Heavy Metals That Weaken Immunity

Infections can come in all shapes and forms, from bacterial infections to viruses and infectious diseases. While your body has an arsenal of tools to protect itself against these invaders, physical and environmental factors can come into play that work against your natural immune response.  In this article, we’ll take a look at how heavy metals can weaken immunity.

Heavy metals, along with their detrimental effects on immunity in general, are particularly problematic where infections are concerned.

At times like this, where concerns around health, immunity, and specifically infections are at the forefront of many people’s minds — it’s time to address any hidden factors that may be driving infection or destabilizing immunity.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How we acquire infections 
  • How metals feed viruses
  • How heavy metals interfere in immunity cells 
  • The connection between mitochondrial dysfunction, immunity, and heavy metals
  • How to best support your immune system and support the body’s natural detoxification process of heavy metals

The Breakdown of An Infection

Any infection is caused by a microbe, or microorganism, entering your body and eliciting an immune response. 

The microbes that are known to be pathogenic (or disease-causing) are:

  • Viruses –tiny microbes responsible for a range of diseases including chickenpox, influenza, AIDS, SARS, and measles. 
  • Bacteria — 10 to 100 times larger than viruses, responsible for diseases like strep throat, tuberculosis, staph infections, and urinary tract infections.
  • Fungi — spore-forming organisms that create mold and infections like ringworm.
  • Protozoa — responsible for diseases like malaria and dysentery.
  • Parasites — examples are hookworm, tapeworm, and lice. 

Microbes typically enter your body through your mouth, eyes, nose, urogenital openings, or open wounds. Some of these pathogens will spread through mucus membranes, while others will travel through bodily fluids like your lymph or blood. 

Your immune system responds by springing into action with white blood cells and antibodies to fight off the infecting agent. When your immune system isn’t strong enough to stop the progression and multiplication of pathogens, however, your body becomes sick. 

Depending on the specific microbe, your immune system will be challenged in a variety of ways to clear the infectious agent from your body[1].

Heavy Metals and Infections 

In a healthy body, most pathogens won’t make it past your primary immune defenses. This is why we’re able to coexist with so many pathogenic agents in our environment. However, when your immune system is weakened due to toxic overload, pathogens may get the upper hand. 

Heavy metals, in particular, have a detrimental effect on your immunity. Specifically, when it comes to infections, metals undermine your immune defenses and promote the spread of infections in several ways:

#1 Heavy Metals Drive Antibiotic Resistance

Heavy metals have been shown to play a role in the development of antibiotic resistance in human pathogens[2]. 

Antibiotic resistance happens when bacteria develop the ability to battle and defeat the drugs that were designed to kill them. Antibiotics, developed to defend your body against specific strains of bacteria, become useless in these cases, and infections may grow uncontrollably.

To be clear, antibiotic resistance does not happen because your body becomes resistant to the drug. Rather, it’s the bacteria that become stronger and lend the antibiotics ineffective. For this reason, antibiotic resistance can affect anyone — young or old, healthy or immunocompromised. 

One prime example of this is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), a bacteria that’s often referred to as a “superbug”.

It can affect your body in a variety of ways, depending on where you’re infected. Many people experience mild infection on the skin; however, when it comes into contact with open wounds, gets into your lungs, or enters your systemic circulation, it poses a huge threat to your health. 

But here’s where the story gets even more complicated — heavy metals like lead and cadmium are associated with increased MRSA infection. 

In the presence of these metals, the bacteria are given free passage to infect and colonize your cells. Research suggests that the connection here lies in the ability of heavy metals to increase antibiotic resistance in the pathogens, allowing them to grow stronger than the antibiotics that are meant to kill them. Some research shows that heavy metals impact pathogens on a genetic level, priming them to fight antibiotics (and win) [18][3].

Other studies suggest that it’s a combination of genetic factors, along with heavy metals’ ability to target good bacteria, and leave harmful bacteria alone. This creates dysbiosis which further empowers harmful bacteria to spread[20

But MRSA isn’t the only pathogen that benefits from the impact of heavy metals on antibiotics. Research shows that several human pathogens may become resistant to antibiotics due to their exposure to heavy metals. Some examples include E. coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa[19

We can surmise that this same scenario happens with other bacteria and pathogens as well. 

