Heavy Metals Are Everywhere. Let’s Talk About It.

(Audio transcript below)

Welcome to AIM For Health – Root Cause Conversations with Dr. James Biddle. All content from the conversations in this podcast are created and published for informational purposes only. This is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice and should not be relied on for personal medical decisions. Always seek the guidance of your doctor with any questions you have regarding a medical condition.

Well welcome back – this is our podcast called “Ask Dr. Jim Bob”.  I am Dr. James Robert Biddle, Board Certified Internal Medicine, and here to help me out is our new patient coordinator at Asheville Integrative Medicine, Joy Lambert.

Hello everyone – good afternoon.

Well, I don’t need to ask you what we are going to talk about – we are going to talk about heavy metal toxicity.

Yes we are!

For this podcast and the next two or three!

Yes, this is a huge topic, it is one of the cornerstones of what we do here and something that people generally just want to learn more about.  So we are going to break this up into a series, so we have a lot to look forward to in the coming weeks of learning.

Right, and I would just start by saying why it is such a huge topic – because it’s hidden.  It is completely ignored by conventional medicine.  Why?  Because there is no money in it for big pharma.


It affects every cell in your body and therefore every organ system.  It is not owned by any discipline of medicine because it crosses cardiology and GI and neurology and – everything.  I have had my own personal experience with it.

Yes, and I want to ask you about that a little later on as to why this is so important, even personally.

Yes, so we dig down deeper and deeper into people’s cases and more than half the time in people with chronic illnesses we end up finding significant toxic heavy metals as their kind of deepest sabotage.  We find that we cannot get chronic infections resolved until we get rid of it.  We can’t get the metabolism straightened out until we get rid of it, so I don’t know how I would really practice Sherlock Holmes medicine without dealing with heavy metal toxicity.

Right, the cornerstone of what we do is that we want to practice root cause medicine and so many times this is at the root.

This is at the root – the deepest root.

Yes, exactly.  Well let’s dive in, I am excited to start learning more!


Ok – so, we are going to start off with more of an introduction today to get everyone’s ears tuning, make sure we have good foundational information.  So Dr. Biddle – What are metals?

Nobody knows.


You didn’t expect that did you?

No, I didn’t!

I caught her off guard!  You know, I did a deep dive in this back in about 2006 because I was on the board of ACAM, the American College for the Advancement of Medicine for 6 years and I was chairman of the educational program.  I taught the introduction to heavy metal class to other doctors.  At one time ACAM was the largest group in the United States of Integrative doctors, and it is still the largest group that teaches chelation therapy which is how you get heavy metals out of the body.


So for 6 years I basically taught other doctors about heavy metals and at the start of that process I did a deep dive into heavy metals and what I learned is they are poorly defined, because not all toxic metals are heavy, not all things on the periodic table that are toxins are metals.  So what we really end up focusing on is what is toxic to the body that the body should never have.  There are many things that you do need that can become toxic at any dose.

Too much of a good thing.

If I give you 5 gallons of water to drink right now and make you drink it – that can kill you.

Oh, absolutely, and I wouldn’t want to do that!

Right!  So if I give you pure oxygen to breathe, that can damage you.  So all these things that we have to have, anything can be excess.  So the basic definition of a toxin, the toxin is in the dose, but there are many things that we don’t need any of, and you shouldn’t have any of them, and that is one of the things that we look at.

And so some of those fall into the categories of metals. 


Now am I correct in using the word metals then or –

Yes, some of them are metals, and basically a metal is defined as having a luster.  You know, if it is something that is solid and has a luster to it, but even the solid part isn’t necessarily true because mercury is liquid at room temperature, and even until very cold.  I don’t even know what the freezing point of mercury is, but it is extreme before you are making mercury into a solid.  So some of them conduct electricity, and there are all different things you could talk about, but I just want to say it is very poorly defined.  I can list some of the things and tell you certain things about them.  You know lead; people know you can make bullets out of it, used to make toy soldiers out of it, used to make fishing weights out of it –

Windows – window panes.

