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Heavy Metals and Autoimmune Disease

Toxins are all around us and lurk in products we use every day from cosmetics and toiletries, to plastics and cleaning products. Product labels include lengthy lists of chemical ingredients which can be difficult to decode or even pronounce. These are the just some of the countless number of toxins with which we come in contact each and every day.

So what is a toxin? Essentially, a toxin is a poison and with repeated exposure, can cause harm to the body. Even if you live and work in a clean environment and have seemingly minimal contact to pollutants, the truth is toxins are unavoidable. They are present in our cookware, food packaging, water bottles, fire-retardant bedding, furniture, dry cleaning, tap water, and more. And like sponges we end up absorbing these toxins through our skin, the air we breathe, and the foods we consume. Over 80,000 chemicals are currently registered for use in the US and the government simply can’t keep up with thorough testing for each one, let alone reactions that occur when chemicals are combined. Therefore the products on the market become a breeding ground for more toxic exposure in consumers.

In his foreword to The Autoimmune Epidemic, Dr. Douglas Kerr, M.D., Ph.D. professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says that “there is no doubt that autoimmune diseases are on the rise and our increasing environmental exposure to toxins and chemicals is fueling the risk. The research is sound. The conclusions, unassailable.” The evidence is clear that there is a major correlation between increased toxin exposure and the rise of autoimmune disease diagnoses in the U.S. Yet conventional medicine tends to overlook toxins when it comes to treating autoimmune conditions.

Channels of Exposure Through the Air:

Heavy Metal Pollution and Autoimmune Disease

When we think of air pollution, often times vehicle exhaust and manufacturing plants come to mind. However it is the indoor air, where we spend an estimated 90% of our day, that ranks higher in pollutants than outdoor air. The EPA has identified indoor air pollution as one of the top 5 environmental risks to public health.

Prevention: Use a HEPA (high-efficiency particle arresting) air filter to minimize pollutants circulating through your home or office HVAC system. Have your air ducts cleaned and avoid commercialized air fresheners & candles.

Through Our Food & Water

Contamination-of-drinking-water and it's relation to autoimmune disease    pesticides and autoimmune disease
Animals given antibiotics and artificial growth hormones, and pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables, are a major source of dietary toxic exposure. Additionally, the quality of water we drink and use to bathe, cook, and clean with is all directly connected to our health. Heavy metals, contaminants in pipes, and chemicals in plastic bottles all leech chemicals into water and are then absorbed through our skin and digestive tract. Water accounts for a large majority of our body’s composition, so with the amount of water we use and consume each day, the quality of our water has a significant effect on our health.

Prevention: Always wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Make the switch to organic produce whenever possible and support your local farmer. Consider a water filtration system for your house or install filters on sink & shower heads. Avoid both disposable and reusable plastic water bottles, even if it’s marketed as BPA-Free.

Through Our Skin

Learn more about the toxins in skin products and their correlation to autoimmune disease  skin lotion shampoo and autoimmune disease
Our skin is the body’s largest organ and primary barrier to our surrounding environment. However skin is porous in nature so although it acts as a barrier, it can also absorb both the good and bad from substances with which it comes into contact. It has been estimated that the average person uses somewhere between 10-15 products on their skin every day. Within these products over 125 different ingredients are commonly used and have been approved by the FDA with very little to no safety testing. These products range from soap, lotion, hair care, deodorant, shaving products, nail polish and makeup; and they are examples of what we voluntarily choose to apply to our bodies. Other channels of toxin exposure come through household cleaning products, heavy metals, and contaminants in our tap water.

Prevention: Replace commercial products containing lengthy ingredient lists for greener, more natural options. Simple, homemade cleaning solutions such as soda water, vinegar and lemon juice can be a much cheaper and safer option for home cleaning. Also consider the products you apply to your skin each day and start to swap out synthetic soaps and lotions for a cleaner brand. Many makeup and facial care companies have caught on to the trend and are offering more natural and organic product lines. It may seem overwhelming to replace all of your household products so just start small with a few products, and over time you’ll lessen your toxic burden with each safer choice.

