Metals and the Mind

The one thing we can say about the effect of toxic metals on the mind is that we don’t know much. These metals are hard to detect and difficult to get rid of once you know you have them. That is why you don’t hear much about this subject. I certainly didn’t, even after studying nutrition, herbs and all kinds of natural therapies for years and years. You often hear, “Well, you could have heavy metal toxicity,” but what does that mean? What do you do about it? All I had ever heard about for heavy metal toxicity was chelation and I didn’t like what I heard.

Fortunately, about seven years ago I was contacted by Analytical Research Laboratories, which was founded by Dr. Paul Eck, a biochemist and nutritionist who addressed these issues in a very specific and unusual way. At that time, I had a patient who was not recovering, and I became convinced that she had serious metal problems, so we began doing his protocols, which included hair analysis. It turned out she had the biggest amount of aluminum I had ever seen in anybody. I now know that aluminum causes a lot of chronic pain; you often see it in fibromyalgia. The key fact about the metal toxicity is that it is always related to chronic fatigue and chronic adrenal fatigue.

Adrenal Fatigue

All chronic illness includes chronic fatigue and adrenal fatigue, whether you feel tired or not. A lot of my patients will say, “Oh, I have lots of energy,” but they do not or they would not be chronically ill. There is no conventional medical treatment for adrenal fatigue unless you have reached the point of total failure, at which time you are put on cortical supplements for the rest of your life. Therefore, like the issue of toxic metals, if adrenal fatigue is not tested for, it is not discussed.

These two problems—adrenal fatigue and toxic metal buildup—are strongly related because you cannot excrete metal without good adrenal function. Adrenal function needs to be pretty close to normal or you will start retaining metals, because the adrenal glands have such a big part to play in the proper handling of metals in the body.

The first sign of adrenal fatigue is reliance on stimulants. If the idea of going without your stimulant is an issue, you have adrenal fatigue. There, you have taken the test, now you know.

If you need stimulants to feel good, you are already exhausted. In fact any drug that makes you feel better is a sign that you are already exhausted because ultimately their effect is a stimulant effect. Even alcohol or drugs that are said be sedative actually have a stimulating effect on the adrenals. Many people get by for years on stimulants, which can include behavioral and emotional stimulants like overexercise, workaholism and even constant worry, such as putting yourself in a fear state and indulging in anger. All of these will rev up your adrenals and keep you from feeling just how tired you really are.

Meanwhile your adrenal glands are not functioning normally and you are starting to retain all kinds of metal. Once you reach a certain threshold in the body, the metal itself becomes one of your major adrenal stressors. Now you are in a constantly poisoned state and the adrenals are getting weaker and weaker. Even if you are trying everything in the book—you are eating well, you are getting a lot of rest and doing tai chi—you cannot get well because by now you have toxic metal poison in the body, all the time taking your energy out of you.

Local Variations

What happens next depends on many variables— the types of metals to which you are exposed, and how much, and even where you live. I find very interesting variations in the hair tests, depending on where people live. In California, for instance, I primarily see aluminum toxicity; apparently there is a lot of aluminum in the area. Aluminum is a very common metal, comprising up to 14 percent of the earth’s crust, so it is in the dust and in the air.

Aluminum is also an additive in anti-perspirants. I have a theory that in warm climates, where people use a lot of anti-perspirants, they are exposed to a lot more aluminum than people living in colder climates.

On the East Coast, I see more problems with cadmium, mercury and lead, the heavy metals. On the West Coast, if someone shows mercury, you can bet they have been eating fish twice a week and have been for a while. If they aren’t eating fish, they don’t show mercury even if it is in their mouth. I don’t know why, but that is what I have found.

The Copper Problem

But the main thing that happens with metal retention is copper toxicity because everybody is getting copper constantly. Almost everything you eat has some copper in it. A lot of really popular foods like coffee, chocolate, avocado, soy, shellfish like shrimp and lobster, and certain beans and nuts like pecans are pretty high in copper.

