In the last century, the risks to health and development due to the exposure to heavy metals have become a matter of interest.
Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that have a high atomic weight and a density at least 5 times greater than that of water. Some of these metals are essential for human health, such as iron, cobalt, and zinc (but can be toxic in larger amounts), while other heavy metals, such as cadmium (Cd), mercury (Hg), lead (Pb), and arsenic (As) are very damaging to our health and could cause infertility. People may be exposed to small amounts of heavy metals through food, water, air, and commercial products without even knowing that they are being exposed. These metals can accumulate in human blood, urine, hair, follicles, embryos, testes, liver, kidneys, and other tissues, creating adverse effects. Since the human body has no biochemical pathways to detoxify them, heavy metal exposure leads to an accumulation in the body.
Heavy metals and female fertility
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published a study in March of 2020 titled “Female Infertility Associated with Blood Lead and Cadmium Levels”. The study looked at the association between self-reported infertility and blood lead and cadmium levels in US women by comparing metal levels in infertile and pregnant women. The study concluded that:
“Blood lead and cadmium levels may be a factor explaining infertility”.
A cross-sectional study published in February of 2023 by the multidisciplinary open-access journal, Frontiers in Public Health, titled “Association between heavy metals exposure and infertility among American women aged 20–44 years” measured the levels of 4 heavy metals (Cd, Pb, Hg, As) of 838 American women (ages 20 to 44) from 2013 to 2018. The study concluded that:
“Urinary As was significantly associated with female infertility, and the risk of infertility increased with higher urinary As levels. To some extent, urinary Cd was correlated with infertility. Blood/urine Pb was related to infertility in advanced age and overweight/obese women.”
Environmental and occupational exposure to heavy metals damages female reproductive health by negatively affecting the reproductive system, resulting in female infertility, menstrual disorders, spontaneous abortion, endometriosis, endometrial cancer, and breast cancer. The study also mentioned that the main toxic effects of these 4 elements (Cd, Pb, Hg, and As) on the reproductive endocrine system has to do with the promotion of oxidative stress, reduction of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), reduction of luteinizing hormone (LH), reduction of follicular growth, promotion of follicular atresia and disruption of the menstrual cycle.
Heavy metals and male fertility
Because heavy metals can mimic hormonal functions, they are sometimes known as endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs. Abnormal parameters of sperm count, motility, viability, morphology and DNA fragmentation, together with alterations in hormones levels, can be found in men exposed to EDCs. This negative effect is due to the disruption of spermatogenesis and the induction of oxidative stress in testes. A study by Antioxidants titled “Impact of Heavy Metals on Human Male Fertility—An Overview” concluded that:
“Exposure to heavy metals, which can happen through occupational or environmental exposure, is, nowadays, a threat to reproductive health - not only for fertility but also for pregnancy"
The Journal of Occupational Health published a review in January of 2004 titled “Occupational exposure associated with reproductive dysfunction” where they looked at how occupations involving bio-accumulative chemicals, occupations involving intensive exposure to heat and radiation, and occupations involving the use of toxic solvents as well as toxic fumes, can affect sperm quality. The journal concluded that:
“Occupational exposure of males to various persistent chemicals have been reported to have male mediated adverse reproductive outcomes including reduction in fertility”.
The peer-reviewed journal, “Seminars in Cell and Developmental Biology”, published a review in November of 2016 titled “Effect of environmental contaminants on spermatogenesis”. The review discussed the various toxic contaminants polluting the environment and the effect of these compounds on spermatogenesis and its relevance on male infertility in humans. The review concluded by stating that: .
“Heavy metal exposure has been identified as an influential factor on male sperm production and fertility”.
Heavy metals and fetal health
According to the authors of the book titled “Neurotoxicity of Nanomaterials and Nanomedicine”, heavy metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium are toxicants which have been shown to cross the placental barrier to accumulate in fetal tissues. The Middle East Fertility Society Journal published a review in 2017 titled “Heavy metals in miscarriages and stillbirths in developing nations” where they concluded that:
“Heavy metals were associated with increased incidence of miscarriages, especially in developing nations."
Acupuncture and heavy metals
Acupuncture is a great addition to any detox plan and can be used on its own for detoxification principles. A very effective and well-known detoxification protocol is the NADA (National Acupuncture Detoxification Association) where 5 needles are inserted on each ear with the purpose of relaxing the person while strengthening the Liver, Kidneys and Lungs so that they can carry their detoxification functions. In Acupuncture, it is important that the Liver is free from any impairment, so points in the Liver channel are often used to assist the Liver in its detoxification function, allowing free flow of blood and nutrients. Another modality of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) is cupping. This technique uses suction cups to increase blood circulation and eliminate toxins.
In addition, certain herbs and green algae can be very helpful to rid some of these heavy metals. According to various studies, heavy metal chelation using cilantro and chlorella (a kind of green algae) can naturally remove an average of 87% of lead, 91% of mercury, and 74% of aluminum from the body within 45 days.
To avoid adding more heavy metals to a system that might be already compromised by environmental and/or occupational pollutants, it is always recommended to eat organic fruits and vegetables as well as avoid eating farmed fish or large ocean fish - like tuna, since due to their size they accumulate the largest amount of heavy metals.
If you have not been able to get pregnant for a while and you believe that you might have been exposed to heavy metals, you may want to consider testing for heavy metals. At our office we test for heavy metals using a hair analysis kit from Doctor’s Data.