The Following Toxins Affect the Immune System

  • Aflatoxins  – found in some foods and cosmetics, aflatoxins are produced by a species of bacteria and are harmful to the immune system.
  • Benzene Ring Compounds – most commonly found in charred or blackened foods. Avoid cooking your meats until they are black since those parts of the meat contain benzene and are carcinogenic.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) – Found in plastics, especially those with recycle symbols 3 and 7.  Any disposable or reusable drinking bottle with BPA should be avoided, especially if left out in the sun or warm car. Heat encourages BPA to leech into liquid quicker. And it’s especially important to purchase BPA-free baby bottles & nipples.Heavy-Metals-and autoimmune disease
  • Formaldehyde – is in the home and is typically found in wood furnishes, space heaters it is even often found in car seats. Air concentrations in your car can be quite high in the summer time since heat encourages formaldehyde to leech into the air. The more car seats you have and more summer sun, the higher the exposure. Be sure to air out your car before going for a drive.  Finally, formaldehyde is also found in adhesives so wear gloves to minimize exposure when working with adhesives.
  • Glutaraldehyde – often mixed with formaldehyde, this can used both as a disinfectant and as a preservative.
  • IIsocyanate – paints, varnishes and protective coatings contain this toxin. Truck beds, decks, boats are common places where it is found.
  • Mercury Compounds – sources include dental composites and power plants that leech mercury into rivers, streams, ground water and oceans.  Mercury can also be vaporized into the air we breathe.
  • Mixed Heavy Metals (Toxic)– Nickel, Cobalt, Cadmium, Lead, Arsenic.
  • Parabens – deodorants and antiperspirants often contain parabens. This toxin is a main contributor to breast cancer and autoimmune disorders. Check for parabens in toothpaste, lotions, sunscreens, shampoos, conditioners, shaving gel, makeup, pharmaceutical drugs and food additives as well.
  • Trimellitic, Phthalic Anhydrides and BPA Binding Protein – typically found in plastics like water bottles and even children’s toys.
  • Tetrabromobisphenol A – typically found in circuit boards, epoxies and flame retardants. Mattresses, pillows, and bedding should be checked for this toxin.
  • Tetrachloroethylene – used in the dry cleaning process. Inquire with your dry cleaner about usage and if they do, be sure to air out clothes before wearing them.

Assess Antibodies Rather Than Levels

Although we all have some level of chemicals in our bodies at any given time, it is important to know whether or not those chemicals are binding to tissues and contributing to autoimmune reactivity.

Levels, whether high or low, only indicate an exposure to the chemical has occurred, but cannot reveal if the exposure resulted in a body burden.

Antibodies. Elevated antibodies indicate chemical exposure has become a body burden. Adverse effects can result in immune suppression, leaving the patient more susceptible to infections or immune stimulation which may result in autoimmune reactivity.

Think you might be struggling with Toxicity? Contact us today to discuss your concerns.


Studies Illustrating the Correlation Between Environmental Compounds and Autoimmune Disease?

Drugs and Environmental Compounds

  • “Autoimmune reaction or autoimmune disease may be induced by drugs and chemical xenobiotics, which have the potential to form complexes with or otherwise alter self-proteins such that they become immunogenic (targets of immune attack).”9
    Autoimmune Disease and Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
  • “Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) include hundreds of different chemical compounds with common properties, such as long-term persistence, widespread diffusion in the environment and bioaccumulation through the food chain.”10
  • “Exposure to relatively high levels of POPs during pancreatic development in utero or in early infancy may lead to the development of type 1 diabetes among children.”11

Bisphenol A (BPA) and Autoimmune Disease

One of the most well-known and toxic of these POPs is bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is commonly used by the food industry in plastic food and bevarage containers and in the lining of canned foods.

  • “The precise mechanism underlying the immunomodulatory effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs), especially BPA, has not been clarified, and multiple mechanisms are considered.”12
    “Some of these studies were prompted by concern that xenoestrogens may contribute to development of autoimmune disease.”13
  • “BPA is not only an estrogen mimic but also may exhibit a mechanism of action similar to that of the sex hormone at the receptor. Therefore, considerable attention has focused on this environmental estrogen-like chemical, which may affect reproductive organs.”14
  • “The ubiquitous estrogenic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is the base chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic food and beverage containers, the resin lining of cans, and dental sealants; it also is found in ‘carbonless’ paper used for receipts as well as a wide range of other common household products.”15
  • “It appears to be undeniable that at least part of the immune system, especially Th1 responses, may be modulated by either prenatal or postnatal exposure to the environmental estrogen-like chemical, BPA.”16
    “The effects of BPA on cells confirm that BPA acts as a potent estrogen via this recently discovered estrogen response pathway.”17
  • “BPA and estradiol are also equipotent at inhibiting adiponectin release from human adipocytes, further implicating BPA at current human exposure levels in insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome.”18
  • “The decrease of T reg cells would predispose to immune dysfunction in aged individuals, explaining their higher risk of immune-mediated diseases, cancer, and infections. Our data also suggest the possibility that BPA might cause these diseases.”19
  • “Thus, avoiding exposure to or promoting the excretion of BPA and other EDCs would help in preventing diseases and adverse health effects.”20