#2 Heavy Metals Support Viral DNA Replication and Survival

Heavy metals like mercury, lead, and cadmium offer little to no benefit to your health, while trace minerals like zinc and metals like copper are actually quite essential for proper immune functioning. 

The problem is, although crucial for your health in small amounts, these metals actually play an integral role in the structure and function of viruses. In fact, many viruses require these metals in order to perform DNA replication. 

Some viruses known for their dependence on heavy metals for survival include[4]:

  • HIV
  • Hepatitis C
  • Hepatitis B
  • Herpes
  • Influenza
  • Coronavirus
  • HPV
  • Ebola
  • Rhinovirus
  • Rotavirus

#3 Heavy Metals Inhibit Crucial Immune Cell Activity

Your immune system is made up of a diverse array of immune cells that work in concert to protect your body against all kinds of infections. When these cells become weak or damaged, and their activity is suppressed, it gives pathogens free reign to grow and spread – leaving your body vulnerable to opportunistic infections. 

Heavy metals have been shown to inhibit and suppress the activity of several crucial immune cells, including: 

Macrophages 

Macrophages are large white blood cells that are known as “phagocytic cells.” Phagocytic cells, in essence, eat or engulf pathogens like viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. They play a vital role in the “clean up” of your immune system, helping to clear unwanted invaders. 

Heavy metals interfere in macrophage function and activity. Macrophage suppression by heavy metals can lead to toxicity and diseased states due to pathogenic proliferation[5]. 

Neutrophils

Neutrophils are your first line of defense against microbes and infection. They patrol your body like security guards looking for anything that seems out of place. Once signaled, they rally to the site of infections and signal other cells of the immune system to launch an attack. 

During infections, the percentage of neutrophils your body produces can increase by 80% or more[6].

Neutrophils contain tiny compartments called granules, in which they store toxic chemicals that act as their weapons against microorganisms. These substances are effective at killing bacteria and viruses, but also contribute to inflammation, with swelling, redness, and often pain.

if you look at live blood cell analysis who are sick with infections and metals, you’ll see that their neutrophils are sluggish. They don’t want to find a meal. This same situation happens in cancer patients that are taking chemo and cancer drugs. 

When neutrophils are suppressed, your body’s first line of defense is weakened, and the signaling of your immune system against infection will take a hit, potentially allowing infection to spread[7].

Natural Killer Cells

Natural killer (NK) cells, as the name suggests, are best known for killing virally infected cells as well as cancerous cells. They’re a vital component of your innate immune system, which typically jumps into action within hours of a pathogen’s appearance in your body.

Natural killer cells work by secreting toxic compounds that aim to target and destroy viruses — thereby killing and containing the spread[8]. 

Heavy metals can block the  activity of natural killer cells, leaving you more susceptible to viral attacks, as well as the proliferation of cancer cells[9][10].

#4 Heavy Metals reduce energy production needed to power immunity

Heavy metals can lodge into different tissues and cellular structures in your body. One of your cellular components that are particularly vulnerable to metal invasion is your mitochondria[11]. 

Your mitochondria, also known as the powerhouse of your cell, is responsible for the production of energy that fuels your entire body – and your immune system. These small cell parts play a crucial role in the process of transforming the nutrients you eat into the energy that drives every process of your body. 

As you can imagine, damaged or dysfunctional mitochondria would leave your immune system weak and unable to carry out its typical immune defenses. It’s surprising just how much energy is needed to fuel your immune system. And it’s easily crippled by toxins that ultimately result in poor energy production. 

So how do metals reduce energy production in the body? Heavy metals impair mitochondrial functioning in many ways. One way is they poison the enzymes that transport nutrients into your mitochondria. Because of that, it doesn’t matter if you’re supplementing with energy or mitochondrial supporting nutrients – these nutrients are inhibited in being transported into your mitochondria to produce ATP. 

