We’ve been talking here at Nuttie Organic GHQ (Galactic Headquarters) about Heavy Metal recently.
It took a while to get the conversation away from the possible merits of Black Sabbath over Metallica and onto the proper subject; how much heavy metal do we absorb into our bodies as a routine and can we do anything about it?
It’s not just about the food we eat but also about; cooking utensils, cosmetics, toothpaste, food ingredients, pollution, personal items such as cotton wool, panty liners and more. It's one of those invisible threats that is all around us and because of this the European Commission have set maximum permitted levels for contamination. Now don't start any Brexit arguments please!
So, given all this, the Organic Philosopher (the “OP”) has been called upon to provide some “OP” insights and she would welcome your comments….
Whilst ‘heavy metals’ is, in fact, a misnomer, the metals being referred to: arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury do all have in common their toxicity and omnipresence within our environment. As well as those, I am also going to mention Aluminium; it doesn’t feature in the list but is so prevalent that I felt that it was worth exploring further.
Research by the European Food Standards Agency provides some background for us, so I have summarised some of their data here.
In the meantime, though let’s have a look at some findings.
Metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury are natural occurring chemical compounds present at various levels in the environment, e.g. soil, water and atmosphere.
Metals can also occur as residues in food because of their presence in the environment, as a result of human activities such as farming, industry or car exhausts or from contamination during food processing and storage. People can be exposed to these metals from the environment or by ingesting contaminated food or water. Their accumulation in the body can lead to harmful effects over time.
In brief: Elevated levels of lead can lead to neurotoxicity in infants, cadmium is primarily nephrotoxic and may cause bone demineralisation. Mercury in its organic forms is extremely toxic to the nervous system while inorganic arsenic is responsible for cancer of skin, lungs and the urinary tract.
It is generally accepted that we become exposed to Mercury through fish but is not all fish and the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish needs also to be taken into account. There is no question that consuming fish is a good thing overall. However, when it comes to the type of fish, the fish near the bottom of the food chain generally contain lower concentrations than those at higher levels. So, the longer living fish such as Swordfish, Bluefin Tuna and Spanish Mackerel provide more risk than Cod, Salmon and Atlantic Mackerel, as examples.
An article for U.S. National Institutes of Health suggested: “However, an interesting risk-benefit analysis which looked at the maternal consumption of fish found that, for average consumers, eating any of the 19 types of most commonly consumed fish and seafood during pregnancy would result in a gain of 0.79-5.7 IQ points in their children."
Now the bad news:
"Those consuming high amounts of tuna (a top predator), however, could expect a reduction of 2.3 points in the IQ of their children.”
In fish, Arsenic can be found as what is termed 'Organic Arsenic' and that is not considered harmful to human health.
The bigger problem with Arsenic is in rice, where it is found as 'Inorganic Arsenic'. Inorganic arsenic is carcinogenic in skin, lungs, kidneys and bladder and so care needs to be taken about how it is consumed. (I'm not even going to start on explaining about Organic and Inorganic Arsenic)
Trying to work out how best to consume rice there is research by EFSA indicating that rinsing the rice was effective at removing only about 10% of the Organic and Inorganic Arsenic from basmati rice and less effective for other rice types.
Similarly, by steaming, this reduced the Inorganic Arsenic rice content but it did not do so consistently across all rice types investigated. Also, cooking rice with only a small volume of water did not remove arsenic.
However, conversely, cooking with much more water did effectively remove both Organic and Inorganic Arsenic for the long-grain and basmati rice (By 45% for the potentially damaging Inorganic Arsenic content).
Aluminium is the third most abundant element in the earths crust and occurs in many minerals. Aluminium is used in some food additives, especially in colours and also in antiperspirants, which can contribute to the total human exposure to aluminium. A great deal of make up also lists Aluminium as an ingredient. It really does get everywhere, apparently.
So the first safety point is that storage of acidic, alkaline or salty food, especially as liquids, in uncoated aluminium should be avoided.
Phosphate fertilisers can have high levels of Cadmium and Cadmium accumulates in kidneys risking kidney damage.
Cadmium accumulates in certain fruit and vegetables, due to uptake by the roots from soil. Therefore, levels are not reduced by washing or peeling. Cadmium in zinc sulphate used as a food supplement or for feed can be a problem. If you still smoke (really?), Cadmium is also in cigarette smoke - watch out for sharing second hand smoke as well.
Pewter, which contains Cadmium, should not be used for acidic or salty food. Chromium is found in alloys, certain cans and utensils. Also, it is applied as a coating to protect other metals from corrosion, e.g. In cans.
A recent study published by the British Journal of Nutrition showed that Cadmium was found to be almost 50% lower in organic crops than conventionally grown ones. So some good news there.
Intake of lead comes primarily from drinking water, cereal products, vegetables and fruit. Vegetables and fruits with a large surface area to volume ratio have higher levels. Wild game shot with lead bullets can contain considerable levels of lead. Some food supplements and teas can contain considerable amounts of lead.
Note to drinks cabinet key holders ..... do not store port wine or other acidic beverages in crystal glass as crystal glass contains up to 24% lead. Also, storage of acidic food in crystal glass will increase the release of lead.
Lead influences the nervous system. Especially children are affected as their developing nervous system is sensitive. It affects the intelligence and the ability to learn. Children absorb more lead from food than adults. Risk assessments EFSA has in 2010 reevaluated the risks of lead and found that lead was of more toxicological concern than previously assumed.
So what to do? Here are some preventative ideas for you to think about:
- Aim to make one third of your diet raw food.
- Eat a diet focused on a many whole natural products as possible, going for unprocessed, organic options and eat as little sugar as possible, except a small amount of raw honey.
- Antioxidant rich foods help protect against metal toxicity; think citrus, sprouted nuts and seeds and foods rich in Beta-carotene like peaches, carrots, apricots and sweet potatoes.
To reduce arsenic content of cooked rice, specifically the inorganic component, rinse washing and high volume of cooking water are effective, throwing away the water when cooking is complete.
- Check anti-perspirants if you want to avoid Aluminium, maybe check your make up too, and your wife's.
- Of course, eating Organic is a major way forward in keeping bad things out of your body as well as optimising the good things that go in.
A final thought
Metal is not all bad though, in fact, we need lots in our diets; it just has to be the right chunks! Zinc is really necessary, so get plenty of beans, kefir and grass fed beef. Magnesium too; try pumpkin seeds, Swiss Chard, spinach and broccoli. If you don’t get enough Magnesium, the body can make up for the lack by using Aluminium …. not good news at all.