This isn’t a problem with good liver, gall bladder and especially adrenal function. If adrenal function is strong, we just mobilize that copper and excrete it through the bile. Unfortunately, the way we live these days, that is not what is happening. Most people are not able to get rid of the excess copper. How many people have impaired liver function, congested gallbladder or adrenal fatigue? Probably the majority these days.

If adrenal function becomes impaired, the copper builds up in the liver, brain, joints and lungs. When this happens, you see very specific problems, including mental problems, liver problems and detoxification problems. Phase II liver impairment is often made worse by copper toxicity, if not actually caused by it.

You also see a lot of copper toxicity with asthma and breathing problems, including emphysema. Copper also tends to build up in the joints, leading to arthritis. Chronic skin problems are also an indication of copper toxicity.

Vegetarian diets are very high in copper because the vegetable foods are a great source of this mineral. Since vegetarians don’t eat meat, and possibly not even eggs, they are not getting enough zinc, which is the natural antagonist to copper. Zinc naturally balances copper and keeps it from building up in the tissues. If you are not eating much in the way of meat and eggs, you will develop copper problems.

Excess copper interferes with energy production at the cellular level. It impairs various energy pathways in the cell so it contributes to the very fatigue that tends to make you retain copper, leading to a vicious circle. Once this pattern gets going, it is totally self-reinforcing and very difficult to break, even by adding zinc-rich foods back into the diet.

Copper is stimulating to the brain, causing it to produce high levels of the activating neurotransmitters, like serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine. This is why you will see copper toxicity in manic states like paranoid schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. The so-called copper head tends to be very emotional, very intense, often very creative. Such individuals are prone to crash and burn because their overactive mind is being supported by a very fatigued body.

Copper toxicity is a major factor in irritable bowel syndrome because copper is excreted through the bile and certain things will cause you to suddenly dump copper. If you have been building up copper, anything that causes an increase in your metabolic rate will cause a copper dump and it comes out through the bile. If you are copper toxic and suddenly under a lot of stress, this may bring on an irritable bowel episode because suddenly excess copper is moving through your bowels and irritating them.

The tendency of copper to build up in the body is similar to iron, which is another essential nutrient that is also a heavy metal. They’re both highly electrical, very conductive metals that produce a lot of free radical activity and have to be bound by special proteins, such as ceruloplasmin and metallothioine. The production of these proteins is controlled by the adrenal glands, and they are produced in the liver. If the adrenals are not functioning properly and the liver is impaired, possibly from copper buildup, you will not produce these binding proteins, so copper remains in free form. That makes it a toxic and reactive free-radical generator capable of causing a lot of damage.

When this happens, the body starts to sequester it. It tries to stash it somewhere so it will do less damage. Thus, while you may be building up a lot of copper in your body, you may also have the symptoms of copper deficiency because the copper is bio-unavailable. The copper is not in a usable form so you will have both deficiency symptoms and symptoms of toxicity.

When copper accumulates under stress, when you go into a fight-or-flight condition, your adrenals are on line and ready to go. This is a short-term mechanism that is beneficial. It helps the body cope with stress, at least initially.

The body has an intricate system of checks and balances which operate through the mineral levels and ratios. If you are deficient in one mineral, another mineral accumulates and can become excessive. For example, when sodium and potassium levels go down, calcium and magnesium rise. When copper drops, iron increases. If zinc rises, copper goes down. If iron rises, chromium goes up. There is a constant and complex dance of minerals going on in the body, and the body very specifically retains and releases minerals in order to control certain body functions.

When we retain copper, this makes sodium rise. Sodium is required to produce aldosterone, the adrenal cortex hormone that causes sodium retention and high blood pressure when produced in excess. An increase in aldosterone is a defense against stress—you need that high aldosterone production during a fight-or-flight state, when you are trying to guard yourself in some way against a threat. When aldosterone increases, the body retains copper and releases magnesium, which is a calming mineral that slows you down. That is why a lot of people use it to sleep or to relieve muscle cramping. So if you are going into fight or flight, your body drops the magnesium very quickly. It is the first thing to go, because the body is trying to rev up. Increased aldosterone production will also cause a drop in zinc, which allows the copper to be retained and the sodium to go up.

