13 most dangerous Toxins and Heavy Metals in Food

detox envrionmental toxins fatigue heavy metals nutrition toxicity toxins Sep 25, 2022
Toxic Elements


What are toxins

A toxin is a chemical substance that damages an organism its molecules, cells, and tissues. Toxins in body may be stored in different tissues, mainly in the fat, liver, and connective tissue.


The term “toxins” often combines 2 different concepts: toxicants and toxins.

  • Toxicants are man-made products, artificial products that got into the environment due to human activity. Examples are industrial waste products, pesticides, bisphenol, and others.
  • Toxins are natural products such as mold toxins (mycotoxins) or bacterial toxins.


But for simplicity, we will only use the term ‘toxins’.

Warning signs that your body is full of toxins

  • Fatigue
  • Headache 
  • Nausea
  • Allergic reactions
  • Nasal congestion or runny nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea 
  • Sneezing or coughing fits


The first 3 may be symptoms of toxins circulating in your blood, and the next 5 may be symptoms of toxins leaving the body.

List of toxins: 13 most dangerous toxins and heavy metals in your food


1. Bisphenol A (BPA) & Bisphenol S (BPS)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a white chemical widely used to make plastic products, including plastic packaging for food and beverages. BPA is also founded inside metal cans.

Studies have shown that BPA can be leached from these products through contact with food and drink [1]. As a result, BPA is consumed on a regular basis by almost everyone.

BPA is a known endocrine disruptor. It mimics estrogen and estradiol, disrupting typical hormone function [1].

Moreover, studies in animals have shown that BPA exposure leads to reproductive system problems and increases the future breast and prostate cancer risk of a developing fetus [2, 3, 4].

High levels of BPA are also associated with insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes [5, 6, 7, 8].


Bisphenol S (BPS) came to replace Bisphenol A when people discovered the toxicity of BPA. But it turns out that Bisphenol S can be even more toxic than its predecessor! [9]


How to avoid: ensure that your foods and their packages are BPA & BPS-free. Avoid plastic packaging and don’t heat plastic containers in the microwave! 



2. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are chemicals that occur naturally in coal, crude oil, and gasoline. Even if we don’t eat coal but grill or smoke meat — we got lots of PAHs! 

Smoked and grilled meats (red meat, chicken, and even fish) are one of the primary sources of PAHs in food [10, 11]. Also, PAHs are founded in many types of processed foods, especially meat [12, 13].

There were lots of research, which showed that PAHs are very toxic and increase the risk of different cancers: breast, colon, kidney, prostate, and others! [14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19]


How to avoid: eat less meat or don’t meat at all. But if you eat it — braise it, minimize smoke, or pre-cook your meat before grilling and finish it over low flame.  



3. Heterocyclic Amines

Heterocyclic Amines are very similar to PAHs — they are also the compounds of the well-done grilled meat [20], and they are also cancerogenic! [21, 22, 23]

Do you still need more arguments to avoid meat? 


How to avoid: eat less meat! Especially grilled and smoked! 



4. Added sugars

Cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and cancer — that is the price of regular intake of processed food with lots of added sugar! [24, 25, 26]


How to avoid: limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Limit processed snacks. Limit sugar.



5. Artificial Trans Fats

Note: Artificial trans fat has been banned in the United States, but it is still widely consumed worldwide, resulting in more than 500,000 excess deaths per year [27].

Artificial trans fats are synthesized by adding hydrogen into unsaturated oils like soybeans and corn oils to turn them into solid fats. 

Manufacturers add them to many processed foods: snacks, packaged baked goods, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, fried chicken, coffee creamers, margarine, and many others.

Artificial trans fats cause inflammation, raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels, increase the chance of type 2 diabetes, the chance of stroke, and heart attack! [28, 29]


How to avoid: avoid snacks and unnatural toxic food.




6. Pesticides & Herbicides

Industrial producers of non-organic fruits and vegetables use a variety of pesticides. Each year, over 4.5 billion pounds of pesticides are used in the US.

Generally, pesticides are substances used to kill, repel, or control certain forms of plant or animal life. Among these are herbicides, insecticides, disinfectants, compounds for controlling rodents, and others. 

These pesticides, when used for decades in huge amounts, have a cumulative effect and may be linked to birth defects [30] and some types of cancer [31]. 