Glutathione’s Role in Autoimmune Disease


Generated in the liver, Glutathione is one of the body’s key antioxidants and guards our cells’ energy producing powerhouse, the mitochondria. Ultimately it is glutathione that takes on any free radical so that the mitochondria is not affected. When this system breaks down, the immune system is activated and the body’s ability to produce cellular energy is compromised. As the immune response is triggered, inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) is also activated which leads to tissue destruction and begets further autoimmunity. A functional glutathione system is mandatory in autoimmune prevention. Learn more about how to boost your Glutathione levels

Laboratory Evaluation of Environmental Chemical Tolerance –

Evaluating chemical immune tolerance can be done objectively with Cyrex Labs Array 11—Chemical Immune cyrex-array-11
Reactivity Screen.  Chemical immunoreactivity testing evaluates for immunological reactivity to environmental compounds by evaluating antigen-antibody reactivity to these compounds.  The presence of elevated antibodies to common environmental compounds indicates overzealous immune reactions to chemicals and loss of immune tolerance –

“Environmental exposures start depleting glutathione which leads to immune activation which activates iNOS and promotion of autoimmunity. These results suggest that TBT (an environmental pollutant), selectively induces apoptosis and T helper polarity via generation of hydrogen peroxide because of low GSH (glutathione) levels.”21

Testing environmental toxins Cyrex array 11- Dr Hagmeyer Autoimmune Triggers

Improve Health, Detoxify, and Prevent

There are thousands of chemicals all around us and the ramifications of our exposure to them is complex. Scientists and doctors are only beginning to understand the effects they have on the human body as well as their reaction with one another. However what is clear is that heavy toxic burden increases the risk for developing one or more autoimmune diseases.

Some researchers have postulated that toxins such as heavy metals break down the body’s tissues. And as these tissues break down, the immune system stops recognizing them as a part of the body and starts to attack them as if they are foreign invaders. Others have theorized that toxins cause damage that set off an inflammatory response within the immune system. It seems that some combination of both theorizes holds true, igniting the autoimmune response. The relentless exposure to toxins that bombards our everyday life makes for a restless immune system that can no longer filter out the familiar from the invaders and, as a result, starts attacking everything. The fight-or-flight response kicks in and the body fights like crazy to protect itself.

This can be a lot of information to digest and it might feel overwhelming, especially if you want to start eliminating several of the toxins you might be exposed to every day. While it’s impossible to completely cut out all toxins, there are so many choices you can make to significantly reduce their presence in your life. Taking action to minimize your toxic exposure is manageable and I’d like to help you create a prevention and detoxification plan to get your immune system functioning well once again.


Once toxins are present in the body it’s critical to prevent further intake and begin methods of detoxification. Our body works hard to expunge toxins in various ways and this becomes more challenging for those with autoimmune disease. Increasing your water intake and committing to an activity that makes you sweat each day is a great place to start. The liver is responsible for a large majority of detoxification so it’s crucial to strengthen and support the liver with nutrients that have been shown to boost it’s functionality. These include glutathione, N-Acetyl-Cysteine, Dandelion Extract, Milk thistle, MSM, Trimethylglycine, and Gotu Kola extract.

 Dr Hagmeyers Detox 30 days

30 Day Detox Learn more about Autoimmune Disease and Other Triggers That Might be causing you to be Sick:

Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune Disease and Functional Medicine

Identifying Your Autoimmune Triggers

Trigger I: Identify Leaky Gut and Compromised GI Function

Trigger II: Eliminate Food Senstivities 

Trigger IV: Infections, Parasites, and Lyme Disease

Trigger V: Balance and Optimize Hormones

Trigger VI: Dampen the Inflammatory Response

Trigger VII: Identify Individual Nutritional Deficiencies 


Patients who read this article were also interested in:

  1. Glutathione: Why You Should Take this Powerful Antioxidant
  2. Supporting Your Immune System Naturally with Glutathione
  3. Testing for Mold and Heavy Metals Offers New Treatment Options
  4. How Plastics Can Interfere with Your Immune System
  5. How To Boost Your Glutathione Levels
  6. Learn more about Testing for Chemical Sensitivities