This article was contributed by Wendy Myers, the founder of Myersdetox.
What you will learn in this article:
- Heavy metal toxicity is a very common (and overlooked) cause of low hormones and hormone imbalance.
- Four heavy metals that cause hormone imbalance: mercury, cadmium, lead, and arsenic (but there are many more)
- Different heavy metals cause different symptoms, ranging from hormone imbalance, fatigue, weight issues, brain fog and headaches.
- The best functional medical test for heavy metals
A few different things can disrupt your hormones, including chronic stress, thyroid issues, adrenal fatigue, diet, and hormonal birth control. However, a very common (and overlooked) cause of hormone imbalance is heavy metal toxicity.
Heavy metal buildup has diffuse symptoms, which makes it challenging to recognize if your doctors don’t know what to look for. Almost all conventional doctors and most functional medical practitioners do not look at heavy metal toxicity at all, so they completely miss one of the most common causes of hormone imbalance.
If you’re struggling with hormone imbalance, fatigue, brain fog, or resistant weight loss, it’s often thanks to stored heavy metals that are quietly in the background, sapping your energy and poisoning every organ and body system.
The good news is that it’s easy to test for heavy metals, and once you know they’re there, there’s plenty you can do to detox them.
This article will cover how heavy metals cause hormone imbalance, the four most common heavy metals that mess with your hormones, and what you can do to detox heavy metals.
What is Hormone Imbalance?
Hormones are signaling molecules, which means they tell various systems in your body what to do. If your body’s day-to-day processes are traffic, hormones are the traffic lights. They tell your metabolism to stop and go, turn inflammation on and off, tell your body when to sleep and when to wake up, and so on.
Your hormones also influence each other. Some hormones turn into other hormones — testosterone is a precursor to estrogen, for example.
Some hormones flip biological switches that change the way other hormones are released — like high cortisol disrupting your insulin levels. When a single hormone is out of balance, it can have downstream effects that cause problems across your body.
Heavy metals play a large role in reducing hormone levels and contributing to hormone imbalance. But let’s first look at how we acquire metals and why they build up in our system, eventually contributing to hormone havoc.
How We Accumulate and Store Heavy Metals in our Body
Heavy metals are everywhere, and as the environment gets more and more polluted, heavy metal concentrations increase. Heavy metals are in the air you breathe (especially if you live in a city), the water you drink, the food you eat, and even in the cosmetics you use.
- Heavy metals can be difficult to metabolize and excrete for a number of reasons:
- You don’t have the required nutrients to detox
- You are mineral deficient, which are needed to push metals out of the body
- Stress, which inhibits removal of metals and toxins.
- Poor sleep, which inhibits removal of toxins.
- Fatigued, so that you don’t have the energy to detox
These all throw a wrench into detox and allow the slow buildup of heavy metals in your body, which then begin causing symptoms at some point in your life. And if you’ve been dealing with any of these issues for years or even decades, you likely have significant metal accumulation.
Your liver and kidneys can break down small amounts of heavy metals, but when you’re exposed to heavy metals every day like we are in today’s world, your body will bioaccumulate metals and store the heavy metals away (Study).
Your body sequesters toxins in storage receptacles like fat tissue (including your brain), to prevent the heavy metals from traveling through your bloodstream and poisoning your vital organs. [Study][Study]
How Heavy Metals Cause Hormone Imbalance
Over time, stores of heavy metals can poison your body in subtle but damaging ways.
One such way is hormone imbalance.
Heavy metals negatively impact your hormones in many different ways:
- They accumulate in glands where hormones are made [Study]
- They directly increase estrogen levels [Study]
- They interfere in the delicate feedback loop signaling in the body to make more of a hormone. [Study]
- They interfere or block hormone receptor sites [Study]
- They poison enzymes the create hormones [Study]
- They poison enzymes that convert hormones to other forms.
- They trigger oxidative stress and free radicals that contribute to cell damage that increases cortisol and inflammation [Study]
Environmental estrogens like heavy metals act through genomic pathways by binding to the estrogen receptor and initiating transcription of estrogen-activated genes, and through pathways that involve signaling initiated in the cellular membrane [Study]. Metals, including lead, cadmium and mercury, can initiate the estrogen receptor by interacting with amino acids at the receptor binding site [Study], and both metals exert estrogenic changes in countless studies [Study] These actions negatively impact hormone production, conversion and function.