BUT. It is important to understand that even the most pesticide-contaminated fruits and vegetables (of course, in allowable amounts) are much more healthy than popcorn, cheerios, or a piece of meat! 


How to avoid: consume organic fruits and vegetables. But if they are not available, consume conventional non-organic ones in the same amount! Wash them carefully! And grow your own.



7. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA or E320) & Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT or E321)

These are common preservatives that you can find in lots of processed food. 

They’ve been declared a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the U.S. National Institutes of Health [32], BUT are still approved by FDA and contain in lots of products, especially processed foods! 

Also, they’ve been associated with disruption of the normal hormone system health [33] and the functioning of the reproductive system [34].


How to avoid: Check the labels of your packaged foods to make sure that there are no BHA (E320) and BHT (E321) inside.


8. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

To increase milk production some manufacturers fed their cows with Growth Hormone. This elevates the level of Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1) in milk and other dairy products.

Studies have shown, that IGF-1 in dairy products increases the risk of several cancers [35] — colorectal [36, 37], prostate [38], and breast [39]. 


How to avoid: buy only organic and hormone-free dairy products.



9. Dioxins

Dioxins are byproducts of improper municipal waste incineration, burning of trash, forest fires, and others. They accumulated in the fat tissues of the animals people eat and then into the human fat.

Dioxins are present in many animal products, like meat, fish, and even dairy products.

According to the World Health Organisation: “Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” [40],

and the FDA says: “DLCs may lead to a variety of adverse health effects including reproductive and developmental problems, cardiovascular disease, increased diabetes, and increased cancer.” [41]

That’s another reason why animal products may be not the best choice…


How to avoid: limit your consumption of meat and dairy products, and eat organic. 



10. Nitrates, Nitrites & Nitrosamines (NDMA)

The toxicity of these substances increases from nitrates (less toxic) to nitrites (toxic) and to nitrosamines (the most toxic). 

Nitrates can be converted in the intestines to nitrites, and nitrites to nitrosamines (including NDMA). 

All these substances are found in tap water. Their maximum level is controlled, but nevertheless, some amount is still contained in tap water.

Moreover, lots of nitrites are present in processed meat.
The World Health Organization (WHO) tells that each 50 g (1.8 oz) of processed meat eaten a day would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime [42].

Processed meat is meat after fermentation, nitrite curing, salting, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.

A great meta-analysis combining 18 studies on nitrites and 11 studies on NDMA showed that these substances may be associated with an increased risk of gastric cancer [43].

In addition, animal studies have shown the effect of NMDA on the development of cancer, liver damage, DNA damage, and mitochondrial genome damage in animals [44, 45].


How to avoid: always filter your tap water and avoid processed meats.



11. Artificial Food Coloring and Dyes

Artificial food dyes are chemical substances, made from petroleum, that enhance the appearance of food by giving it artificial colors. 

FDA has concluded that artificial dyes do not pose significant health risks. Nevertheless, some of them are banned in different counties but are deemed safe in another, which brings some concerns about their safety. 

So let’s dive into the scientific research of artificial food dyes.


Artificial Food Dyes may cause Hyperactivity (ADHD) in sensitive children

As a 2012 study concluded: ‘Artificial Food Colors are not a main cause of ADHD, but they may contribute significantly to some cases, and in some cases may additively push a youngster over the diagnostic threshold.’ [46]


Artificial Food Dyes may cause Allergy

Some artificial dyes may cause allergic reactions. [47, 48, 49, 50]. 

The most evidence for causing allergy have Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue, E133), Yellow 5 (Tartrazine, E102), Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow, E110), and Red 40 (Allura Red, E129).

There were a bunch of studies, that showed that Yellow 5 (Tartrazine or E102) can cause hives and even asthma symptoms in sensitive patients [51, 52, 53, 54]. 


Some Artificial Food Dyes are linked to higher cancer risk

There were some studies, that showed that Red 3 (Erythrosine, E127) can increase the risk of thyroid tumors in rats [55, 56]. So it was banned by the FDA in 1990, but then was unbanned due to lack of evidence [57]. 


How to avoid: limit consumption of products with artificial food dyes, especially by your children, and especially those products that contain Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Red 40 dyes.



12. Mycotoxins

Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins produced by certain fungi and molds, and can be found in food products.

