Heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and radioactive strontium 90 continue to arouse the concern of health-minded individuals.
These substances are pollutants which are spewed out in industrial wastes and through other sources of pollution. They contaminate our air, food, drinking water and our bodies. Once in our tissues, they can interfere with cellular metabolism, thought processes and our nervous and muscular systems. They can cause hypertension, brain damage and even cancer.
Efforts to curb heavy, metal pollution are not accomplishing results as fast as they should. Nonetheless, there is still a means which allows the individual to minimize the dangers of these substances. This means, surprisingly, is through our diet.
Two dietary substances, alginate and pectin, have remarkable and unique properties in that they can reduce the harm potentially caused by heavy metals.
Alginate, found in brown seaweed (kelp), is often referred to as simply al gin or sodium alginate, its most common form. Pectin is found in many fruits, including apples.
Dr. J. F. Stara and his associates have been researching alginate and pectin for over ten years. Their work began in the middle 1960’s when the Atomic Energy Commission sought to develop a means for removing radioactive strontium 90 from the diet in the event of a nuclear war or a nuclear power plant disaster contaminating food supplies. Their research led to the recognition that alginate and pectin were the only two substances in nature which had the ability to perform an “ion exchange” (an exchange of electrically charged atoms) between themselves and specific heavy metal pollutants.
Radioactive strontium 90 is recognized as a carcinogenic substance, though its action is subtle. It is very similar to calcium, an essential nutrient, and virtually all plants and animals cannot distinguish between the two. Thus radioactive strontium 90 is assimilated in plant and animal metabolism as if it was calcium.
The net effect of this has been demonstrated since the advent of nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants. Strontium 90 is deposited as fallout or waste material in the air and water. From here it enters our food supply. Grasses and other plants absorb it along with calcium, and then livestock eat these contaminated plants. Cows give us milk, our richest dietary source of calcium and our richest source of radioactive strontium 90. Both calcium and strontium 90 are deposited in our bones.
This has been the deadly process since we have “harnessed” nuclear power in the last 30 years. Radioactive strontium 90 disrupts cellular metabolism, and we see this in the from of bone cancer and leukemia in the group of our population which consumes the largest quantity of milk, children. Deaths from bone cancer and leukemia (cancer of the blood; remember that blood cells are formed in the bone marrow) have skyrocketed from almost zero to epidemic levels among children.
Similarly, there is a higher rate of these cancers in populations near nuclear power plants, and the rate of such cancer deaths decreases as we move further from these power plants. Noteworthy, as well, is the high incidence of cancer deaths in the current residents and descendants in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, where nuclear bombs were detonated.
Dr. Stara and his co-workers have demonstrated that 50 to 89 percent of ingested radioactive strontium 90 could be removed from the gastrointestinal system if alginate or pectin was consumed at the same time as the contaminated food. Smaller quantities of this radioactive substance could also be removed from deposits in bones and tissues over a longer period of time.
How do alginate and pectin work in the body? As mentioned, atoms that are electronically charged are exchanged between these substances and the heavy metals. As this happens the alginate or pectin, containing the heavy metals, is chemically transformed into an insoluble salt. It is then excreted from the body.
Dr. Stara has suggested other ways of achieving this ion exchange. One such way is helpful in dealing with lead, a widespread pollutant.
Lead is a common environmental contaminant because it is added to gasoline as an “anti-knock” compound. Since automobile exhaust is the major source of urban air pollution, it should become clear just how extensive pollution or poisoning is.
Many orthomolecular nutritionists have pointed out that high levels of lead are probably partly to blame for learning disabilities and behavioral problems in many children.
It is also known that high levels of lead initiate one type of arthritis. This happens because lead activates the enzyme hyaluronidase, which breaks down the synovial fluids in bone joints.
Yet alginate and pectin can effectively prevent a good deal of lead from being absorbed by the body and therefore prevent its deleterious effects.
Particulate lead in polluted air is picked up by mucus in the nasal passages, and it also enters our lungs, where it is picked up by the blood and is transported throughout the body.
If we consume alginate or pectin, however, on a regular basis, the blood will carry it to the lungs where an ion exchange can occur. Since the alginate and pectin then becomes an insoluble gel, it cannot be digested and is excreted.
Cadmium is another heavy metal considered a culprit in hypertension and bone abnormalities. It is dispersed into the environment by the burning of fossil fuels, but it is also found in naturally occurring soft water. Cadmium is also a contaminant in many foods, and refined foods tend to retain high levels of it while most essential nutrients are removed from such foods.
Cadmium interferes with our biochemistry because it replaces zinc, an essential mineral, in many enzyme reactions. Like strontium 90 and lead, however, much cadmium can be prevented from being absorbed if alginate or pectin are regularly consumed.
In dramatic laboratory tests, Dr. Stara and others gave rats a known lethal dose of cadmium. All of the rats which received cadmium alone 85 in all died. Of those which received alginate alone with the cadmium, only seven died. In a similar experiment using pectin, only four rats receiving both cadmium and alginate died, while 78 rats receiving only cadmium died.
Dr. Stara and his fellow researchers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and at McGill University in Montreal, have offered still another unique use for alginate and pectin. Rather than have people take alginate or pectin capsules to minimize the dangers from heavy metal poisoning, they suggested treatment of industrial wastes at their sources with these substances. Such a use of alginate or pectin would prevent much pollution in our environment.
Unfortunately, we are yet to see alginate or pectin used in such a way, preventing pollution before it starts. Until such use of alginate or pectin is made, the burden for protection from the effects of heavy metal pollution will continue to fall on the average person. At least, however, we have an effective means of dealing with heavy metal pollutants in our bodies, and that means lies in the addition of alginate or pectin to our diets.