The increase in copper is stimulating, it gets you going, which is just what you need in the short term. But chronic unremitting stress never gives you time to recover, you never get to address your biochemical imbalance, you never have that down time to excrete the excess copper now.

When your adrenal glands are in great shape, you can excrete excess copper whenever you need to. But when your adrenal glands are just hanging on by their fingernails, just barely able to mount a stress reponse, you have an excess of stimulating copper. It becomes very hard to go to sleep and the mind races. You think, think, think, worry, worry, worry, and all of that makes it worse. You are always worn out. In fact, people with chronic fatigue often wake up tired because they don’t really ever rest.

We also use up tryptophan in these situations, as tryptophan is needed for seratonin production. Seratonin is used up under stress. You can’t replace your tryptophan by eating turkey when it is being used up so quickly. What this tells me is that the body is not designed to be constantly under stress. We are meant to spend time sitting in a hammock somewhere, or weaving a basket!

Mental Disturbances

Loss of zinc and magnesium along with retention of copper temporarily serve the body and improve the adrenal’s response to stress. But with unrelenting stress or extreme catastrophic stress, these imbalances can start working against you. The copper toxicity reduces the ability to cope with normal everyday stress; it impairs adrenal function. A lot of adrenal activity requires zinc, which copper impairs. The result is a slowdown of your whole metabolism.

And your body knows when this happens, knows that you are not up to the challenge, not able to respond to stress properly. This is enough to make you feel anxious. You might feel fearful about taking on certain things because you know you are not up to it. This is the beginning of the mental disturbances that go with copper toxicity. You know that you are exhausted. You may be playing a lot of tricks to keep going. When presented with certain situations, you may panic or feel very nervous. Eventually, as you become exhausted, you may become apathetic and depressed and no longer desire to take on much of anything. So you build your little shell and get behind it.

But initially you will tend to overreact, everything is an emergency. “Oh no! I have to go buy food. . . Oh no! I have to go to the bank today.” Everything is a big deal. With a lot of my patients I have to say, “Pretend you are on vacation.” Instead say, “If I feel like it, I’ll go get some food,” because inside there is a constant sense of urgency. Automatically if anything has to be done, it’s a big deal. It keeps you in that revved-up state, always overreacting to every little life event.

And you are probably using many stimulants to keep you going, which has you on edge too. You are not calm, cool and collected. I very often recommend that people with this problem slow down— no fast walking, don’t drive fast, go below the speed limit. You have to send your body a signal that this is no big deal, there is no rush. If you don’t do it today, you can do it tomorrow. You have to take yourself away from the edge of the cliff because otherwise you will go over the edge into full adrenal burnout. When everything is a big deal, your body gets into a vicious circle of constant stress leading to loss of zinc and magnesium and retention of copper.

The other thing that happens with excess copper and adrenal exhaustion is hypoglycemia and blood sugar swings. Low adrenal output results in low production of glucocortocoids, cortisol and cortisone, which play a role in maintaining proper blood sugar levels. So when production is low, you are underproducing those hormones and constantly going into hypoglycemia, which can result in depression, irritability, mood swings, poor concentration, poor memory, dizziness, fatigue, sleepiness and many more unpleasant effects. A lot of people don’t realize they are hypoglycemics, but if their problems tend to start an hour or two after they’ve eaten, that is always a clue.

Depending on the severity of the toxicity and the susceptibility of the person, copper can affect the mind very strongly. Initially copper toxicity may make a person active, productive and creative. But eventually such feelings will be undermined by lack of energy. Then we see people who have a million ideas and are always making lists, but who do not have the energy to follow through. This leads to chronic frustration followed by depression.

After a while the combination of over-activity of the mind with lack of accomplishment can make people quite nutty. They tip over the edge into obsessiveness, compulsiveness, phobias and all kinds of fixations because the mind is so intense and it has to go somewhere. In extreme cases, people become psychotic. But most people tend towards mood swings, PMS and weird episodes that they cannot explain. “I don’t know why I did that or said that.” They lose control briefly and then pull themselves together. They may have ways of managing copper toxicity to keep a lid on inside, but they are a lot nuttier than anybody thinks they are. They just don’t let it show. They may look very calm but they aren’t.

