June 25, 2022

Symptoms of Heavy Metal Poisoning From Foods

Symptoms of heavy metal poisoning from foods can be serious and can cause long term health complications and illness. Food Poisoning Bulletin has often reported about foods and dietary supplements that are recalled for heavy metal contamination. The heavy metals most often involved include lead, arsenic, and mercury.

Symptoms of Heavy Metal Poisoning From Foods

Heavy metal poisoning can be both acute and chronic. Chronic poisoning is usually from long term exposure to smaller amounts of these compounds. Symptoms of this type of poisoning develop over time. Heavy metal poisoning can be difficult to diagnose, since many of the symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other health problems, although some symptoms and illnesses, such as reduced IQ and cancer, are more unique to the metals.

Acute heavy metal poisoning can occur if a person ingests or breathes in a large amount of these compounds. Symptoms can occur quickly. Acute heavy metal poisoning is considered a medical emergency.

These metals occur naturally in the environment. Some are taken up by plants as they grow, and others are in products used to make things such as building materials that are installed in homes.

Lead Poisoning

There is no safe level of lead intake. Lead used to be in gasoline, and lead in the air was a serious problem until unleaded gasoline was mandated by law in 1996. Lead is still used to make batteries, pipes, pottery, and some cosmetics, and can be in toys. Lead in pipes is still a major problem in Flint, Michigan.

The brain is most sensitive to this heavy metal. Lead in pipes and lead in paint used in the home are the most common forms of lead consumption. Even tiny amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Children under the age of six are especially vulnerable to this type of heavy metal poisoning. At high levels, lead poisoning can be fatal.

Symptoms of lead poisoning in adults can include high blood pressure, difficulties with memory or concentration, headache, abdominal pain, mood disorders, and miscarriage or stillbirth. Symptoms of lead poisoning in children can include developmental delays, learning difficulties, irritability, weight loss, loss of appetite, fatigue, vomiting, constipation, and hearing loss.

Arsenic Poisoning

Arsenic, more specifically inorganic arsenic, has been an issue in rice and especially in children’s rice based cereals for years. The issue with rice is that the grain is often planted in areas in the south that grew cotton. Arsenic was used as a pesticide in those fields. And it remains in the soil. As the rice plant grows, it takes up arsenic.

The FDA has been challenged to put limits on the arsenic in infant and toddle rice cereals for some time. Some progress has been made, but most companies that produce these cereals still make product that contains the heavy metal. Arsenic and lead have even been found in vinegars.

Chronic effects of arsenic poisoning include developmental problems and lower IQ. Acute arsenic poisoning symptoms can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, respiratory distress, and skin rashes.

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury is a heavy metal that can be found in fish and dietary supplements. Seafood contains mercury because is released when fossil fuels such as coal are burned. It falls into lakes, streams, and the ocean in rain. And it is converted into Methylmercury by bacteria in the water. It builds up in organisms, concentrating as it goes up through the food chain. The larger the fish, such as tuna, the more mercury it can contain.

Pregnant women are advised to limit their consumption of these types of seafood since the heavy metal can have a serious effect on the fetus. Babies who have been exposed to Methylmercury have neurological issues, such as impaired motor skills, issues with hand-eye coordination, and problems thinking,  because it damages the brain.

The FDA recommends that pregnant women limit their consumption of seafood lower in mercury content to 8 to 12 ounces per week. Safer varieties of fish include salmon, herring, sardines, Pacific mackerel, shrimp, pollock, cod, and canned light tuna.

Acute mercury poisoning symptoms can include irritability, numbness, memory problems, physical tremors, anxiety, muscle weakness, nausea and vomiting, changes in vision, hearing, or speech, and mood changes.

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