For a more detailed explanation and the specific metals known in the research to inhibit mitochondrial function and energy production, read my article How to End Fatigue by Detoxing Your Mitochondria

In this way, your mitochondria not only fuel your immune system, but they play a crucial role in cellular fitness. Therefore, a heavy metal assault on your mitochondria is like a double whammy to your immunity[12]. So that’s why it’s very important to remove these metals from your body to restore energy production in your body. And ultimately to restore immune function. 

#5 Heavy Metals Drive Infectious Disease by Undermining Immunity

High levels of heavy metals in your body may drive the progression of infectious diseases, as evidenced by marine life. 

It’s no secret that our oceans are a hotbed for mercury exposure. Industry and the burning of coal has released copious amounts of mercury, lead, arsenic and other metals into our air, that then settle into our oceans, which then make their way into our fish and shellfish. 

Unfortunately for the fish population, mercury exposure is shown to increase their risk for infectious disease. In one study, researchers examined infectious disease mortality in porpoises that had been exposed to heavy metals and found that the animals that died of infection had significantly higher amounts of heavy metals in their liver[13]. 

As we’ve clearly explained in this article, heavy metals can dramatically affect the integrity of your immune system on multiple levels by upregulating processes that lead to infection, while inhibiting pathways meant to resolve disease. Metals inhibit immune cell activity by supporting viral DNA replication, causing mitochondrial dysfunction, reducing energy needed to fuel immunity and driving antibiotic resistance.

Clear Heavy Metals To Protect Yourself Against Infections

There are many things you can do to enhance your immunity. Eating a healthy diet, getting proper nutrients, getting plenty of rest, getting sunshine and making physical activity a priority are all valid ways to support your immune system. 

Most approaches to immunity just focus on taking a couple herbs like echinacea or goldenseal—or nutrients like zinc and vitamin C. 

Sure, those can help. But if you don’t remove specific heavy metals research has shown to cripple your immunity, your immune system cannot support your health optimally.

That’s why I make detox a priority in my life, and the life of the clients I work with. 

Supporting your body’s natural ability to remove contaminants from your body can clear the way for your immune cells to do their job. In the absence of these harmful metals, your mitochondria can fuel your immune activities, your cells can jump into action faster, and the pathogens that you come into contact with will be deprived of the metals they feed off of.

Here are a handful of helpful tips for detoxing these health hazards:

IonCleanse Foot Baths

These foot baths are not only relaxing and a great option for kids, they also stimulate the renal system to increase urinary excretion of toxins. 

A Whole-Foods, Organic Diet

Eating organic foods helps reduce your exposure to heavy metals from pesticides. Avoiding junk foods and factory farm meats also reduces your toxic burden. If you are sensitive to certain foods, like gluten, removing those can help reduce inflammation in your body and assist with detoxification. Lastly, eating ample amounts of organic produce will help improve mineral status, elimination, and healthy gut bacteria. Together, these factors aid your body in being stronger and more robust in its defense against toxins and heavy metals.

Infrared Sauna

A good-quality infrared sauna is a great way to sweat out toxins as it uses safe, gentle, but deeply penetrating heat to mobilize toxins. It’s important to incorporate hydration and binders like grapefruit citrus pectin with infrared saunas. 

Coffee Enemas

Coffee enemas may sound awkward to the uninitiated, but in fact they are a wonderful way to support your body’s natural detoxification process. The caffeine travels through the portal vein in the intestines to the liver and dilates the blood vessels in the liver, increasing bile flow and stimulating detoxification. Coffee enemas have also been shown to aid in the production of glutathione. 

Heavy Metal Pollutants Are Everywhere

Heavy metals are everywhere in our environment, from the water you drink to the foods you eat to the air you breathe. Even relatively small amounts of heavy metals in make-up and cleaning products can accumulate in your system and affect your health. 

That’s why I suggest, across the board, that everyone at some point take actionable steps to protect themselves from these environmental pollutants and support the body’s ability to detox naturally. That includes supporting your body’s natural detox pathways using some of the methods discussed above.