Copper increases the electrical potential of the neuron, probably because of the enhanced movement of sodium. This leads to over-production of the activating neurotransmitters—dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine, serotonin—leading to anxiety, racing mind and insomnia. Researchers Pfeiffer and Goldstein demonstrated that brain waves exhibit an equivalent central nervous stimulation from either 5 mg of copper or 5 mg of Dexedrine—so copper is equally as stimulating as Dexedrine to the mind. As we know, amphetamines can eventually make you psychotic if you keep using them.

The body will begin storing the excess copper in the brain as the liver becomes overloaded. Copper stimulates the diencephalon, which is the emotional brain. Zinc stimulates the cortex, the new brain, the rational mind, and is calming to the emotions. Thus, copper-toxic people often keep themselves in a state of high drama, and their symptoms can even mimic bi-polar syndrome. Carl Pfeiffer, PhD, MD, has found that one-half to two-thirds of schizophrenics have high levels of copper and low levels of zinc and magnesium, especially during acute phases. Copper has an adverse effect on methylation, a metabolic pathway that is essential for detoxification and for controlling free-radical activity. Poor methylation can be an important factor in cases of autism and schizophrenia.


A condition that can really put a person at great risk for copper toxicity is pyroluria. Pyroluria is characterized by excess krytopyrrole in the urine. Pyrroles attract aldehydes, and vitamin B6 is an aldehyde. Once the pyrroles bind to B6, that unit now becomes a real vacuum cleaner for any zinc you might have lying around. So if you have pyroluria, from a very young age you are developing a B6 and zinc deficiency constantly. It is hard to consume enough B6 to overcome the drain that is happening in pyroluria.

About 52 percent of schizophrenics, 42 percent of psychiatric patients and 40 percent of alcoholics are pyrolurics. If alcoholism is associated with nervous breakdowns, suicide or even migraines, pyroluria is likely involved.

A sign of low B6 is lack of dream memory, or very disturbing dreams. And if your B6 is very low, you will find it hard to take zinc. Zinc will make you feel nauseated, bloated or uncomfortable.

Family tendencies seen with pyroluria include cluster headaches and migraines, depression, fatigue including chronic fatigue, sensitivity to cold, anemia, morning nausea and appetite problems, lack of dream recall, suicides and suicidal depression, motion sickness, blood sugar problems, glucose intolerance, sore lower back and upper left pain in the ribs.

Drug and alcohol intolerance, constipation, crowded upper front teeth, a lot of joint problems, growing pains might even be part of B6 deficiency. Tingling sensation, cramping, tremors, ticks, convulsive seizures and epilepsy are very strongly affected by the pyroluria, low B6 and zinc along with copper toxicity. Both can give you epilepsy and clearing them up can definitely get rid of seizure disorders. Neuralgia and sciatica are very common in these cases. A common symptom is pale skin that will not tan. Often the most pyroluric member of the family will be the lightest one. Other signs are late onset of puberty, low stress tolerance and prematurely gray hair.

Slow Oxidation

The other thing that happens with high copper is slow oxidation, because high copper slows down both the adrenal and thyroid glands. Oxidation means to burn or mix with oxygen. Dr. George Watson, a researcher at UCLA, developed the concept of oxidation types. Those who burn food at a slower-than-ideal rate are slow oxidizers. If your thyroid and adrenal glands are very active you will be a fast oxidizer; if they are sluggish, you will be a slow oxidizer.

Stress from excess copper at first puts the body in a state of fast oxidation. Over time, however, the oxidation rate starts to decline and you go into the resistant stage. This can go on for years, where you have one foot on the platform and one foot on the train, and your body is in a constantly unstable condition of being overly stressed yet unable to fully respond. It is during that time that the copper starts to build up. You start to lose your ability to handle the metal. When exhaustion sets in, when your body can’t handle it any longer, that is when the oxidation rate becomes slow. This can be masked for a period if you take enough stimulants.

