Heavy metals, such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium are naturally occurring elements. However, industries and manufacturers have generated increased levels in the environment, and this pollution has produced more exposure to humans. Acute poisoning causes significant health problems that could even lead to death. Chronic, low-grade exposure may likewise lead to health problems.
Accumulated heavy metals, whether singular or in combination, may cause excessive oxidative stress, inflammation, DNA damage, protein damage, changes to the pH of the cytoplasm, cellular dysfunction, and more damages to our bodies on a cellular level. This may elicit chronic symptoms and an increased risk of a variety of diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Finding safe ways to detoxify heavy metals is important. There are many possible heavy metal chelators that bind the metals for excretion, but some also bind to essential minerals or cause gastrointestinal distress, reducing their benefits for long-term detoxification. Among the options for a milder chelator is modified citrus pectin, a fiber derived from the inner peel of citrus fruit, which is modified so that it can be absorbed into the bloodstream and increase its binding capacity.
In one small study, eight participants took 15 g of modified citrus pectin for 5 days and a 20 g dose on day 6 of the study. After just 24 hours, the urinary excretion of arsenic increased by 130% and cadmium by 230%, both reaching statistical significance. In addition, mercury excretion increased by 150% and lead excretion increased 560%, both at near statistical significance. Another study on children between the ages 5 and 12 years found that taking 15 g of modified citrus pectin divided into three doses per day led to an average 161% decrease of lead serum levels, with an average 132% increase in urinary excretion.
Alginates also work well as a potential heavy metal detoxifying agent by binding the heavy metals into an alginate biomass for excretion. Although both modified citrus pectin and alginates can work separately as chelators, some small studies point to their potentially increased efficacy as partners.
In one case study, a family of six took a supplement comprised of modified citrus pectin and sodium alginate at a dose of 2,250 mg twice daily for 6 weeks to reduce uranium levels. There was an increase of fecal excretion of uranium starting at day 6 and lasting through the 6-week period. Another case study report featuring five patients likewise found increased excretion of heavy metals from a combination of the two ingredients. Four of the patients received three capsules daily comprised of a blend of 300 mg modified citrus pectin and 450 mg alginates. The fifth patient took 15 g of modified citrus pectin. The average decrease for the six heavy metals measured was 74% over the 6-month period, and the writers of the report speculated that the combination of the two chelating agents allowed for similar effects at smaller doses.
There have yet to be extensive trials on the ability and safety of modified citrus pectin and alginates as chelators for heavy metal detox, but the case studies demonstrate a promising application. They have the potential to help increase excretion of toxic metals without otherwise negatively impacting one’s health.
By Kendra Whitmire, MS, CNS