Metals do all this by poisoning the action of and deactivating hydroxylase enzymes, special enzymes that convert sex hormones like DHEA, estrogen, and testosterone into other hormones your body needs. [Study]
The 4 Most Common Hormone-disrupting Heavy Metals
If you have heavy metal buildup, you have to deal with it to aid your hormones coming back into balance. These are the four most common heavy metals that disrupt your hormones and cause symptoms like infertility, fatigue, brain fog, moodiness and weight gain.
Statistically, it is almost impossible to not have some amount of mercury in your body. Almost everyone has had some exposure to mercury from amalgam fillings, air (from coal burning and industrial manufacturing), water, fish, shellfish, and even medications. [Study]
Mercury lowers progesterone levels but increases estrogen. It causes a variety of symptoms, including thyroid hormone disruption, which can lead to weight gain and chronic fatigue [Study].
You absorb mercury from a few different sources. Mercury is in the air we breathe that has been unleashed into the atmosphere from coal burning. This is how it then settles into the ocean and accumulates in fish.
The most common source of one kind of mercury, methylmercury, is by eating seafood that’s high on the food chain. Large migratory fish eat smaller fish, causing mercury and other heavy metals to bioaccumulate.
If you eat a fish at the top of the food chain, you’ll absorb a significant portion of that mercury. That’s why fish the EPA suggests avoiding fish like tuna, swordfish, shark, mackerel, and marlin.
Then there is inorganic mercury, like the kind you find in silver mercury amalgam dental fillings. Women with between 4 -10 amalgam dental fillings are estimated to uptake 8 – 30 mcg mercury daily. However, women with over 10 fillings were estimated to uptake 163 mcg (4,6). Then we get an additional 10 mcg of mercury daily from food. [Study]
To put this in perspective, the World Health Organisation puts the upper limit at only 2 mcg/kg body weight per day. [Study]
Even if you had your fillings removed years ago, you likely had them for a decade or more and mercury accumulated in your brain and body over that time period.
Cadmium is another hormone-disrupting heavy metal that’s all-too-common in our modern environment. [Study][Study] We acquire it from cigarette smoke, water, fertilizers, air pollution, fish, coffee, plastics, and some yellow coloring agents [Study].
It has been linked to low progesterone and prolactin levels and lowers testosterone in men [Study].
The nasty thing about cadmium is that one of the places it is stored is the pituitary gland – the master gland that signals to your thyroid, adrenals and ovaries. [Study] Because of this cadmium can affect thyroid function and interrupt signalling to the ovaries.
Cadmium blocks but also mimics estrogen, which causes fertility problems in both sexes. [Study] Cadmium also interferes with estrogen. It blocks the binding of estradiol to the ER-alpha estrogen receptor. So even if you are producing enough estradiol, cadmium interferes in it actually acting upon your cells correctly. [Study] Cadmium also lowers testosterone production in males, contributing to infertility. [Study] [Study]
Most concerning is the fact that Cadmium causes more cancers than all the other heavy metals combined. Cadmium increases the risk of prostate cancer, breast cancer and many other types of cancers [Study].
The most common and concentrated source of cadmium is cigarette smoke. Tobacco plants are especially good at absorbing cadmium from the soil, and smoking tobacco releases cadmium directly into the bloodstream. This is the main reason smokers have much higher rates of cancer. [Study] [Study]
Lead impairs sex hormone production, interfering with menstrual cycles in women, promoting inferility and damaging testicular function in men [Study].
Lead can cause period irregularity by lowering progesterone and prolactin production. [Study] High levels of lead reduce estrogen, testosterone and cortisol production. [Study] These imbalances can all lead to irregular periods and infertility. [Study]
Lead levels have decreased since the 1950s, thanks to unleaded gasoline and lead-free paints. However, lead paint is a leading cause of lead exposure, as it’s in many older houses under new coats of paint. But when that paint peels off or renovations are done, people get exposed.
Lead is water-soluble and will readily leach into tap water, which is a big problem for the U.S. Occasionally, lead piping will contaminate the water supply, especially as the country’s water infrastructure gets older. Two examples are:
Washington, D.C., which had dangerously elevated lead levels from 2002-2010 according to tests from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) [Study]
Flint, Michigan, where lead in tap water reached a crisis point in 2014 and has gone without a fix for more than five years [Study].
Sadly, due to decades of use of leaded gasoline and it’s continued use in developing countries, lead persists in the air, soils and water, leaching into our food supply and supplements.