Slow oxidizers tend to have high calcium levels and fast oxidizers tend to have high sodium and potassium. When you see someone’s chart and they have high calcium, which means they are a slow oxidizer, along with a very high sodium and potassium, which is the signature of fast oxidation, it means they are pumping themselves up enough to overcome the slow oxidation but the calcium brake is still on. The underlying condition is slow oxidation, and buildup of copper, but these individuals are revved up on stimulants.

By the way, vitamin C can act as a stimulant. Often when people go on a nutritional program, they hate being told to take less vitamin C, because they’ve become so dependent on high doses and they don’t think they should take less. But that is what’s keeping them revved up and ultimately wiping them out.

People in slow oxidation are like people with low thyroid, because it is more or less the same thing. They have dry skin and hair, they sweat little and tend toward constipation, depression, fatigue, apathy, low blood sugar, adrenal insufficiency and low blood pressure. As with low thyroid, they tend to gain weight on the hips and have a low body temperature. Slow oxidizers tend to be withdrawn, introverted, less emotionally expressive and may exhibit depression, despair and suicidal thoughts. As the slow oxidation becomes more extreme, more and more of these symptoms will develop.

Copper and Calcium

Calcium and magnesium are part of the body’s braking system. These minerals help you get control and slow down, to avoid burning yourself out. You have to have a way to pull back, and calcium and magnesium are how the body does it. By contrast, sodium and potassium accelerate the metabolism, partly by increasing adrenal cortical hormones.

Newborns have a very high rate of metabolism and relatively low calcium levels. As we age the body begins to apply the calcium brake; as copper builds up, the calcium and magnesium levels rise while the sodium and potassium decline. Rising calcium in the tissues is a defense against the chronic stress which is the cause and effect of copper toxicity. So the body starts retaining calcium to buffer the effects of the copper and that calcium slows you down. That is the calcium brake.

Calcium and magnesium stabilize the body and prevent an excessive metabolism as a defense against stress. Slowing down metabolism can slow down the rate of collapse and allow the buildup of protective minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc. This can initially be protective. It prevents the slow oxidizer from experiencing any acute, severe stresses. In essence, since the body can no longer handle stress, it builds a calcium shell and the calcium shell numbs and dulls your sensations and your emotions so you will not over-react. You will be impervious, but the calcium shell will preserve that spark of life that remains.

A high level of calcium is a sign that calcium is building up in the soft tissues. This calcium is being taken from the bones. Yet, just the way that toxic copper is bio-unavailable, this calcium that is building up and showing up very high in the hair analyses is not actually functioning, it is not in a usable, soluble, ionic form in the blood.

Toxic Metals

With ongoing imbalance, the body starts taking any metals that it might be retaining and using them as a substitute: lead can substitute for calcium, cadmium very readily substitutes for zinc, aluminum seems to substitute for just about everything. And the body will retain those metals; they get locked into the tissues, serving as place holders for the proper nutrients.

This is why chelation will not help the condition of toxic metal buildup. Chelation can only attach to a metal that is in free form, available to be picked up and carried out. If the toxic metal is in the body sequestered in the tissues, occurring at enzyme-binding sites or some other location, the chelators cannot get to it, it cannot be taken out and the body will not release that metal. For instance if you have cadmium toxicity, the body very strongly retains cadmium in order to support a low sodium level because cadmium will push the sodium back up. That is part of the reason that high-cadmium substances like tobacco and marijuana can be very addictive—they raise the sodium level and make you feel more normal, as though you have good adrenal function. Your body will not release the cadmium unless it no longer needs the cadmium to support that low sodium level, which means you have got to rebuild the adrenal function until the adrenals are satisfied and say they no longer need this crutch.


Copper overload and heavy metal toxicity are some of the most difficulty conditions to treat in modern medicine. However, recovery is possible— the right protocol involving diet, nutritional balance and gentle detoxification has helped many of my patients recover both physical and mental health. A healing protocol is outlined below. Meanwhile, it is imperative that we avoid this condition in coming generations by warning young people about the dangers of vegetarian diets and working together to reduce the toxic environmental load.


