While many parents lament the effects of heavy metal music on their teen’s heart strings, all parents should be aware of the effects that actual heavy metals may have on their even younger children’s physical hearts. Living in a toxic world, we and our precious little ones breathe, eat, and drink toxins from countless sources every day of our lives. The fallen natural world can produce its own toxins- mold toxins, toxic algae, and various venoms. Humans add thousands of other intended and unintended chemicals to the soup of daily life. Researchers looked at one particular heavy metal, arsenic, and its effects on the cardiovascular health of children exposed to it. They found very concerning results for parents and the broader public health world.
Our bodies were designed to function optimally based on the correct supply of nutrients so long as we avoid excessive toxins. Our bodies are innately capable of adapting to many stressors, including chemical toxins, when these conditions are met, but with either a short supply of nutrients or an excess of toxins, they can fall short. In our world of processed foods and industrial food practices, adequate nutrient acquisition is becoming harder- meaning more risk from toxin exposure at even lower levels. The problem worsens when we realize that we are exposing ourselves to greater numbers and amounts of toxins simultaneously. Our body’s ability to overcome these challenges gives way to poor health sooner or later.
In the present study looking at children, researchers chose the Syracuse, New York, area due to the levels of arsenic from a nearby Superfund site and prior research indicating a link between arsenic in adults and cardiovascular disease. Only two prior studies had examined associations between arsenic exposure and cardiovascular disease in children, but the researchers were not aware of any study looking at actually measured levels of the heavy metal in children as it related to such disease. To determine the presence and extent of such effects, they measured widely accepted markers of cardiovascular disease status including echocardiograms, thickness of carotid artery walls in the neck, and pulse wave velocity (speed of blood pressure flow indicating stiffness of blood vessels) as compared to total arsenic in the children’s urine. After this primary aim, they also considered potential exposure sources in order to propose mitigation strategies when and where needed.
Rather than delivering a gut punch, arsenic was found to deliver a heart punch in these children. Having a higher average arsenic burden when compared to children in other environmental studies, these 245 children aged 9 to 11 years old were found to have thicker carotid artery walls on ultrasound and thickening of heart muscle walls on their echoes on average. Pulse wave velocity did not appear to be affected. Knowing that these measures correlated with damage to the walls of arteries and the function of our hearts suggests that arsenic is causing damage very early in these children’s lives. Starting with such damage could logically lead to earlier and more severe cardiovascular disease in adulthood.
Besides considering a relocation, which is not always possible for many living in these areas, attention to minimizing these exposures and optimizing nutrient intake is critical. If exposure avoidance is difficult, at the very least being sure that detoxification pathways are supplied with necessary nutrients may lessen the ultimate impact. Adequate fiber like citrus pectin can help remove many heavy metals. Optimizing methylation pathways with vitamin B12 and methyl-folate can increase arsenic excretion. Optimizing vitamin C intake with citrus fruits or supplements can lower the oxidative stress caused by arsenic and other heavy metals. Combining this nutrition with limitations on any other toxin exposure may allow the children’s bodies to overcome this challenge to a future healthy life.
Pursuing the healthier, more abundant life requires starting as early as possible in our precious ones’ lives.
Gump BB, Heffernan K, Brann LS, et al. Exposure to Arsenic and Subclinical Cardiovascular Disease in 9- to 11-Year-Old Children, Syracuse, New York. JAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(6):e2321379. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.21379
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.