Metal, dude. Heavy metal.
August 26, 2005 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Is heavy metal blood testing worth doing?

I've often wondered how my foolish youth continuines to affect me health-wise. From chewing on lead action figures bought at the Fall Fair, to playing with stolen mercury in high school, to living in cheap old houses with who-knows-what in the paint, I could be a cesspool of toxic elements.

I don't have symtoms I'd guarantee are related to heavy metal poisoning. I do have a poor memory (I always seem to have a lot going on and things fall between the cracks), skin rashes (mild guttate psoriasis and extremely dry skin on my face) and very often feel tired and drained (I'm overweight and spend much more time on the computer than I should...though one could be the result of the other).

As well, I don't know what they'd do for me even if a test DID find mercury or lead in my system at elevated levels, or if I can just treat myself a little better and drink more fluids and basically follow what they might prescribe anyway. Or is there some more comprehesive anti-metal treatment?

For what it's worth, I'm in Canada, so the test -might- be paid for by my taxes and user fees, if I convinced a doctor this was worth doing and the test wasn't inordinately expensive to the gov't. If not, and I thought it was worth doing, and it wasn't extremely expensive, I could travel across the border to the U.S. to get it done.

What say you? Thanks!
posted by Kickstart70 to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I say, why not? If you get tested and find out that indeed you have high heavy metal levels, you can get treated. If you don't have the high levels, then you can't use that as an excuse for not getting out and doing more (for example getting more excercise and less computer time, which could explain the drained feeling, and no, I'm not judging, I'm in your boat here).

The US National Institutes of Health has a info sheet on lead that might answer some of your questions better, here (pdf).
posted by Pollomacho at 8:48 AM on August 26, 2005

Get your thyroid checked too.
posted by fionab at 8:50 AM on August 26, 2005

The only people i know that have had that sortof testing were in heavy-exposure, industrial type jobs.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 8:51 AM on August 26, 2005

Best answer: Lead poisoning is one of those things that would have affected your brain in development but pretty much is asymptomatic in adults. Very high levels of lead in adult males can render you sterile - but that is usually found in people who have lots of industrial exposure.
Chelation therapy is what it takes to get heavy metals out of your system. If you are asymptomatic, though, I'd guess you'd have a very hard time convincing anyone to give you the meds.
That said - "treating yourself a little better" can help most of the issues you describe. Regular exercise does wonders for physical and mental health.
posted by Wolfie at 9:04 AM on August 26, 2005

It can't hurt to get yourself tested, and I don't think the fees are horrible.

When I was tested I was off the scale on mercury, probably because of bad dentistry and lots of tuna salad. I worked with a doctor to get the levels down, including having all my fillings redone w/out mercury. My primary motivation was planning for pregnancy (mercury favors the fetus 4:1, so anyone w/really high mercury would do well to get rid of it before getting pregnant).

Don't freak out about it, but it doesn't hurt to check.
posted by widdershins at 9:47 AM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

My understanding: With lead, you'll probably test normal even if you have high levels of lead in you from your youth, because it doesn't stay in the bloodstream, and the tests only test the bloodstream, not the bones (where it will have been deposited). When you get old enough that your bones start losing calcium/metals, then those accumulated years of exposure may come back into play.

I also had a potentially high-lead childhood, but the tests came back normal. Which could mean normal, or could simply mean no recent exposure :-)

I Am Not A Doctor.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:26 AM on August 26, 2005

I'm in Toronto, and I tested my kids last fall immediately after I found out that the paint I had been stripping and sanding and grinding was old lead paint. Covered by OHIP. Turned out negative, apparently you need to pretty much EAT the paint chips to get poisoned, but it was worth it for the piece of mind.
posted by chococat at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2005

Best answer: I don't think I have an opinion on whether you should get this done or not.

Mind, though, that if you have it done, you have it done under the care of a proper physician who's going to interpret the results in accordance with accepted medical practice. Here's why:

There are goofballs out there who do all kinds of weird tests for heavy metals, identify picogram quantities that are an inevitable side effect of living in an industrial society, and then subject people to weird IV chelation therapies. Some of these folks have MD's, D.O.'s, or D.C.'s, but they are not operating according to generally accepted medical principles.

I once admitted someone to hospital with a severe case of Miller-Fisher variant Guillain-Barre syndrome who'd been undergoing IV penicillamine chelation a week or two before the onset. We know penicillamine sensitizes the immune system and causes a lot of autoimmune problems like hemolysis and autoimmune skin problems; I have a hard time believing that the autoimmune nerve problem was just a coincidence.

We tested the guy for metals and it turned out the lower limits of our clinical tests were thousands of times higher than the result of the test the outside doc had been using.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:34 PM on August 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

I work with lead (I also have psoriasis) and it's only because of my work that I was able convince my doctor to test me. I live in DC and he thought I might be jumping on the lead leeching from the pipes thing that was happening here last year and considered it nothing on the scale that demanded testing for every adult that drinks the water in the city. My understanding is that unless you are still developing there's not much to worry about. That said, lead poisoning is curable and I still make sure to get tested once a year, so maybe to easy your mind you should bring it up with your doctor then let him decide if you need to get tested. He also told me I need to get more exercise so expect to hear that no matter what.
posted by princelyfox at 7:06 PM on August 26, 2005

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