Planet Protein’s Guide to Heavy Metals

Planet Protein’s Guide to Heavy Metals

From the get to we’ve evolved to meet new information head on. Whether that be refining our shipping methods to be more sustainable or dropping xanthan gum from Chocolate Magic, when presented with an opportunity to improve we stop at nothing in pursuit of it. Through speaking with thousands of customers and following the research, we saw a growing trend of vegan protein powders cited to contain unhealthy levels of heavy metals in their products. Seeing that some of the ingredients that contained the highest measured levels were cacao and pea protein, we snapped into action and ensured Chocolate Magic was as pure as anything available in the world.

Thankfully, we have the proof in our hands that our products lead the way in purity! Beyond sharing the cleanliness in our ingredients, we wanted to educate everyone on what these heavy metals are, why they’re in our food, and what to do next.

What are Heavy Metals?

Heavy Metals are naturally occurring elements and part of the Earth’s crust. They are known as “heavy” metals due to their atomic density, not their actual weight. These metals encompass a sizable portion of the periodic table, and include metalloids such as arsenic and antimony. Heavy metals also include a wide array of commercialized elements such as gold, copper, cobalt, and even radioactive polonium. When we think of food, four elements come to mind: lead, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium. These four compounds naturally occur in our soil, but also exist as a byproduct of industrial activity and environmental contamination. When natural occurrences are exacerbated by human activity, the soil and groundwater we source much of our food from can become contaminated beyond reasonably safe levels.

Why are some Heavy Metals unsafe?

Heavy Metals cannot be destroyed, and bioaccumulate over time if ingested, inhaled, or otherwise allowed into the human bloodstream. Bioaccumulation is the over-time effect of certain substances to continue increasing their presence in the body. If left unchecked, repeated consumption of heavy metal contaminated foods and beverages can lead to heavy metal poisoning, and even death. Heavy metal poisoning is the result of these compounds imitating an essential element in the body, disrupting natural metabolic processes. If the average human being is exposed to heavy metals, think of diagnosed poisoning like a heat stroke compared to being uncomfortably hot on a summer day. There is nothing positive about clammy skin, dehydration, and discomfort, but these can be routine symptoms to exposure, much like fatigue and cramping can for small concentrations of toxic metals in the bloodstream. Unlike contact poisons which result in immediate toxicity, heavy metal poisoning is gauged in severity by concentration in the body, rather than the amount of initial exposure.

While deaths by heavy metal poisoning in developed countries are extremely rare, it’s not uncommon for the presence of these elements to cause many bioaccumulation symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal cramping, digestive issues, and mood swings. This isn’t to say that lead is the boogeyman behind many of these very common symptoms, but it’s likely that most Americans aren’t eating the foods and enjoying the activities that traditionally cleanse and detoxify the body.

What are the Big 4?

The 4 most common heavy metals concerning food consumption are lead, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium. Read on for the lowdown on each, and what we know about them.

Lead

Lead poisoning is the most notorious of metal intoxicants. It is not regarded as safe in any quantity when accumulating in the human body. Lead is particularly toxic to children, as it disrupts the development of the nervous system, causing potentially permanent learning disabilities and behavioral disorders. Lead is at the heart of the Flint Water Crisis, found in outdated pipelines and in industrial runoff worldwide. Lead was also used widely for infrastructural and building purposes until the 1970’s.

Ever wonder why gas stations label gas as “unleaded?” That’s due to the addition of tetraethyl lead in gasoline during the earlier days of the automobile. It was partly necessary, to reduce engine knocking, wear and tear, and boost octane. Tetraethyl lead in gasoline was phased out during the 1970’s and banned altogether in 1995, but soil beds found near roads built before this time are still dense in contaminants such as lead among others. Lead was also used in paint, and even dinnerware prior to the large scale recall of its use in the aforementioned 70’s.

