WELCOME, still, to the opening page or chapter of year 2015, a fertile time for New Year Resolutions. A resolution is desire backed with will and ways and means, otherwise, lacking in nurture, it soon becomes nebulous or amorphous, withers and dies. It is easy to measure with a tape rule how far one wishes to advance one’s material fortunes in one calendar year, and to even calibrate or periodise it for stop-clock checks. But what always collapse many resolutions are largely lack of will and insufficient resources, not to mention the attitude of being miserly unto one’s health. By being miserly to oneself, I mean the act of longing for something good incapacitated by the reluctance to spend some money to obtain it, even when the purse is buoyant.

In the opening months of years gone by, I always reported in this column what I’d like to polish up about my health that year, as a way of encouraging other people to think about their health and ease off any discomfiture’s. Indeed, there can be many health abnormalities on the table to tackle at this time of the year than space, energy and time can permit.

Only last week, I was informed by Mr. Hyacinth Uzor, a regular reader of this column, of breaking news about pipe water quality in Badiya area of Lagos. I am yet to obtain the details. But the gist is that the residents of this sardine pack high density population of Lagos have been advised not to drink pipe borne water. I guess the warning may include drinking water sources such as surface wells and bore holes. The reason? It was found that the piped water was contaminated with heavy metals. I do not as yet know the type(s) of heavy metals that may be involved or their levels in the drinking water of Badiya. But I guess the level would have been so high and frightening to warrant a health warning.

Mr. Uzor’s hint took me back memory lane to the 1980s when I was Editor of the Guardian newspaper. Mr. Seun Ogunseitan (now Oluseitan), an intelligent and dynamic science reporter who, if you remember discovered the koko radioactive waste dump, came up with a report about the poisoning of underground water in Ijesha area Lagos. From documents water officials were hiding from the public, perhaps to prevent public alarm, he informed us that Ijesha underground water contained heavy metals which were more than 3,000 times above the World Health Organisation (WHO) permissible safety levels. Such poisoned water cause degenerative diseases of the various organs and cancer. Mr. oluseitan’s reports were published over and over, with a view to arousing public interest, but no one in government, not even the residents of ijesha, appeared to be concerned. Not even when those reports tried to suggest a correlation between poisoned water and the growing wave of cancer in Lagos hospitals, and the fact that the water works at that time did not appear to have equipment for eliminating heavy metals from drinking water.

The trouble with Ijesha underground water, which I suspect may be the trouble with Badiya water, and underground water in many parts of Lagos, was that a refuse dump was sited close to human habitation. By WHO standards then, a refuse dump should be sited no fewer than three kilometers from human dwelling. A refuse dump habours many waste items, including all sorts of metal and tin. As rain falls upon then, oxygen reacts with these waters to cause rusting, and the debris of rusted materials percolate or leach down to soil to underground water sources. If the dump sites are near the road-side lead from automobile exhaust may settle on it and leach to underground water. That is why it is not advisable to eat vegetables grown by the road-side. On Iba Road, which bounds Lagos State University (LASU) on the east, and on Ojo Road on the south, large tracts of road-side vegetables farms about which are well patronized by people ignorant of possible heavy metal pollution especially of cabbage.

Well known heavy metals are mercury, lead and cadmium. They are all denser than iron. But for some time, the term heavy metal has been extended to other similarly toxic metals or metalloids which may include arsenic, irrespective of their density. Thus, in the heavy metal bandwagon are such metals as chromium, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, selenium, silver, cadmium, antimony, thallium, a rat poison ingredient present in many lipsticks. The heavy metal classification or definition is based on either atomic, weight, density, atomic number and the position of the metal on the periodical table. The list may be frightening, but it should not. Although Zinc is so classified, we know we require a minimum of 15 mg of it daily, or more in times of stress, for more than 200 biological reasons, including prostate gland health, immunity, good vision, skin-hair-nail health, fertility and wound healing among other needs. We know, too, that we need about 200mcg of chromium everyday to maintain healthy blood sugar balance. Even selenium is required to partner with Vitamin E in heart health and fight HIV disease. And copper? A deficiency will cause anaemia. Too much zinc will cause a deficiency of copper and too much copper will create a need for more zinc. Some authorities believe zinc and copper balance in a 4:1 ratio. Copper insufficiency can produce arthritis. So, it is an overload of these heavy metals in water or in food that can cause a problem as was highlighted in Ijesha underground water, and now in Badiya drinking water boiling water does not remove heavy metals. It would kill germs alright. Boiling will cause vapourisation of some of the water and end up concentrating the heavy metals. Thus, boiling water polluted with heavy metals is double jeopardy.

