have:

  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • Chronic infections
  • Poor liver function or liver damage
  • Micronutrient deficiencies
  • Chronic blood sugar imbalance
  • Any conditions that affect your liver, kidneys, gallbladder, gut, and detoxification processes
  • Mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS)
  • Chronic mental and emotional stress


micro organism cells

Mast Cells and Toxic Metals

So how are chronic toxic metal exposure and mast cell activation syndrome connected?  I’m glad you asked!  Let’s take a look!

What Is Mast Cell Activation?

Your mast cells are the first responders to your immune system. When your body is exposed to an infection, a toxin, an allergen, or encounters some other trigger; your mast cells will come to your rescue. They will alert your immune system about the danger. This triggers your mast cells to release their mediators, including histamine, heparin, leukotrienes, serotonin, and other inflammatory chemicals called cytokines and chemokines, in a process called degranulation. This important protective mechanism helps to fight invaders and support your recovery from infections, allergens, and toxins. This may also be part of the reason why you get so many symptoms when you get exposed to an allergen or toxin or are ill with an infection.

Though your mast cells are important, if they become overactive or dysregulated, it can turn into a serious health issue. They end up releasing mediators even after the initial threat is gone. This means they will get triggered and release inflammatory chemicals even without danger. They may get triggered by non-dangerous substances, including foods you eat or personal care products you used to use without issues. This creates havoc in your system causing widespread symptoms and chronic health issues. This condition is known as mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS).

Triggers of mast cell activation may include:

  • Allergens
  • Mold
  • Viruses and pathogenic microbes
  • Chemical and toxins
  • Toxic metals

Toxic Metals and Mast Cells

Both acute high-level exposure and chronic low-level exposure to toxic metals can interrupt normal functioning and trigger mast cell activation. Chronic exposure is more sneaky though. And this is one of the challenges with most environmental chemicals!  We are talking about low-level exposure which won’t lead to symptoms at first. Over time, however, our “bucket”  or our body gets full and when we reach the tipping point of overflowing our bucket, then symptoms can show up! The problem with symptoms due to chronic, low-level exposure is that it’s hard to recognize the source.

If you develop health issues soon after an acute, high-level exposure, you will likely recognize the culprit. With ongoing low-level exposure, you may not connect the dots. You are just living your everyday life, doing the same things in the same environment, thinking that everything is fine. Your symptoms appear gradually until one day you realize that you’ve been unwell for weeks, months, or even years, without understanding the reason.

Mast cell activation due to chronic toxic metal exposure may be behind it. Research has shown that medications containing aluminum may increase your risk of allergic reactions (16,). If you already had allergies before taking aluminum-containing meds, using aluminum-containing personal care products or breathing in contaminated air pollution, you may be even more susceptible to reactions.

Aluminum-containing treatments may worsen dermatitis and other skin reactions (17). Reading labels and talking to your doctor about ingredients, risks, and side effects is so important! Choosing natural options whenever possible is even better.

How does aluminum cause allergies though?

Aluminum exposure may cause an immune reaction which leads to mast cell activation (18, 19). As a result, your mast cells release histamine and other inflammatory mediators, causing an allergic reaction and other symptoms.

One interesting animal study found that aluminum may cause colorectal hypersensitivity in rats (20). Researchers found that when rats were given food treated with aluminum, it increased mast cell activation and histamine release causing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)-like symptoms.

This is an interesting finding considering the strong link between gut health, mast cell activation, and histamine intolerance (21, 22, 23). It’s possible that your IBS-like symptoms may be linked to mast cell activation from aluminum or other toxic metal exposure.

Aluminum is not the only toxic metal that can increase mast cell activation. Studies have found that mercury, lead, cadmium, and bismuth may all trigger an inflammatory response, mast cell activation, and histamine release (24). Mercury exposure-related mast cell activation has been linked to allergic reactions in patients with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) (25).

Toxic metals may also increase the risk of autoimmune disorders. Researchers found that mercury, gold, and silver may modulate mast cell function, including mast cell degranulation and the release of inflammatory cytokines and arachidonic acid metabolites (26). This mast cell dysfunction may increase the risk of metal-induced autoimmune disorders.


Ingredients for making healthy vegetarian food.

Natural Strategies for Toxic Metals and Mast Cell Activation

Toxic metals can trigger your mast cells, increase the risk of mast cell activation issues, lead to histamine intolerance, and cause chronic symptoms. How can you protect your health naturally? Here is what I recommend:

Get Tested for Toxic Metals

One of the best ways to find any underlying issues behind your health issues is by testing. Functional medicine doctors offer various tests for toxic metals and help you with appropriate treatment strategies.  Whole blood levels for lead and mercury are considered the gold standard but only reveal current exposures.  Spot urine tests for cadmium and arsenic are the gold standard for testing. Hair metal testing is easy and affordable but requires that the person be able to excrete the metals, which can be an issue in severely compromised individuals, like children with autism spectrum disorder.  I prefer a combination of whole blood testing and both spot and provoked urine to get the most accurate picture of acute, chronic exposures, and total body burden.

Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Metals

Decreasing toxic metal exposure is a key step to avoid further triggers and reduce your risk of further symptoms. Make sure there is no lead hiding in the paint, dust, or pipes in your home. Instead of drinking directly out of your tap, I recommend using a water purification system and drinking filter water. If you have any dental amalgam fillings, get them removed by a biological dentist. (Take chlorella after the procedure to help the detoxification process!) If your job is high-risk, ideally, you want to switch to a safer job. If that’s not possible, use any protective measures available. Eat organic and test your water for arsenic.  If you smoke cigarettes or your loved ones do, please quit and find a functional medicine practitioner to work closely with.

Support Detoxification

Supporting your body’s natural detoxification pathways is key to reducing health issues related to toxic metals. Hydrate your body well to support toxin excretion through urine and sweat. Support detoxification through sweating by exercising and using an infrared sauna regularly. Eat lots of green and varied veggies to support your liver’s detoxification capacity.  Use toxin binders, such as activated charcoal and chlorella, to help pull out and eliminate toxic metals and other toxins. Support your liver health with n-acetyl cysteine, glutathione and other liver-friendly herbs. Support your gut by eating a healthy, whole-food diet with minimal large fish, and avoid farmed fish. Use a daily probiotic supplement to support the microbiome transformation of toxic metals.

Consider Chelation Therapy

Chelation therapy uses a chelating agent that binds to toxic metals in your body and helps to remove them. It is usually done through intravenous (IV) therapy, but there are some oral chelators, as well. It’s mainly used for acute exposure, however, it may help with chronic toxic metal issues too (27, 28). Some studies suggest that modified citrus pectin, selenium, garlic, banana peel, curcumin, and jujube fruit may also serve as natural chelating agents (29, 30, 31, 32, 33). At The Spring Center office, we offer chelation therapy along with other functional medicine modalities. For my sensitive mast cell patients and for those with chronic issues, I do not recommend chelation until most people are 70% improved as this modality can be tough on the body.  Be sure to work with a knowledgeable practitioner.

Follow an Anti-Inflammatory, Low-Histamine Diet

Remove inflammatory foods, including refined sugar and carbs, refined oils, gluten, food allergens, artificial ingredients, canned and processed meat, and overly processed foods. Focus on low-histamine whole foods nutrition, including greens, vegetables, sprouts, herbs, spices, fruits, organic grass-fed meat, and organic pasture-raised poultry and eggs.

Reduce Your Mast Cell Triggers

Besides toxic metals, there are a variety of environmental factors that can trigger mast cell activation, complicating your recovery. Reduce your exposure to common triggers of mast cell activation including environmental and food allergens, mold and mycotoxins, other toxins, chemicals, infections, and stress.

Lower Your Histamine Bucket

Beyond mast cell activation and a high-histamine diet, other factors can increase histamine intolerance as well. Reduce your histamine bucket by lowering stress, improving your sleep, moving your body regularly, and reducing exposure to environmental toxins.

Supplements for Mast Cell Activation

You may also try some supplements for mast cell activation:

  • Quercetin may help to stabilize your mast cells and lower your histamine levels naturally (33).
  • HistDAO by Xymogen is made with powerful DAO enzymes to help to clean up excess histamine (34).
  • Pycnogenol may help to stabilize your mast cells and reduce inflammation (35).
  • HistaQuel, made with both quercetin and luteolin, may help to reduce inflammation and histamine intolerance (36).
  • DHist by Ortho Molecular is a fantastic blend of flavonoids, antioxidants, proteolytic enzymes, and botanicals that may improve mast cell activation, histamine intolerance, and allergies (37).

Supplements for Toxic Metal Detoxification Support

You may also try some supplements for toxic metal detoxification support:

  • Activated charcoal is a great toxin binder that helps to remove toxic metals from your body (38).
  • Glutathione is great for reducing oxidative stress, cellular damage, and the risk of various health issues (39, 40).
  • To benefit from these two supplements and further cellular support, I recommend my Orange and Watermelon Detox Kits which offer full support for toxic metal detoxification. These kits include Activated charcoal for removing toxic metals and other toxins, Anti-InflamX for inflammation, Body Bio PC for cellular repair and brain function, and Trifortify Liposomal Glutathione in watermelon or orange flavor for reducing oxidative stress and cellular damage.


Cooking ingredients and utensils on table

Next Steps

If you want to improve your health, I welcome you to schedule a functional nutrition consultation with my nutritionist, Sarah. Visit our store for products.

And stay tuned for more information to help you uncover the root cause of your health issues, to improve your nutrition, repair your body, and regain your health naturally.

You can schedule your consultation with Sarah here.