Cod Liver Oil: Part of the Treatment Plan

Cod liver oil is almost always part of my treatment plan—the exceptions would be in a cases where digestion is so imparied that the patient cannot tolerate the oils in cod liver oil

Cod liver oil provides vitamin A, needed for the production of adrenal hormones; and vitamin D, which works synergistically with vitamin A.

I find that cod liver oil is especially helpful for chronic pain due to inflammation. For some people, it relieves pain within one or two days after beginning with a dose of two teaspoons per day. It is also very important for treating obesity, heart conditions, skin problems, constipation and mental problems.

Interesting Facts About Zinc

  • Zinc is rapidly lost under stress.
  • Zinc is essential for protein synthesis. Low zinc status leads to problems with hormone production, healing and growth.
  • Zinc is rapidly used up after injury or surgery as it is needed for protein synthesis.
  • Because they are growing so rapidly, teenagers are very prone to zinc deficiencies.
  • Zinc deficiency affects the immune system. Zinc kills a lot of viruses on contact. Those deficient in zinc may be susceptible to viruses.
  • Zinc is a sedative and calming mineral for the mind. GABA, which is an inhibitory calming neurotransmitter, is zinc dependent.
  • The body needs zinc to build protein so the skin and nails very often reveal zinc status. Stretch marks are always a sign of low zinc, at least at the time when they were formed.
  • Zinc is essential for production of adrenal cortical hormones, especially aldosterone and cortisol.
  • Zinc is critical for normal appetite, smell and taste. A sign of zinc deficiency is lack of appetite in the morning, or even nausea.
  • When zinc is low and copper is high, the body will dump copper with consumption of meat, a high-zinc food. For some vegetarians, the copper dump can be so strong, they literally throw up any meat they try to eat. People in this situation will first need to lower their copper levels before they can eat meat. Then they will need to begin with very small amounts of white chicken meat and only very gradually introduce red meat.
  • The ideal ratio of copper to zinc is 1:8 in favor of zinc.
  • Some plant foods contain zinc, but when they do, it is usually accompanied by a lot of copper. Animal foods are the only good source.

Copper, Heavy Metals, Histamine and the Methylation Cycle

Copper-containing enzymes histaminase and ceruloplasminase regulate histamine, a neurotransmitter that makes us wakeful and that plays a role in local immune response. Elevated copper increases the level of these enzymes and thus promotes histamine breakdown. If you have high copper you will have low histamine and vice versa.

Histamine levels are related to the methylation cycle because methyl and histamine compete with each other. When histamine is high, it is a sign of under-methylation and when histamine is low, there is over-methylation.

Methyl (CH3) is very common in the body, as it is present in most enzymes and proteins. The methylation cycle is the process by which methyl groups are added to a compound; it is a metabolic pathway that is essential for detoxification and for controlling free-radical activity. When a larger molecule has a methyl group added to it, it changes its structure and function. Methylation has a lot to do with turning on and off gene expression—when the body attaches a methyl group to a gene, it becomes active and when it is removed, the gene is turned off. Methylation is very important for body development, including building the myelin sheath and all cell membranes in your brain. If it is impaired a lot of things are going to be impaired including histamine production.

With too much methyl the body will overproduce dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and serotonin. This fact may explain why high copper is associated with high levels of these neurotransmitters. With too little methyl, the neurotransmitters are low.

SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine) is the main methyl donor in the body. When it donates its methyl group, it becomes S-adenosyl methionine homocysteine. Then the body can get a methyl group from the folic acid cycle and turn SAMe back into methionine. This is called the methylation cycle. When you have oxidative stress, which is what happens with toxic metals such as mercury, it will divert the homocysteine. The homocysteine will go to the formation of glutathione which is probably the primary detoxifier of heavy metals in the liver, and it will go to produce metallothionein, which you need to handle heavy metals. This will happen if your adrenals are working properly because you can’t form good metallothionein without good adrenal function. If you have a lot of heavy metals in your body, you are going to start under-producing methyl to some degree because it is all being diverted to detoxification.