Pure water

In Nigeria, “pure water” is sachet water. Often the consumer does not know the source of the “pure water” he or she drinks, and cannot tell if it contains heavy metals, as these metals, in ionic forms, are not visible to the eye. Nor can I vouch for any brands of bottle water which many people trust more than sachet water. For, as often stated in this column, Nigeria’s bottle water companies are not members of International Bottle Water Association (IBWA) which compels its members to indicate nutritional facts of their products on the label. No Nigerian bottle water display these details!

Heavy metal consumption

Naturally, heavy metals are present in the soil along with light metals in harmless concentrations. We need them all in minute dosages as earlier stated. Mining activities and use of fertiliser in agricultural processes disturb this delicate, natural balance. The human body is polluted with heavy metals through the consumption of plants which have fed on polluted underground water, and the consumption of animals which fed on these plants. From the air, motor vehicle emissions release pollutants which are inhaled. The pollutants from factory and automobile exhaust include cadmium, arsenic, cobalt nickel, lead, antimony, vanadium zinc, plantinum, vanadium and rhodium. These are some of the poisons inhaled by road-side and highway traders who continue to mushroom in number despite the law which prohibit these forms of trading. From the water, man can also be exposed to heavy metals. Underground water, lakes, streams and rivers can be polluted by leachates from industrial and other wastes while acid rain can worsen the case through the release of heavy metals trapped in the soil. Eating polluted fish and polluted plants and animal can bring heavy metals into human tissue and organs.

Effects of heavy metals

eavy metals may attach themselves to structural proteins, enzymes and nucleic acids. This attachment will affect the function of the cell and produce symptoms which will depend on the nature of the heavy metal or its compounds. Long-term exposure may cause cancer or damage the central nervous system, the peripheral nerves or the circulatory system.

Heavy metal testing

Heavy metal pollution may very well be a major cause of many of today’s devastating degenerative diseases in Nigeria. Yet this is hardly addressed by many physicians, in orthodox or alternative medicine practice. They give patients drugs and food supplements without detoxifying them of toxins and heavy metals. We do not have heavy metal testing gadgets in Nigeria. Overseas, hair and nail analysis or both provide the physician information about the minerals and metal profiles of the patient, the results of which can then become a springboard for therapeutic actions. There are many people with mercury tooth fillings in their mouths. The mercury vapourises and enters tissue of the oral cavity from where the molecules may migrate to nerves in the eyes or elsewhere and as methyl mercury, which is a killer form of this heavy metal.  This heavy metal or any other may be a cause of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s disease or Charchot disease. This is a disease in which the motor neurons, that is nerve cells in the brain, are killed. ALS exhibits stiff muscles, twitching muscles, weakness due to muscle wastage. The patent may find it difficult to speak, swallow or breathe. In 90 to 95 percent of the cases, the cause is unknown. Genetic inheritance is suspected in a few cases. In orthodox medicine, there is hardly a cure for ALS.

Detoxification of heavy metals.

This process helps to remove heavy and excess of other metals from the human body. Alternative Medicine doctors employ many techniques which include diet, chelation agents are chemical compounds which convey heavy metals. These inert variants are then excreted from the body. People who use chelated zinc for clearance of heavy metals can now see what work it does. One of the well known chelated agents is EDTA or Ethylenediaminetecraacetate. Many years ago, it was sold and administered in injection form. I remember one case study in which it presented a good side effect. A doctor gave a patient heavy-metals-detoxEDTA injection to clear his blood vessels of blockages which were thought to be responsible for his elevated blood pressure (hypertension). In a few weeks, the patient discovered that his vision improved. It turned out that his eye vessels, too, may have been blocked, providing the eyes with less blood than they required. This meant less oxygen, less nutrient and accumulated wastes and toxins. EDTA improved all of that in the case. Now, EDTA is available in tablet or capsule form. One disadvantage of chelation of this type is that EDTA and other chemical chelation agents remove not only toxins and heavy metals but also nutrients. Therefore, in chelation therapy, mineralisation should follow EDTA administration a few hour after.