Famously, Vincent Van Gogh has been speculated to have suffered from toxic psychosis, thanks to the lead in his paint and his noted attempts at suicide by poisoning. One known symptom of lead poisoning is the swelling of the retinas, causing halo-like light to encircle objects. Such visions could be part of the patterning noted in Starry Night, his most lauded piece.

Mercury

Mercury is a liquid heavy metal found often in old-fashioned thermometers, barometers, and other scientific devices. In its vaporous form it can be found as the conductor in streetlights and fluorescent advertising signs. Mercury fuses easily with other metals, forming what is known as an amalgam. Mercury-silver amalgams have been historically used in dental fillings. A majority of mercury pollution begins in the air, as a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, forest fires, or when waste is incinerated. The mercury then settles on land and is eventually swept out to sea.

Waterborne bacteria convert the mercury into methylmercury, a compound that is then absorbed into the food chain, climbing its way from microorganisms to large fish like sharks and tuna. Because heavy metal poisoning mimics essential elements, these toxins cannot be cooked or cleaned out of fish. The methylmercury is essentially embedded in the flesh of the fish, and will only stop bioaccumulating if the fish dies.

One of the most infamous cases of mercury poisoning occurred in the 1950’s at Minamata, Japan. The Chisso Corporation released untreated mercury into Minamata Bay. Once settled into the seabed, the mercury was absorbed by all marine life. Local fish consumed by residents resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 citizens and many reports of severe developmental issues in pregnant women.

Arsenic

Arsenic is commonly found in rat poisons and insecticides, cigarettes, and even special glasses and wood preservatives. In Victorian times arsenic was once utilized in cure-all tonics. Today, organoarsenic compounds find use in poultry feed (POULTRY FEED!!) to protect against illness and promote weight gain.

In small doses it is toxic and carcinogenic. It bonds to atoms of the hair, changing the functioning of over 200 essential enzymes. It is found frequently in contaminated groundwater, but also in the soil and air. It is naturally occurring, but most commonly is found in higher concentrations due to refining of copper and lead. Over 200 million people each year are exposed to dangerous levels of arsenic, many of whom reside in Bangladesh and West Bengal. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include vomiting, encephalopathy, abdominal pain, heart disease, and cancer. Arsenic’s extensive use in pesticides has seen it proliferate its way through our soil and groundwater system. Many scientists have claimed it to be the world’s most dangerous drinking water contaminant.

Cadmium

Cadmium is used often in battery production, the refining of metals, and as a byproduct of cigarette smoke. Cadmium exposure is one of the most dangerous threats from secondhand smoke, as it is more readily absorbed by the lungs than the stomach. It has also been found in various consumer products, paints, and fertilizers. The peak of cadmium exposure was during the postwar industrial boom of the 1950’s-60’s. As the dangers of cadmium poisoning became more apparent, limitations of cadmium releases began to take effect.

Overexposure can cause fatigue, headaches, vomiting, emphysema, anemia, and even tachycardia. A famous case of cadmium poisoning was the mass event in the Toyama Prefecture of Japan beginning in 1912. Citizens were victimized by cadmium poisoning by eating rice grown with contaminated groundwater. The citizens named the conditions itai-itai (it hurts-it hurts) disease due to the aches felt in the spines and joints after the bones began to soften.

Preventing Exposure

Heavy Metal accumulation is something that we can’t completely prevent, but there are steps we can take to protect ourselves from significant exposure and retention. The first and most obvious solutions are to ensure our drinking water is as pure as it can be, to avoid excessive exposure to vehicle exhaust and secondhand smoke, and make educated decisions when choosing the foods and beverages we consume. Ensure when walking outside, especially on concrete or other manmade surfaces, that we limit our barefoot exposure. Runoff from vehicles, fertilizers, and many more urban pollutants can accumulate in groundwater and on the surfaces beneath them. The feet can readily absorb these toxins and integrate them vertically into the bloodstream.