The FDA does regular heavy metals testing on hundreds of foods. Overall, 20% of 2,164 baby food samples and 14% of 10,064 food samples had detectable levels of lead. [Study] [Study]
Arsenic causes testicular damage and decreases sex hormone production. [Study] Arsenic inhibits ovarian and testicular and sperm production and function [Study] [Study] [Study]. And in these ways reduces fertility and reproduction.
Dartmouth’s Toxic Metals Research Program, found that arsenic exposure disrupts the function of glucocorticoid receptors that regulate a wide range of biological processes. Arsenic appears to suppress the ability of this critical receptor to respond to its normal hormone signal.
Glucocorticoids help regulate stress, blood glucose levels, blood vessel function, and lung and skin development, and may also play a key role in suppressing cancer. [Study]
Arsenic damages pancreatic cells that produce insulin, the hormone that controls your blood sugar. Impaired insulin leads to weight gain and fatigue. Prolonged arsenic buildup can even damage insulin production enough to cause diabetes [Study].
Contaminated water used for drinking, food preparation and irrigation of food crops poses the greatest threat to public health from arsenic. It is now recognized that at least 140 million people in 50 countries have been drinking water containing arsenic at levels above the World Health Organization’s provisional guideline value of 10 μg/L [Study].
Arsenic is found in pesticides and air pollution from fossil fuel combustion. Conventional chickens and their eggs are contaminated due to chicken feed containing arsenic, which makes chickens grow faster and giving the meat a healthy pink color. [Study] A 2006 report by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found that over 70% of the 8.7 billion chickens produced each year in the United States have been fed arsenic. [Study]
Even though the FDA banned arsenic containing drugs in 2015 that are added to chicken feed, you’ve probably eaten conventional chickens and eggs for decades (and the arsenic they contain). Note, these arsenic-laced drugs are still fed to chickens around the world as this is a standard practice worldwide.
Rice also contains moderate levels of arsenic (found mostly in the bran of the rice) because rice plants are especially good at absorbing arsenic from soil. [Study] [Study] I choose white rice over brown for this reason.
How to Test for Heavy Metals
The fact is everyone has had heavy metal exposure. So it’s wise to find out what metals you have in your body. I assure you that heavy metals are a huge key to finding out the underlying root causes of symptoms.
This is especially important if you feel that you do a lot to improve your health with diet, supplements and more, but your efforts are getting you nowhere.
If you suspect that heavy metal may be playing a role in your health issues, the first step is to get a heavy metals test.
Hair mineral analysis (HTMA) is the easiest and least expensive way to test for heavy metals. It analyzes mineral and heavy metal content in your hair and gives you a full report of any heavy metals you may have. You can order an inexpensive hair mineral analysis (HTMA) test here.
I always say test, don’t guess. You want to know what you’re dealing with before doing any type of detox or taking detox supplements. Different heavy metals require different supplements to remove them. So it’s best to know what you have before beginning a detox so you don’t waste time and money on detox supplements you may not need.
If you deal with low hormones or hormone imbalance or identify with any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, heavy metals are a probable cause based on the research.
If you have tried diet, supplements, exercise and everything under the sun and still suffer from hormone imbalance, brain fog, fatigue, resistant weight loss, and more; it might be a good idea to look into heavy metal toxicity – an often missed underlying root cause of so many health issues.
If you think you’re struggling with heavy metals, take the first step in restoring your vitality and get tested for heavy metals.
My own experience
When you do a hair mineral analysis with Myersdetox, you get a ton of information about the next steps after testing and how to safely, properly and comfortably detox heavy metals from your body. Wendy Myers is a wealth of knowledge in the field of detox.
I did my own hair test with her and the results were so interesting. I learned I have a hidden source of uranium in my water. This was on my hair test. I picked it up somewhere. I was very surprised by this since I live a very healthy lifestyle. I’m about to work with Wendy on a protocol to lower the levels.
To learn more about heavy metal toxicity, watch the video below where Wendy and I discuss the impact heavy metals have on women’s health.
Chattopadhyay, S., Pal, S., Ghosh, D., Debnath, J., 2003. Effect of dietary co-administration of sodium selenite on sodium arsenite-induced ovarian and uterine disorders in mature albino rats. Toxicol. Sci. 75, 412–422
Zadorozhnaja, T.D., Little, R.E., Miller, R.K., Mendel, N.A., Taylor, R.J., Presley, B.J., Gladen, B.C., 2000. Concentrations of arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, and zinc in human placentas from two cities in Ukraine. J. Toxicol. Environ. Health A 61, 255–263.