Cause and Effect of Heavy Metals (Biology)

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Heavy metal pollution has long been an alarming issue; and yet, the term ‘heavy metal’ has not been clearly defined over the years. Though there are various ill-defined classifications of heavy metal in the community, the most commonly noted ones are transition metals, lanthanides and actinides which include cadmium, iron, cobalt, chromium, copper, manganese, mercury, nickel, lead and zinc; all of which cause harm to our bodies if consumed.

Classification of Heavy Metals

Craig van Wyk, founder and owner of VWG Consulting Company, wrote an article on ‘Heavy Metal Pollution of Water Resources – Cause and Impact’ providing heavy metals do tend to have a high atomic mass, and so are heavy in that sense, toxicity is a further defining factor as to what constitutes a heavy metal and what does not. It is essential for us to know that toxicity is only one of the classifications that are normally used, but there are others like mass. Even so, toxicity is one of the common characteristics of each kind of heavy metal in which it is harmful and comes from different sources.

Sources of Heavy Metals

Heavy metals come from different sources, both naturally and artificially. Originally, heavy metals exist under the crust. However, unmanaged human activities such as logging cause deterioration to the environment. The deterioration may lead to the exposure of unwanted heavy metal; though it may not seem to harm you directly, these miniature toxic particles could enter your body through food, air and water. While they can appear just anywhere, like the lead on the pain coating of your pencil, the fish you eat every day, heavy metals usually do no harm at low levels. It is very unlikely to consume heavy metals at high levels fortunately unless one is exposed to an extremely high concentration of heavy metal at one time. For example, swallowing a lead bead, breaking a mercury thermometer is dangerous and likely to cause severe illness, or even death.

Harm of Consuming Heavy Metals

Heavy metals do minimal harm when consumed little; but when consumed in a large amount, chronic heavy metal poisoning occurs. Patients with chronic heavy metal poisoning have insignificant symptoms, but can develop into severe health problems in an alarming rate. Usually, the poisoning is chronic, requiring a long term observation of the patient to determine whether it is caused by common diseases or impacts of heavy metal. While the symptoms are less significant than acute heavy metal poisoning, it can be a challenge to doctors and patient since the symptoms develop much slower over a period of time. Because of its difficulty to unveil the exact symptoms of chronic heavy metal poisoning due to long period of investigation, more research is needed to clarify all possible health risks. Most symptoms, discovered up till now, are constipation, headache and muscle joints pain. Sometimes, ‘heavy metal toxicity can produce vague symptoms that are mistaken for other chronic conditions such as Autism, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, depression, Multiple Sclerosis, and a host of other serious disorders’ (Russel 1), making it even harder to distinguish.Chronic heavy metal poisoning is really rare, but still, it should not be neglected as there is no definite cause and cure for this specific poisoning.

Symptoms of Heavy Metals Pouisoning

While identifying the symptoms of heavy metal poisoning is a difficult task, diagnosing a patient is yet another great challenge for both patients and curers. The basic procedure is run approved tests that are specific to each kind of metal, determining the result whether it is positive or negative after consulting the patient the known exposure he/she has expected to have consumed. Since diagnosing a chronic heavy metal poisoned patient has more questions than answers to the cure, it is usually not recommended to test for this particular disease unless advised by your doctor according to your known exposure and symptoms.

Tests for Heavy Metals Posioning

Different heavy metals have different characteristics, so different tests have to be carried out. Most of the patients’ hair is tested and some are tested with blood samples. Some patients even have to take multiple tests as there is not much information given for only one single trial. According to an article on Medical Self-Care magazine ‘Is Hair Analysis Worthwhile’ by David Fletcher, US Environmental Protection Agency once stated that ‘human hair can be used effectively for biological monitoring of the highest priority toxic trace metals… lead, cadmium, mercury and arsenic.’ However, due to its unreliability, multiple tests are usually needed. Hair can effectively pick up dirt and even heavy metal particles around us, so when being tested, we may not be so sure whether the infection comes inside or outside of your body. Although heavy metal poisoning test is quite accurate in a way, it is better safe than sorry; it is never taking protective measures than being diagnosed.


References

[1] [2] [3]

  1. Fletcher, David. "Is Hair Analysis Worthwhile?" Mother Earth News. 1 Mar. 1964. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. <http://www.motherearthnews.com/natural-health/hair-analysis-zmaz84zloeck.aspx#axzz3OEzh80ky>.
  2. Russel, Tony. "Naturopath Connect." Naturopath Connect. 6 Mar. 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2015.
  3. Van Wyk, Craig. "SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTIVITY." : HEAVY METAL POLLUTION OF WATER RESOURCES. Web. 9 Jan. 2015. <http://sustainableproductivity.blogspot.hk/2012/07/heavy-metal-pollution-of-water.html>.