Takeaway 

Pathogenic organisms are everywhere in your environment, and whether you realize it or not, they’re constantly challenging your immunity. 

Luckily, your immune system has an arsenal of tools to fight off infection and keep you healthy. 

However, when your immune system becomes weak, you’re left vulnerable to potential infection and the development of health issues from opportunistic infections bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes. Remember, it’s not the pathogen, it’s the terrain. You are not as susceptible to pathogens when you have a healthy, detoxed body. 

When it comes to dampening immunity, heavy metals are one of the worst culprits. The more metals you have in your body, the more vulnerable you will be to infection; it’s that cut and dry. Therefore, in addition to eating a healthy diet and taking care of your body, it’s crucial that you routinely remove excess heavy metals from your system with daily detoxification and living the detox lifestyle.

Click Here for References+

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209710/

  2. Nguyen, Christine C., et al. “Association between heavy metals and antibiotic-resistant human pathogens in environmental reservoirs: A review.” Frontiers of Environmental Science & Engineering 13.3 (2019): 46.

  3. Eggers, Shoshannah, Nasia Safdar, and Kristen MC Malecki. “Heavy metal exposure and nasal Staphylococcus aureus colonization: analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).” Environmental Health 17.1 (2018): 2.

  4. Chaturvedi, Umesh C., and Richa Shrivastava. “Interaction of viral proteins with metal ions: role in maintaining the structure and functions of viruses.” FEMS Immunology & Medical Microbiology 43.2 (2005): 105-114.

  5. Sengupta, Mahuya, and Biswadev Bishayi. “Effect of lead and arsenic on murine macrophage response.” Drug and chemical toxicology 25.4 (2002): 459-472.

  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/neutrophil

  7. Mushtakova, V. M., V. A. Fomina, and V. V. Rogovin. “Toxic effect of heavy metals on human blood neutrophils.” Biology bulletin 32.3 (2005): 276-278.

  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/natural_killer_cell.htm

  9. Moon, Won Young, and Simon J. Powis. “Does natural killer cell deficiency (NKD) increase the risk of cancer? NKD may increase the risk of some virus induced cancer.” Frontiers in immunology 10 (2019).

  10. Cifone, M. G., et al. “Effects of cadmium on cytotoxic functions of human natural killer cells.” Toxicology in vitro 5.5-6 (1991): 525-528.

  11. Belyaeva, Elena A., et al. “Mitochondria as an important target in heavy metal toxicity in rat hepatoma AS-30D cells.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology 231.1 (2008): 34-42.

  12. de Souza Breda, Cristiane Naffah, et al. “Mitochondria as central hub of the immune system.” Redox biology (2019): 101255.

  13. Bennett, Peter M., et al. “Exposure to heavy metals and infectious disease mortality in harbour porpoises from England and Wales.” Environmental Pollution 112.1 (2001): 33-40.

  14. Anesio, Alexandre M., et al. “Influence of humic substances on bacterial and viral dynamics in freshwaters.” Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 70.8 (2004): 4848-4854.

  15. Antibacterial and anti-proliferative activity of different forms of Citrus pectin

  16. Delaquis, Pascal J., et al. “Antimicrobial activity of individual and mixed fractions of dill, cilantro, coriander and eucalyptus essential oils.” International journal of food microbiology 74.1-2 (2002): 101-109.

  17. Silva, Filomena, et al. “Coriander (Coriandrum sativum L.) essential oil: its antibacterial activity and mode of action evaluated by flow cytometry.” Journal of Medical Microbiology 60.10 (2011): 1479-1486.

  18. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2012.00399/full#:~:text=Heavy%20metal%20ions%20are%20known,efflux%20system%20in%20Escherichia%20coli.

  19. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11783-019-1129-0

  20. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2012.00399/full

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Wendy Myers, FDN-P, is a heavy metals detox expert, functional diagnostic nutritionist and founder of Myersdetox.com. Discover her Myers Detox Protocol and enjoy freedom from fatigue and brain fog with heavy metal detox. Wendy is also the creator of the Mitochondria Detox , the only supplement kit on the market that helps you to remove toxic metals that cause fatigue.