In addition, choose supplements and spices even more carefully. Avoid eating fish, especially those known to have higher concentrations of mercury. If your residence was built before 1978, it should be tested for potential leaded paints or building materials. Lastly, especially in the industrial and manufacturing fields, ensure your workplace follows OSHA guidelines and provides the proper employee protection.

Detoxifying Heavy Metals

It’s important to always remember that heavy metal poisoning is an accumulation over time effect, not a poison that can be remedied with an antidote. Because heavy metals bind to the cells in the human body and supersede key functions, a similar logic can be referenced when detoxifying heavy metals in the body. Eating foods like cilantro, garlic, lemon water, spirulina, chlorella, tomatoes, and many more are way to bind the metals to these foods and pass them through the urine. A whole foods, plant based diet is likely to prevent significant accumulation already, but in the absence of this lifestyle emphasis on these foods and adequate hydration is where to begin.

Sweating through activity, such as cardio, yoga, or a sauna session is another way to remove toxins from the body, but before anything having the right foods and a healthy liver and kidneys is the best thing we can do. In cases of genuine poisoning, prescription medication is due. The agents responsible for purging heavy metal in a clinical setting are known as chelants, or chelating agents. Chelation is a form of atomic bond in which the chelating agent bond to metal ions, forming a water soluble complex which can be passed through the urine. While extreme, these have been used to treat significant cases to great success.

California Prop 65

Despite the FDA and USDA setting warnings and creating guidelines there is no federal arbiter currently responsible for setting exact daily maximums for heavy metal intake. While many of these toxic metals have been weened back or banned altogether in industrial use, the scars left on the land still persist in our soils, waters, and air supply. In light of this, California Proposition 65 was passed in 1986. Known formally as The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, Prop 65 was passed to itemize the poisons and toxins known to appear in food and water, then set limitations on allowable quantities in products sold in the state. Because ingredients like cacao and pea protein have been known to contain traces of these elements, especially lead, we knew we had to ensure we had access to the purest and best organic plant based ingredients in the world. With no other guideline other than the extremely stringent Prop 65, we were determined to fall among the purest vegan protein powders on earth.

How did Planet Protein fare?

We were thrilled to see that our expectations were confirmed. Chocolate Magic is among the industry leaders in heavy metal purity.  The two greatest ingredients of common concern: pea protein and cacao, proved to be worth the search! While many vegan protein powders have fallen under scrutiny for heavy metal presence, Chocolate Magic spearheads the future of vegan nutrition products with no presence of heavy metals. Combined with superfoods like reishi mushrooms and fermented quinoa sprout, Chocolate Magic is likely to chelate heavy metals rather than contribute to their accumulation.

In conclusion

Heavy metals continue to persist as a chronic problem impacting much of humanity around the world. Our mission is twofold: to not only provide sustainable vegan products which are pure and transparent, but to raise awareness about the many things you can do to avoid this all too common problem from slowing you down. The basis behind everything we do is to improve the quality of life through simple, natural solutions and earth friendly practices. By embodying these principles in your everyday life, heavy metals will be unlikely to ever cause more than a mild nuisance to you.

Sources and Further Reading:

Aoshima, Keiko. “Itai-Itai Disease: Cadmium-Induced Renal Tubular Osteomalacia.” Nihon eiseigaku zasshi. Japanese journal of hygiene. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23095355.
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “Metals.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA. Accessed February 9, 2020. https://www.fda.gov/food/chemicals-metals-pesticides-food/metals.
Harada, M. “Minamata Disease: Methylmercury Poisoning in Japan Caused by Environmental Pollution.” Critical reviews in toxicology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7734058.
Hirsch, Jesse. “Arsenic, Lead Found in Popular Protein Supplements.” Consumer Reports. Accessed February 9, 2020. https://www.consumerreports.org/dietary-supplements/heavy-metals-in-protein-supplements/.
oehha.ca.gov. Accessed February 9, 2020. https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65.

Our Results