Toxic Elements -Heavy Metals- In Our Food And Their Detoxification


2017-11-22 04:31:41



Heavy metals are defined as metallic elements that have a relatively high density compared to water. Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have a high atomic weight and a density at least 5 times greater than that of water. Their multiple industrial, domestic, agricultural, medical and technological applications have led to their wide distribution in the environment; raising concerns over their potential effects on human health and the environment. 

Heavy metals in Food

Toxic elements, mainly the heavy metals of the periodic table, are normal elements found in the environment, and trace amounts of them naturally present in food or can enter food as a result of human activities such as industrial and agricultural processes. Foods from contaminated areas may contain higher amounts.  Toxic elements primarily enter foodstuffs through contact with the environment. Waterways and oceans are contaminated by the discharge of untreated municipal and industrial wastes. Polluted air falls as precipitation with rain, contaminating the environment, and eventually entering the food chain. It has been reported that metals such as cobalt (Co), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), iron (Fe), magnesium (Mg), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), selenium (Se) and zinc (Zn) are essential nutrients that are required for various biochemical and physiological functions. Inadequate supply of these micro-nutrients results in a variety of deficiency diseases or syndromes.

Heavy metals can be classified into four major groups

Essential: Copper (Cu), Zinc (Zn), Cobalt (Co), Chromium (Cr), Manganese (Mn) and Iron (Fe). These metals are called micronutrients and are toxic when taken in excess of requirements.

Non-essential: Barium (Ba), Aluminum (Al), Lithium (Li) etc.

Less toxic: Tin (Sn) and Aluminum (Al).

Highly toxic: Mercury (Hg), Lead (Pb) and Cadmium (Cd).

Sources of Heavy Metals in Contaminated


Heavy metals occur naturally in the soil environment from the pedogenetic processes of weathering of parent materials at levels that are regarded as trace (<1000 mg kg−1) and rarely toxic.


Large quantities of fertilizers are regularly added to soils in intensive farming systems to provide adequate N, P, and K for crop growth. The compounds used to supply these elements contain trace amounts of heavy metals (e.g., Cd and Pb) as impurities, which, after continued fertilizer, application may significantly increase their content in the soil.


 Several common pesticides used fairly extensively in agriculture and horticulture in the past contained substantial concentrations of metals. 


The application of municipal and industrial wastewater and related effluents to land dates back 400 years and now is a common practice in many parts of the world.

Industrial Wastes

During mining, tailings (heavier and larger particles settled at the bottom of the flotation cell during mining) are directly discharged into natural depressions, including onsite wetlands resulting in elevated concentrations.


Airborne sources of metals include stack or duct emissions of air, gas, or vapor streams, and fugitive emissions such as dust from storage areas or waste piles. Metals from airborne sources are generally released as particulates contained in the gas stream. 

Foods to Eat During Heavy Metal Detox

Foods rich in vitamin C

 Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C can reduce the damage caused by heavy metal toxicity by acting as an antioxidant.


In addition to improving digestion and reducing inflammation in the body, ginger root supports kidney function. The kidneys play an important role in the body’s elimination process and are often one of the first targets of heavy metals toxicity.


Drink 8 ounces of water or vegetable juice every two hours to help flush out toxins.

Algae: Chlorella and Spirulina

Chlorophyll also helps to purify the blood by binding to toxins and improving the body’s ability to bring oxygen to cells.  By improving oxygen delivery to cells, it upregulates the intracellular energy production and anti-oxidant systems. Algae is excellent source of folic acid and is touted for its efficacy in removing heavy metals from the nervous system and the liver.


Glutathione (GSH) is a very special anti-oxidant compound that provides the greatest anti-oxidant protection within the body.

Alpha lipoic acids

Foods such as peas, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli as well as spinach and rice bran rich in alpha lipoic acids are powerful anti-oxidant that has both water and fat soluble properties.  This characteristic means that it can be go in and out of major organs such as the brain, liver and nerves.

Flax and chia seeds

Omega-3 fats and fiber can help with detoxification of the colon and reduce inflammation.

Activated Charcoal

Activated charcoal is a unique compound that acts like a sponge, gobbling up toxic debris and expelling it from our system through the stool. 

Source:, DOI: 10.5897/JTEHS2016.0352, doi: 10.1111/1541-4337.12068,
 doi:  10.1007/978-3-7643-8340-4_6,,,