Window pain – we still balance your tires with lead weights, which is why the roadways in America are very toxic because those little lead weights fall off and get ground down and so there is this huge amount of lead.  Mercury – people know that is toxic and most people have played with mercury when you broke a thermometer as a child, and they put mercury into dental fillings, and we will go deeper into that at some point, but it is odd that it is a toxic hazardous waste before they put it in and it is a toxic waste after they take it out, but once it is in your tooth somehow it is perfectly safe!

That is certainly going to be something to talk about – that is a big topic in and of itself.

Right.  There is arsenic as in arsenic in old lace, you know, don’t drink the blackberry brandy.  There is cadmium as a pigment in paints like cadmium red.  So, very common exposures there, and cadmium inside cigarettes.  There is aluminum which everybody knows about, it has been associated with dementia risk.

Right, and it is in antiperspirant which we are applying directly to our bodies every day!

It is in antiperspirants, it is in baking powder of most forms, people wrap their food in it, aluminum foil, they cook in it.  There are problems with that – aluminum pans.  So all those are obviously metals, even if mercury is a liquid, you can look at them and tell they are metals.  But how about fluoride?  Fluoride for example is only #9 on the periodic table of elements.  It sits above chlorine and bromide and iodide, but it is toxic.  It not really a metal; it has beneficial uses –


Topically – it is toxic if you ingest it.  It should not be ingested from my way of thinking, and there is a whole story to tell about fluoride, maybe we will get there.

Yes, I hope so.

With a waste product of making a ton of bombs in the Manhattan Project in WWII.

Oh, I didn’t know about that!

Yes, there is a whole story to tell about that, about how it started being put in the water and that had to do with atomic bombs and the Manhattan Project.  So it is possible that fluoride is actually necessary for us at some level, but obviously there is a toxicity problem with fluoride too because it poisons the iodine system, you know for your thyroid and things like that.

Right – and doesn’t it also contribute towards the calcification of the pineal gland?

The calcification of the pineal gland – that’s right, so that you won’t become spiritually enlightened.

Don’t drink the water…

Don’t drink the water, that’s right.  So there are all kinds of different things, and then there are many things that are considered nutritional minerals, but if you get too much of those they can be toxic too, for example manganese.  You’ve got to have manganese in order to have proper joint cartilage.  There was a basketball player on the Portland Trailblazers 20 or 30 years ago named Bill Walton, and he was manganese deficient and developed ankle problems.  They gave him manganese and he got better; but too much manganese causes Parkinson’s-like illness –


And when they took lead out of gasoline in the 1980s, they put manganese into the gasoline so that your car won’t knock.  So if you stand there and smell the gasoline while you are pumping gas into your car you can get manganese toxic.

Not a good form of supplementation!

But yet we find people low in manganese and we give them pills of manganese at the same time.

Right – it’s about the balance.

Right.  And the same is true with boron.  Boron for example runs your hormone receptors, so if you are boron deficient you may have enough hormones but your cells are not going to get the signal, and boron is also in cockroach poison and ant poison.  It is a little white powder you can sprinkle around on the edges of your garage – I have done that myself, and I have seen many people boron toxic from crawling around in their crawl spaces.


Especially people coming up from Florida where the cockroaches are immense.  Of course in South Carolina they don’t have cockroaches, they have palmetto bugs.

Water bugs…

Palmetto bugs…

They’re gross either way!

Right.  So that’s showing how some things have a very narrow therapeutic index.  Iron – you have to have iron right – or else you have anemia.

Absolutely – but you don’t want too much.