The molds which produce mycotoxins grow on different foodstuffs including cereals, spices, dried fruits, nuts, and coffee beans, often under warm and humid conditions.

The effects of mycotoxins on health range from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer, the World Health Organization tells. [58]

Although more than 300 mycotoxins have been found, only six of them are consistently detected in food, posing unpredictability and continuous food safety issues worldwide. They are aflatoxins, trichothecenes, fumonisins, zearalenone, ochratoxins, and patulin

These 6 mycotoxins can cause a really wide spectrum of health pathologies, like nausea and vomiting, liver toxicity, DNA damage, immune suppression, kidney pathologies, hormonal imbalance, reproductive problems, and even cancer. [59, 60, 61

Wheat, corn, millet, sorghum, soybean, peanut, spices, cereals, leguminous seeds, oilseeds, dried fruits, and their products, as well as by-products created from contaminated core ingredients, are the most sensitive to mycotoxins. [59, 60


How to avoid: Protect your stored products from humidity and warmth, which can cause fungal growth. And don’t eat those products, that you are not confident in! 



13. Heavy Metals 

What are heavy metals?

Heavy metals are a group of metals that have relatively high density and are toxic to our health

The heavy metals list contains Pb, As, Hg, Cd, Zn, Ag, Cu, Fe, Cr, Ni, Pd, and Pt. 

But the most common are 4 of them: Mercury (Hg), Lead (Pb), Arsenic (As), and Cadmium (Cd).


Effects of heavy metals in the body

Long-term exposure to metals can be toxic, causing harmful side effects that range from headaches to organ damage [6768].

Some of the heavy metal toxicity symptoms: fatigue, headaches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, and others.

Heavy metals disrupt normal cellular processes, such as growth, proliferation, differentiation, repair, and apoptosis. They also bind to different molecules and disrupt their normal functioning, including ROS generation, weakening of the antioxidant defense, enzyme inactivation, and oxidative stress [68].


The most common Heavy Metals list

1. Mercury (Hg)

The main source of mercury in food is fish. Here are the worst toxic fish high in Mercury [62]:

  • Swordfish (1 ppm)
  • Sharks (0.98 ppm)
  • Tilefish (0.15-1.15 ppm)
  • King mackerel (0.73 ppm)
  • Bigeye tuna (0.69 ppm)
  • Orange roughly (0.57 ppm)
  • Marlin (0.49 ppm)
  • Chilean sea bass (0.35 ppm)


How to avoid: avoid these fish species.



2. Arsenic (As)

The greatest threat to people’s health from arsenic comes from contaminated groundwater.

Drinking water, crops irrigated with contaminated water, and food prepared with contaminated water – are the sources of exposure.

If you live in or travel in these countries, avoid drinking groundwater, the WHO says [63]:

  • the United States of America
  • Argentina
  • Chile
  • Mexico
  • Bangladesh
  • China 


Also, be careful about seafood and algae from these countries. But the Arsenic level in groundwater is much higher than in any other food products [64]. 


How to avoid: avoid permanent drinking of groundwater. 



3. Lead (Pb)

The FDA monitors and regulates levels of lead in foods and dietary supplements [65].

However in some products and dietary supplements, manufactured in other countries, one can find significant levels of lead. For example, in 2008 Saper et al. tested 193 dietary supplements and herbal medicine products from India, and found that about 21% of them contains lead, mercury, and arsenic. And in some cases, the levels were 100-10,000 times greater than acceptable limits! [66]

Even considering that there were only a few such cases out of almost two hundred, you still need to be vigilant for products without proper certification.


How to avoid: use supplements and herbs from certified manufacturers. 



4. Cadmium (Cd)

Cadmium pollutes lands and soil through atmospheric emissions that come from residues from coal combustion, urban refuse, mine tailings, and smelter slag and waste.

Among the food products, rice, grains, and seafood have been found to be polluted by Cadmium the most [69].

But, nonetheless, after oral intake, only a small portion of Cadmium is absorbed. Only a permanent intake of cadmium-polluted foods can lead to cadmium toxicity [69]. 



How to test for heavy metals in the body

Heavy metal poisoning can usually be detected with a simple blood test called ‘heavy metals panel’ or ‘heavy metals toxicity test’.

Interested in this topic? 

  • The next article will be about environmental toxins that surround us, and how to avoid them
  • And after that, there will be an article about how to detox your body from toxins!



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This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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