Schizophrenia and Autism

Paranoid schizophrenia is associated with over-methylation, low histamine and high copper. Auditory hallucinations are highly indicative of over-methylation. People with over-methylation tend toward paranoia, obsession and sleep problems. Supplements that reduce methyl are folic acid, vitamin B12 and niacin, which is often used as a treatment for schizophrenia. Copper and zinc imbalance must also be improved in order to reduce the destruction of histamine. Schizophrenia is surprisingly treatable by nutritional means. It is really not that hard to control once you know what you are dealing with. If you do the proper things, it gets better. All the craziness starts to subside very rapidly.

In contrast to schizophrenia, all the markers of methylation are much lower in patients with autism. The nutritional supplements that often improve autistic symptoms support the normal function of the methylation cycle, that is folinic acid, DMG, TMG, methylcobalamin (which is B12 with a methyl group), zinc, B6, glutathione, cysteine and sulphate. To some degree giving glutathione, cysteine and sulphate is a way to keep the body from diverting the homocysteine into detoxification pathways. The other problem is metallothionein, which is one of the carrier proteins controlled by the adrenals. Even before you are born, it is required for immunity, brain and gastrointestinal tract maturation and the regulation of metals. Autistic children seem to be born with a low metallothionein function, so they have impairment in all these areas. They haven’t matured the way they should and so are vulnerable.

Metallothionein is essential for the proper ratio of copper to zinc. If you have a poor copper-zinc ratio, you will have metallothionein dysfunction and won’t be able to detoxify heavy metals. The primary nutrient needed in the formation of metallothionein is zinc. If you have mercury or lead in the gut without any metallothionein there, they are going to react with sulfhydryl groups. Sulfhydryl groups are a combination of sulfur and hydrogen and they are very much attracted to mercury, lead and cadmium, especially mercury.

Among the sulfhydryl groups in the intestines are the enzymes that break down casein and gluten. Toxic metals and low zinc disables these enzymes. This is why you see gluten and casein intolerance in autistic, bipolar and schizophrenic patients, because they all are lacking in metallothionein production. They may react violently to those foods. Without exception, high copper with low zinc along with signs of low metallothionein function with elevated levels of all kinds of toxic metals are seen in every single autistic child tested at the Pfeiffer Center.

Healing Chronic Illness

Many factors must be taken into account to determine the best form of diet and treatment for chronically ill patients. These factors include food sensitivities, gluten allergies, digestive needs, glucose intolerance, ability to digest fats and digestive impairments due to candida albicans, parasites and other factors. Without addressing these types of imbalances precisely, it is very difficult to succeed in healing chronic illness. Chinese Herbal Therapy, Nutritional Balancing, metal detoxification, diet, nutrition and acupuncture, particularly for pain, combined with lifestyle counseling are all important factors in healing chronic illness. Each program is specifically tailored to the patient and not all of these elements are required for healing chronic illness in everyone.


In general I recommend a low-carb, Atkins-type diet rich in animal foods and animal fats. But in many cases, this diet must be introduced slowly. Often specific herbs for digestive support are required.

Chinese Herbal Therapy

Chinese Herbal Therapy is the most highly developed form of herbal medicine in the world. Many other systems of herbal therapy have much to contribute but the theoretical foundations and the system of diagnosis and treatment which makes up Chinese Herbal Therapy allows for treatment of an extremely wide range of conditions from short-term, and milder problems to so-called “incurable” conditions. While Chinese Herbal Therapy cannot do everything, often it is difficult to obtain certain results without it. It is especially helpful in reducing and eliminating the need for medications and alleviating their side effects.