But you don’t want too much because iron rusts, it can rust you from the inside out.  And right now with Covid-19, high iron is one of the predictors of bad outcome because the Covid-19 knocks the iron off your hemoglobin and you get hypoxic.  That is part of how it causes low oxygen long before it causes lung damage, but then that free iron that was knocked off is a severe inflammatory molecule.  It is a reactive oxygen species and so then that is part of inducing that cytokine storm and you get so much inflammatory damage throughout your body.  So I went and donated blood a couple of months ago just to lower my iron so in case I get it I will have better odds.

Right – there is definitely a balance to be struck with that.

Yes.  So you can overdose on zinc, copper, selenium – all these things that are not particularly toxic, but if you get too much of them they can be toxic, and they would be considered nutritional minerals, I wouldn’t call them metals, but they are minerals.  So that is that first question of what is a metal?  It is a tough question and I was shocked myself back in the 2000s when I first started studying that deeply.

Well my next question is – Where do these metals or minerals typically come from in nature? And how have they traversed into the realm of humans and getting into our bodies?


Because you have got some good stories about this.

You are talking about Pandora’s box.

I am…

This is Pandora’s box.

It is wide open.

Right.  So they are in the crust of the earth and we mine them.  Now I want you to imagine if you will hundreds of millions of years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was a lot more volcanic activity than there is now.  Now we still have active volcanoes – right?

Oh sure.

Mount St. Helen’s for example.  But back then there was a lot more.  And then over hundreds of millions of years, the vast rain forests and jungles and animals and plants all kind of absorbed a lot of those metals and then got buried.  And now we look at them as fossils.

Fossil fuels.

And fossil fuels.  So we as mammals evolved in a climate with far less lead and mercury and other heavy metals in the atmosphere than the dinosaurs had.  So we did not evolve to tolerate higher levels of those very well.  And now when we dig up coal and oil and frack for natural gas, we mobilize these heavy metals and spew them back out into the atmosphere, so we are opening up Pandora’s box and spreading it around.

That’s a lot to think about.

That’s a lot to think about, that’s right.  I have all kinds of stats about that, about how many millions of tons of lead and mercury have been put out.  One of my favorites is mercury is used in gold mining.

I didn’t know that.

It is.  And right now in the Amazon basin there is a lot of illegal mining going on and huge problems with mercury toxicity, but the San Francisco Bay with the gold rush of the 1850s I believe…

The forty-niners.

The forty-niners – right, that is when it started.  It is estimated that I believe the figure is 100 million tons of mercury was put into the San Francisco Bay over a few decades back then.

But isn’t the half-life of mercury pretty long?

Well, it’s forever.  Now you’re talking about the half-life in your body.  In our body there is a half life of metals, for example lead and mercury it is about 25-50 years, so if I get exposed to lead, it takes 25 years before I have reduced that to half of what I originally absorbed.  In the environment it is forever.  They don’t – the alchemists in the Middle Ages thought they could turn lead or iron into gold by using mercury.  And so they thought they could change one thing into another, but metals do not change from one thing into another, except through nuclear fusion or nuclear fission.  So in the sun they change from one thing to another and in nuclear power plants they do, but otherwise mercury stays mercury and lead stays lead.   Now they can change isotopes, so for example I have a big picture on my wall right here and it talks about 3 types of mercury.  It talks about metallic mercury which has no charge on it and then ionic mercury which has one charge on it, and then double ionic mercury which has two charges on it, so those are all a little bit different, and then you have methyl mercury which has a methyl group just like methyl B-12 has a methyl group on it compared to regular B-12 and that makes it more reactive.   But metals stay metals – they do not really change into something else.

Minerals are the same? Or –

They are the same, yes.  Right.  Magnesium stays magnesium; it doesn’t turn into something else.

Got it.  And so it is through industry and then things like lead pipes and what not that we have exposed ourselves. 

Right.  And classic lead pipes were in the Roman Empire, and they were thought to be part of the downfall of the Roman Empire.

Too much lead.

There was too much lead, right.  And then especially in the Middle Ages in Europe, they still did not quite understand lead toxicity and they made their plates; you know pewter would have lead in it, and they made pewter plates and goblets and especially wine would extract the lead quite efficiently and dose you with it.

