11 Heavy Metals

Heavy Metals and Breast Cancer

Cadmium, nickel, and aluminum are often elevated in the urine of women with breast cancer at the time of diagnosis (Romanowicz, 2011). This substantiates concerns in the environmental medical community that these metals play a role in the development of breast cancer.

The data suggest that both an acute exposure to as well as a gradual accumulation of heavy metals in the breast tissue may increase breast cancer growth. 

Heavy metals include aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, bismuth, cadmium, cesium, chromium, gadolinium, gallium, lead, mercury, nickel, niobium, platinum, rubidium, thallium, tin, tungsten, and uranium.

Metals are natural elements that can be highly toxic in certain forms and especially harmful for those who have been exposed to concentrated amounts over a period of time. Heavy metals, which include mercury and lead, can block mineral absorption, cause neurological problems, and be particularly toxic to those with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer. Metals are some of the most common toxins in our environment and are of particular concern for those who don’t have the genetic ability to excrete them efficiently.

Heavy metals have been suspected as a primary risk factor in breast cancer development. Research in which concentrations of heavy metals have been found in different parts of breast cancer tissues substantiates this theory (Mohammadi, 2014). They have been found to pose an even higher risk for those with estrogen-sensitive cancers as metals can stimulate the growth of estrogen-sensitive cells and tumors (Bryne, 2013).

Heavy Metal Sources

Our environment contains heavy metals, so our risk of exposure is high. Heavy metals are found naturally on the earth and become concentrated as a result of human activities. Metals are often found in concentration at mining sites, in industrial wastes, vehicle emissions, lead batteries, agricultural fertilizers, and treated wood. But they are also present in our food, such as fish, in our food packaging, such as aluminum soda cans, and even in our dental fillings.


These metals have the potential to add to the estrogenic burden of the human breast by mimicking estrogen in the absence of estradiol, which activates estrogen receptors (Darbe, 2006). Metalloestrogens that have been identified so far include aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, a specific form of chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, mercury, nickel, selenite, tin, and vanadate (a form of vanadium).

Estrogenicity of Heavy Metals

There is a range of estrogenicity in these metals, which is to say that some have a stronger estrogenic effect than others on cells.

Accumulation in the Body

Heavy metals become toxic when they are not metabolized and excreted by the body. They tend to accumulate in soft tissues like kidneys, the liver, fat, and breasts. To a lesser degree, we store certain metals in our bone matrix. Bones degenerate and rebuild, releasing metals back into the blood, where they will be either shunted back into storage or excreted. The stored metals recirculate in our blood causing harm repeatedly. Our bodies are in a constant state of change and cell turnover. Therefore, even though we can retain metals in our bodies for years, they tend to be released and restored repeatedly. For example, metals stored in our fat will become mobilized when we lose fat weight, and if our internal conditions are right, we might excrete some of these. Most of the population has well-functioning enzyme and methylation systems that are responsible for the excretion of metals through our urinary and digestive tracts. 

Sources of Exposure

Heavy metals may enter the body through food, water, air, or absorbed through the skin in agricultural, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, industrial, and residential settings. We are exposed to each metal in specific ways and can protect ourselves by avoiding the sources. 

Lab Tests

Environmental medicine experts are now recommending that breast cancer patients have an accurate evaluation of metal exposure. This can be determined with proper lab testing through urine analysis tests and if needed, subsequent chelation treatment may be used to treat metal-related breast cancer.

Chelation treatment simply involves taking dietary supplements and foods that contain sulfur compounds that bind with the metals. This makes them easier to excrete through urine, stool, and sweat. 


Lab Tests for Heavy Metals

While blood tests will show acute exposure to metals, and hair tests will reveal recent exposure, the most accurate lab test for identifying heavy metals in the body is a urine test, which provides more information about the total body load of these toxins. The test kit can be ordered through your health practitioner and the urine collection done at home. The test is called the Toxic Element Clearance Profile, which is available through Genova Diagnostics. The Toxic Element Clearance Profile will identify aluminum, antimony, cadmium, lead, mercury, nickel, and other heavy metals that are toxic to breast tissue. 

There are also genetic tests that identify the polymorphisms that hinder heavy metal clearance from our bodies. Genova Diagnostics offers the DetoxiGenomic Profile which is a simple buccal (cheek) swab test which only requires a cotton swab to be gently swiped on the inside of the mouth to collect a few cells for genetic testing.

Methylation Nutrients

Sulfur nutrients that are found in brassica and allium vegetables as well supplements containing L-Methionine and N-acetyl Cysteine (NAC) are effective at reducing metals in the body through methylation. These nutrients are especially important for those who have a genetic weakness in the clearance of metals. For example, those who have a Cytochrome P450 polymorphism.

Supplements that Support Metals Clearance

NAC, glycine, and L-glutamic acid are all dietary supplements that our bodies use to make the important detoxification nutrient glutathione. Practitioners often prescribe these as part of a heavy metals detox. They each play a role in the synthesis of glutathione which is a powerful detoxification agent that supports the excretion of many toxins, including heavy metals. Glutathione not only helps us excrete heavy metals but our own internal production of glutathione is impaired when we are exposed to heavy metals. Therefore, it is even more important that we support our glutathione intake and production for heavy metals cleansing (Egiebor, 2013).


Melatonin reduces the damage from xenoestrogens, such as heavy metals on estrogen-dependent tumors. Melatonin tests are available to help determine whether you need to take melatonin supplements or just support your own natural melatonin production. Nightly, deep sleep can increase melatonin production. See Self Care for more about how to support better sleep.

Excretion Support

Our bodies naturally excrete heavy metals at various rates of effectiveness depending on several factors including our genetics, hydration level, and nutrient status. We excrete metals via urine, stool, and even some in our fingernails and hair. By hydrating well, increasing dietary fiber, and exercising we can boost excretion to a degree. We also excrete metals via sweat, which is why many detox programs that target metals include periodic saunas or steams to stimulate sweating. Be sure to replace lost fluids and electrolytes after a sweat. 

Mineral Support

Minerals provide protection from heavy metals, and studies have found that zinc, selenium, and iodine help reduce the metal load in the body. The ability of minerals to provide protection from metals makes them vital to prevention as well as treatment.

Herbal Support

Rosemary, turmeric, and basil have all been found to help retard breast cancer growth and progression. Their ability to increase the production of enzymes that support the elimination of toxins is a primary reason that they are so effective in reducing breast cancer growth.

Heavy Metals Summary Checklist

O Remove heavy metals from your home

O Avoid exposure to heavy metals

O Take detoxifying supplements, when exposed to heavy metals

O Add detoxifying foods to your daily diet.

O Consider a urine test to see if you have elevated heavy metals.