Is Your Diet Full of Heavy Metals? Here’s Why You Should Get Tested
By: Dave Asprey
- Heavy metals are everywhere. Your diet is one big source of heavy metal poisoning.
- That’s bad news for your mitochondrial function. If you’re dealing with fatigue, autoimmune issues, thyroid problems, or adrenal issues, heavy metal toxicity may be to blame.
- A hair mineral analysis or toxic metal test will tell you how much metal you have in your system.
- My heavy metal detox tips include going in the sauna, taking activated coconut charcoal and glutathione supplements, and switching to low-mercury fish like sockeye salmon and trout — always wild-caught.
Bad news first: Heavy metals are everywhere. They’re in the products you use, the air you breathe, and the food you eat. These metals are toxic, and even though your body naturally eliminates them, they can build up over time and make you sick. The good news is that certain heavy metal detox protocols really work, and they can help you feel more energized, focused, and awesome. I should know — I’ve dealt with heavy metal poisoning myself.
Over a decade ago, I used to have a nice lunchtime routine of eating sushi and then doing yoga. That might sound great, but as I write in my book “Head Strong,” I noticed that my balance wasn’t very good on those days. When I skipped the sushi, my balance improved. Because I’m a biohacker, I decided to test this. I took a mercury-binding medication with the sushi, and the problem disappeared.
Why? The mercury in the sushi was messing with my mitochondria, which affected my performance. Don’t let this happen to you. Here’s what you should know about heavy metals in your food — and what you can do about it.
Heavy metals in food: Why they matter
First, a primer on heavy metals: They occur both naturally and as a result of human activity. Some of the most common and damaging heavy metals include arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. You wouldn’t willingly eat metal for lunch, but some foods, like brown rice and leafy green vegetables, are higher in heavy metals than others. These food crops absorb heavy metals from the water, air, and soil as they grow.
“Everyone has some level of heavy metal in their body and they really are part of the underlying root cause of diseases,” says Wendy Myers, a functional diagnostic nutritionist, on this episode of the Bulletproof Radio podcast. Some people are more sensitive than others, which means they have no problem eating mercury-packed tuna rolls all day. According to Myers, if you’re dealing with fatigue, recurrent headaches, autoimmune disease, thyroid issues, or adrenal fatigue, these problems are caused in part by heavy metals.
How does a little bit of lead cause so much damage? Heavy metals hurt your performance and make you feel like crap. They mess with thyroid and adrenal function, interfere with insulin sensitivity, and suppress your immune system.      They also inhibit mitochondrial function. You might remember your middle school science teacher telling you that mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell. Heavy metals impair their energy production, accelerate mitochondrial death, and increase membrane permeability, which allows all the junk to pass through the cells’ protective barrier and wreck shop.  
This is a big problem because your mitochondria drive all your tissue functions. When they aren’t working at maximum capacity, you get mitochondrial dysfunction — one of the main characteristics of aging and disease. Unless you want to deal with aging-related problems like fatigue, excess fat, and brain fog, you’ll want to keep your mitochondria happy. Learn more about why mitochondria are the key to slowing down aging.
The most common foods with heavy metals
You might not even realize how many heavy metals are in your diet, especially since small amounts of certain metals are pretty much unavoidable. For example, you probably consume between 5-10 mcg of lead daily from seafood and vegetables that foods grow in high-lead soil.
With that said, you can make conscious choices to reduce your overall heavy metal exposure. Here’s a quick overview of the most common foods that will weigh you down (because of metal — get it?):
- Fish: Unfortunately, all fish have some level of mercury. Farmed seafood is particularly bad because it’s high in heavy metals, pesticides, toxins, pathogens, and environmental contaminants. Limit your consumption of fish that are especially high in mercury, like tuna, king mackerel, marlin, orange roughy, and swordfish. Instead, eat anchovies, haddock, petrel sole, sardines, sockeye salmon, summer flounder, tilapia, and trout, which have lower mercury levels. Always opt for wild-caught fish — it has a better nutrient profile, and it’s better for the planet. Learn more about why wild-caught seafood is the smarter choice.
- Brown rice: Brown rice contains up to 80% more arsenic than white rice. Rice takes up arsenic from soil and water more readily than other grains. Arsenic is is concentrated in the thin outer layer that gives brown rice its color. Eat white rice instead — it’s an easily digestible carbohydrate with less arsenic and more flavor. Learn more about why white rice is better.
- Leafy green vegetables: Eat your veggies — but not too much. Leafy green vegetables love cadmium, a heavy metal also found in grains.   Reduce your exposure by only eating organic. Balance your diet with other vegetables in the green zone of the Bulletproof Diet Roadmap, like broccoli, olives, and zucchini.
- Unfiltered water: About 30% of plumbing infrastructure in the U.S. contains lead piping, lead service lines, or lead plumbing components, which leaches into your water. Switching to filtered water is one of the simplest ways to reduce heavy metal exposure. Learn more about tap vs. filtered water.
Heavy metal detox tips
Heavy metal exposure is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean your hands are tied. You have the power to help your body detox the bad stuff, power up your mitochondria, and take your life back.
My most important tip: Test yourself before you wreck yourself. Heavy metal testing — either a provocation test with a chelation agent or a hair mineral analysis — will give you a baseline so you know exactly how much metal you have in your system. You can request these tests from a functional medicine doctor.
Here’s what you can do while you’re waiting for your results.
- Sweat it out: Sweating helps your body get rid of toxins. Take an infrared sauna — they don’t get as hot, so you can sweat longer. (Just make sure you drink lots of fluids and take salt to replenish the electrolytes your body loses through sweat).
- Take glutathione: This powerful antioxidant supports liver enzymes that break down heavy metals. It also supports your immune system and protects your cells.
- Exercise: Fat tissue naturally holds onto toxins. When you burn fat, you break down fatty tissue and release those toxins. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one way to kick-start fat burning (and get your sweat on) — but as I say in “Head Strong,” mobilizing these toxins isn’t necessarily a good thing if your body can’t get rid of them. If you feel brain fog after your workout, take a supplement like activated charcoal. Charcoal attaches to toxins so you can more easily flush them out of your system.
- Take chlorella: This is a type of algae that works well for detoxing from heavy metal exposure. I often take about 25 tablets when I eat sushi because it helps counteract mercury.
If you’re serious about detoxing, check out this full list of detox methods that really work to cleanse your body and brain. Toxins are a part of daily life. When I reduced my exposure to heavy metals, I felt more balanced — both mentally and physically (thanks, yoga). You don’t have to deal with chronic fatigue and brain fog. When you reduce your exposure to toxins and help your body get rid of the stuff that brings you down, you’ll feel great and perform better. Who wouldn’t want that?
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