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Respiratory infections and heavy metal exposure

Respiratory infection rates and prognosis are associated with several risk factors. Pre-existing respiratory weakness due to heavy metal exposure, particularly from smoking and air pollution, are noteworthy. These two factors (among several) both increase disease risk independently as well as provide avenues by which heavy metals enter the body.

In the face of heavy metal burden, your practitioner can utilise powerful antioxidants which are known to improve disease outcomes independent of their metal chelating action.

The following information is courtesy of BioPractica

Research shows that infection rates, prognosis and mortality rates for COVID-19 are far from random, with several risk factors identified as contributors to infection. Other factors impacting disease susceptibility and severity are pre-existing respiratory weakness due to lung disease/smoking and exposure to air pollution. Yet another proposed risk factor is heavy metal exposure, which may share some overlap with smoking and air pollution as these are two (of several) avenues by which heavy metals enter the body.

Researchers suggest that while smoking causes direct damage to the respiratory epithelium and reduces muco-ciliary activity, negative effects are also attributed to the inclusion of heavy metals in cigarette smoke. Similarly, with respect to air pollution, much attention is given to particulate matter, which certainly correlates with COVID-19 susceptibility. However, the quantity of heavy metals included in the particulate matter may be the factor that determines whether a person is at a slight or more considerable risk. While research directly linking heavy metals to COVID-19 is scarce, the impact of metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury and arsenic on immunity and lung function is well established.

Why So Heavy On The Lungs?

Heavy metals are considered toxic because they are not required for human health and cause deleterious effects with acute or chronic exposure. With regards to respiratory health, heavy metals are of particular concern as they cause direct damage to lung function, impair epithelial tight junctions, derange mucin production, reduce muco-ciliary activity, and increase the severity of respiratory infections. In addition, heavy metals amplify inflammation and diminish an effective immune response.

Specifically, studies show that cadmium, mercury, lead and arsenic reduce measurements of respiratory function such as forced expiratory volume (FEV1), increase wheeze, damage immune function and alter cytokine activity towards a more inflammatory profile. Cadmium, mercury, arsenic and lead are all associated with greater incidence of respiratory infections.

Heavy Metals And Covid-19

When researchers analyse urine samples of severe COVID-19 cases, they find increased levels of chromium, manganese, copper, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and thallium. Although chromium, manganese and copper are also nutritional elements, excessive environmental and workplace exposure can occur, subjecting the patient to non-nutritional forms and toxic quantities. The impact of heavy metals on non-COVID-19 respiratory infection and general respiratory health detailed above offers insight into how heavy metal burden also correlates with COVID-19 risk and severity. Clearly, the direct damage to lung function, combined with altered immune and inflammatory activity caused by heavy metal exposure has a profound impact on the host response to SARS-Cov2 infection.

Blood arsenic levels, along with age and sex, were found to be an independent risk factor for COVID-19 severity.
Heavy metals may also provide a link between chronic disease and COVID-19 severity. Severe COVID-19 cases and chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease share a similar excess in heavy metal burden, altered inflammatory signalling and redox homeostasis, suggesting a common underlying cause. In both COVID-19 and chronic disease, heavy metals contribute to disease burden by depleting antioxidant stores while also increasing inflammation and oxidation. Although other mechanisms are clearly also at play, assessing for heavy metal overload and providing detoxification support constitutes a comprehensive approach to naturopathic patient care.

Nutrigenomics to the rescue

In the face of heavy metal burden, practitioners can utilise certain antioxidants which are known to improve COVID-19 outcomes independent of their metal chelating action. Two of these are known to reduce spike protein to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor binding, inhibiting its entry into cells. In addition, the antioxidant activity can reduce impaired redox homeostasis in a SARS Cov-2 infection, replenish depleted antioxidant stores, and terminate the excessive inflammation which causes organ failure in COVID-19. Researchers suggest that glutathione deficiency may be a key cause of severe COVID-19 and death.

Heavy metal toxicity can also be managed with certain nutritionals.  Beyond their clear benefit as antioxidants in COVID-19, nutritients can reduce the impact of heavy metals on the body via several important mechanisms:

• Heavy metal chelation: by binding to the heavy metals, negating their ability to damage cellular structures
• Antioxidant activity: quelling the oxidative damage to cellular structures caused by heavy metals
• Detoxification: safely transporting metals out of the cell and supporting liver conjugation and excretion
• Antioxidant replenishment: heavy metal (and other toxin) exposure requires a high level of antioxidant use, depleting intracellular stores available for other antioxidant activity. Glutathione deficiency due to heavy metal exposure may be one mechanism through which heavy metals influence COVID-19 outcomes.

The Practitioner’s Approach

Screening patients via a thorough health history is the practitioner’s most powerful clinical tool. Blood, urine and hair analyses are available to confirm or deny suspicions and will also offer insight into the specifics of heavy metal exposure. While blood and urine might provide information about current exposure, a hair mineral analysis can also screen for historical exposure and body stores. The most appropriate test will be determined from the clinical history.

Other Considerations
As with any toxin, identifying and removing the source of exposure is paramount to patient recovery. Other effective and useful detoxification measures include alkalinisation, which improves toxin excretion via the kidneys, and providing metal binding agents such as clinoptilolite, which traps heavy metals in the gastrointestinal tract, preventing their reabsorption and cycling through the enterohepatic circulation. By supporting various pathways to healing, the practitioner provides the most expedient and efficient course to good health, reducing disease burden at this extraordinary time.