If I remember right, even make-up – I think that was suspected to be a contributing factor to Elizabeth the First’s downfall.

Right – lead is in the make-up.  And when I hear about make-up and heavy metals, it is recently, meaning within like as recent as 20 years ago, skin lightening formulas, especially for people of color, had mercury in it here in the United States.


So this whole society value of lighter skin, people trying to lighten their skin, people would get heavy metal toxicity from that.

That’s terrible.

Truly horrendous.

Now there is so much to talk about with the heavy metals and the negative effects, that that is really going to be the bulk of the next episode.  We have touched a little bit on minerals that are good for us and that our body needs, and I want to learn a little bit more about that – start off with the good. 

The good ones!

The good ones – the ones you need.  So yes, what are some of the minerals that we need, and how do we get them?

Right, and I want to preface this to understand the importance of this is because the main way – there are 4 main ways that metals poison us, but I want to focus on one of them.  And that is they look like nutrient minerals and kick them out of enzymes, the heavy metal, and then poison the enzyme and that is the main way that heavy metals poison us.  The example I like to use is zinc and mercury.

I didn’t know about this until we did my hair test.

Right.  So even my hair analysis 23 years ago showed that I was high in mercury, because I had 12 amalgam fillings in my mouth from when I was a teenager, and my zinc showed high.  But a high zinc in a hair analysis does not mean that you have too much zinc in your body – it means that the zinc is being kicked out of your body by mercury because mercury sits right below cadmium on the periodic table of elements which sits right below zinc, so both cadmium and mercury look like zinc meaning the outer electron structure with the valance looks the same as zinc, so therefore it can slip into an enzyme in our body that runs on zinc and 200 known enzymes run on zinc in our body.

200 for zinc?

  1. For example, enzymes in your thyroid gland, for making thyroid and other ones in your tissues for activating thyroid by converting it from T4 to T3. There is an enzyme in your stomach lining that makes hydrochloric acid that runs on zinc, and if you then become deficient in zinc or poison those zinc enzymes, you can’t make hydrochloric acid and then you can’t absorb your B-12 and you get dementia and fatigue, and then you can’t break down your proteins and you get food allergies, and a whole host of bad things happen when you poison these enzymes.  But it is because the heavy metals look like the nutritional minerals.

So if you have metals that are binding with those same receptors that say zinc would, does that mean that our body is not able to use zinc even if we supplement it, or it’s just harder to mobilize?

Well you can push back against it.  You want to load against it.  So in some of these they are irreversible bonds, so for example, an atom of mercury in your nerve cells irreversibly binds to I believe its an actin particle, and then turns that off, and I have a great video from the University of Calgary showing these large snail neurons, the largest neurons in the world.  But pretty much identical to our neurons, just a little bit larger, growing in a petri dish and then they introduce a mercury vapor that is relevant to about the same amount of mercury vapor that exists in our mouth when you have about 6 amalgam fillings – right?

Those amalgams are releasing that vapor…

They gas 24/7 for their entire existence.  And you can see this neuron which is growing all of a sudden start to shed back and peel.  It damages the myelin sheath covering the neuron and causes irreparable damage to that neuron and so that is the type of damage that happens.  So some of these are irreversible binding and some of them are reversible binding.  The reversible ones – this is so fascinating to watch on electron microscopy, I mean I love biology – but this is almost more chemistry and physics.  Because for example, we’ve got to talk about enzymes.


So an enzyme can do two things.  An enzyme is a protein that is shaped just the right way, like a lock, that keys fit into it.  And almost all enzymes have some nutritional mineral in the middle of it and so we are talking about the zinc-run enzymes and there are 200 known zinc-run enzymes.  So there is a zinc molecule right in the middle of this protein structure and you can either take two things and hook them together, or take one thing and split it apart.  That is all the enzymes can ever do, but if you then substitute a mercury atom for that zinc atom in that protein enzyme, then it can’t do that anymore.  It stops doing it.  But when you watch this in electron microscopy, things bounce in and out of this enzyme on the average about 50 x per second.