One important sign of heavy metal poisoning in the body is metallic taste in the mouth, after which may come other common side effects of each toxic metal. Calcium deficiency may aggravate lead toxicity. Normal calcium levels help against lead toxicity. Low levels of glutathione is associated with heavy metal toxicity. Glutathione is one of the body’s three primary antioxidants which neutralise and inactivate toxins, including heavy metals. Its deficiency has been linked, also, to neurodegerative and auto-immune disease, including Alzhemiers, multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, (CFS), autism, epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, and HIV among many others. Another endogenous antoxidant which fights heavy metals is Super Oxide Dismutase (SOD). The body makes it, like glutathione peroxidase, from some minerals which must be present in the diet or taken as food supplements.

Nutritionally, there are food supplements which help with the chelation of free radicals and heavy metals. One of these is Alpha Lepoic Acid. It binds metallic and other substances, including arsenic, cadmium, iron, mercury, lead and copper, neutralises and evacuates them for elimination through the stool. The food sources of Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) are dark green and leafy vegetables, and organ meats.

Dietary minerals, such as are found in wheatgrass, Alfalfa, Barley grass, Spirulina, chlorella and other green foods, prevent the accumulation of heavy metals. As stated earlier, absorption of lead in the body has been linked to the dietary deficiency of calcium. Ditto low iron levels. Also, it has been found that other minerals which prevent heavy metal accumulation include magnesium, selenium and zinc. In other words, a way to look at the picture is that heavy metals mean low minerals.

Among the herbs, the detoxifiers include Burdock, Horsetail, milk thistle, and Alfalfa. For the users of these herbs, a music is playing. The music is that they help with liver detoxification and the liver is crucial for the detoxification of all poisons in the body. Burdock is a great detoxifier. Horsetail is known to help with many conditions, including blood sugar balance and arthritis, because it is one of the richest plant sources of silica, which is known to dissolve even tumours and alkalinize the blood. Incidentally, Diatomaceous, also known as food grade edible earth, is 96 percent silica.

According to some authorities, Burdock, Alfalfa, milk thistle and horsetail can detoxify the blood of heavy metals which may cause the following conditions “….mood swings, autism, high blood pressure, vascular occlusion, fibromyalgia, cancer, thyroid disorder, speech disorders, fatigue, aggressive behaviour, poor concentration, irritability, increased allergic reactions, ADD/ADHD, auto-immune disease, triglycerides”.

As heavy metals are found in practically all parts of the body, including the brain, eyes, ears, thyroid gland, kidneys, the testes and the prostate gland, the ovaries, the bones, the blood vessels and the lympth, it is important to pay optimal attention to the liver upon which Mother Nature has thrust the responsibility of clearing the body of poisons. The liver carries out this task in four stages known as phases I to IV. Heavy metals are detoxified regularly by the liver, kidneys and bowels. The liver plays multifaced roles in this process. It filters the blood of large toxins, produces bile, a greenish-yellow substance in which cholesterol and fate-soluble toxins are wrapped up for export out of the body, and breaks down into simple, weaker forms all chemicals in a process known as PHASE I of liver detoxification.

The process continues in PHASE II liver detoxification. In phase I, the liver either neutralises a toxin or modifies it to its intermediate stage which may then be destroyed by any of the PHASE II enzymes systems, that is Glutathione or Super Oxide Dismutase. Many nutrients are participants in PHASEI and PHASE II detoxification. But glutathione is the key player. Glutathione deficiency has been found to inhibit the body’s ability to rid itself of toxins. It is important when detoxifying to add antioxidants to the diet. This is because the detoxification process generates large amounts of free radicals. These are molecules or atoms without paired electrons in their outermost electron shell. These atoms or molecules require an electron to keep the electron shell and themselves stable and, so, steal electrons from cells for this purpose. This process may involve the free radicals punching as many as 3,000 holes in a cell in one day while trying to steal its electrons. The cell struggles to fill up these holes to prevent leakage of cellular matter which may drain it of life. In the process, it may become fatigued, age prematurely and die. Antioxidants donate themselves to free radicals and thereby spare the cells this horror. In anti-aging research, the lives of small animals have been extended about five times or more by infusing their diets with antioxidants. This suggests that  antioxidant consumption may help to promote human health and life.