Per second!

Per second.  You’ve got to realize that there are tens of thousands of other molecules around that don’t fit this, so the particular molecules that are going to be hooked together or split apart just happen to find the right place to land in that enzyme 50 times per second, sometimes up to 200 times per second, depending on the enzyme and what it is doing.  Sometimes a little bit slower.  But you have to slow it down on electron microscopy to even see it.


So sometimes that zinc is actually trading places with the mercury, they are kind of bouncing in and out, and so some of those may be completely poisoned, some of them may be partially poisoned.

So if the mercury comes out, then it can function normally again with the zinc as it is supposed to?

Right.  Or if it can’t, or if it is permanently then you have to make a new enzyme and put a zinc in there and hope that you get rid of the one that is damaged by the zinc and you have to excrete it and get rid of it, but you have to kind of start over making new enzymes.  Which we do all day anyway.  So as you can see, this is a deep dive to kind of understand how heavy metals poison us and then what to do about them.   And this is something that I was taught, really I don’t remember any teaching about this in medical school or residency.  I mean we had a class in toxicology and I guess maybe they talked about the gross signs and always the most common signs of heavy metal toxicities are gut disruption first; people have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and all kinds of gut disruptions with acute heavy metal toxicity, and then central nervous system disruption with everything from brain fog to come, depending on how bad it is.  But we weren’t taught anything about chronic heavy metal toxicity which is what we are really dealing with.

Now since this can be the root cause of so many health issues, and people in the medical field want to resolve health issues, even with the lack of money aside, why do you think it is that this isn’t being addressed?

Golden handcuffs.  You know, doctors are great people, all the doctors I know, 99% of the doctors I have ever met, are great people and they want to help their patients.  But they do what they are told for the most part and unfortunately what they are told to do is the curriculum taught to them in medical school and residency and that all derives from the medical journals and what controls what is published in the medical journals are the advertisers in the medical journals and the only advertisers in the medical journals are big pharma.  So if it doesn’t make money for big pharma, there are no articles published about it, it is not taught in medical school or residency, and doctors therefore think that it must be worthless because of a process called cognitive dissonance.  And cognitive dissonance means that if you are invested in a particular way of thinking, then all evidence that contradicts that will be ignored.  That is called a ruling paradigm.  So, you know, 500 years ago the whole world knew that the world was flat.

Right – that was a given.

So all evidence to the contrary was ignored.

You were crazy if you thought otherwise.

And persecuted.  So Copernicus was threatened with torture and had to renounce that the earth revolves around the sun, even though the evidence showed that it did.  So eventually that paradigm shifted and now most of us believe that the world is round.

Most of us!

Most of us!  You can go onto you-tube and find the people who don’t.  So it’s a paradigm shift.


So doctors will almost never prescribe anything except for prescription medications that are FDA approved for something, and the FDA approval process on the average takes 100 million dollars and so you cannot get a natural substance FDA approved for something because you cannot patent it and make your hundred million dollars back.

You never would.

Yes, right.  So that is just why when you go to the doctor, the only thing that happens is you get a prescription.  And part of that is the average life of the visit is 7 minutes and what I saw back when I was working in conventional medicine is that giving you a prescription on a piece of paper (now it is on the computer) is a license for me to end the interview and get out of the room.

You don’t need to do anything else at that point.

Well, that’s the only way I can get out of the room and move on to the next patient.  And if you have to see 6 or 7 people an hour, you’re going to get to the prescription as fast as possible and you are not really going – you don’t have any room to investigate why the person is sick in the first place.

I’m glad we don’t do things that way.

No, it is challenging to practice medicine this way but it is fulfilling because you get to help people and see deeper results.



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