Nutritional Balancing and Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis

Dr. Paul Eck developed a powerful method of nutritional therapy called Nutritional Balancing. Dr. Eck was a biochemist and naturopath who studied the nutritional status of many thousands of people for over 30 years utilizing the diagnostic method of hair tissue mineral analysis. Hair tissue mineral analysis measures the mineral content of the hair. As hair is a soft tissue of the body, the mineral content of the hair reflects the functions of the body at the cellular level of the soft tissues where all metabolic activity occurs. Blood tests are useful and very important in acute conditions but they often fail to reveal chronic conditions until they are very advanced. This is because the body keeps the blood values as close to normal as possible, even at the expense of the body tissues. Blood values must be maintained in very narrow ranges or severe, even life threatening symptoms may result. Therefore, the body will sacrifice the soft tissues if need be to maintain those values. Hair tissue mineral analysis can reveal the imbalances which have developed at the cellular, soft tissue level. Using this information, Dr. Eck developed a highly sophisticated nutritional therapy designed to reverse the toxic and degenerative developments in the body due to all types of stress. After many years of experience with this method of nutritional therapy, I can say it is the most powerful and effective method I have seen. It is the best way to address problems of toxic metals, which are very often an important factor in chronic fatigue and chronic illness in general.

Heavy Metals and the Limits of Chelation

Chelation and other forms of detoxification from heavy metals can only remove metals that are in a free form. In many cases, these metals such as aluminum, mercury, nickel, cadmium and lead are tightly bound and sequestered in the body tissues. The body is actually making use of these toxic metals as substitutes for minerals that are deficient or bio-unavailable in the body. The preferred minerals are the optimal minerals needed for each enzyme function in the body. If a preferred mineral is not present, due to deficiency, bio-unavailability, or any other reason, it is replaced with a less optimal mineral in the enzyme binding site. The result is lowered efficiency and often breakdown of that enzyme function. This is an adaptive mechanism that allows us to survive in the face of deficiencies or metal toxicity. Replacing less-preferred minerals is a central concept in Nutritional Balancing and in healing chronic illness. As the balancing and replacement process proceeds, the body releases nutrients and toxic metals that were acting as replacements for the optimal minerals. Until the nutritional status of the body has shifted to a degree that supplies these minerals in a usable form to the tissues, the body will not release the toxic metals. Nutritional Balancing is a method that systematically re-balances the body chemistry to allow the tissues to release these toxic metals and replace them with the proper nutrients to allow full cellular functioning and energy production. The balancing process is achieved by providing the specific nutrients needed to balance the oxidation rate and support the energy production pathway in the cells. These nutrients are determined by the results of a properly performed hair tissue mineral analysis. As cellular energy is restored and nutritional deficiencies and bio-unavailabilities improved, healing naturally proceeds.

The Healing Crisis

Detoxification, die-off, re-tracing, healing crisis—these are all terms for similar phenomena that are an important part of the healing process. Natural healing is based on encouraging the body to rebuild body functions and cleanse itself of toxic substances or infections and is not always a matter of immediately feeling better. When healing chronic illness, feeling better is often fairly low on the body’s list of priorities. When the body is working to rebuild the very foundation from which human energy flows, diverting some of that precious and at this stage, limited, energy to make us feel better may not be a prudent use of the energy. As the body heals through diet, nutritional balancing and herbal therapy, little by little symptoms become more comfortable and fade away over time. But in the earlier stages of the healing process, at times there can be flare-ups of symptoms. A healing crisis is a period in the healing process when we actually feel worse than before. This can be due to a number of factors. Often when the healing process is stimulated in the body with herbal therapy, dietary changes or a nutritional program, the body’s energies are directed inward to the organs and tissues where this work is occurring. Healing is work for the body and requires energy to do it. This can make us fatigued, just as when we are fighting an infection.

Many of us over-expend our energy and force it to the surface with stimulants such as coffee and sugar. We may feel better when we do this, but these stimulants ultimately exhaust us and lay the ground work for chronic illness. Natural therapies reverse this process, sending the energies deeper into the body to promote healing. But we will not have as much energy to spend as we may be accustomed to spending. Resting as much as possible is the cure for this problem and it will pass as the body becomes stronger and has more real energy available.

In the Nutritional Balancing process, often the first reason for symptoms to worsen or recur is the detoxification of heavy metals. Nutritional Balancing has a very powerful ability to support the body’s own ability to release heavy metals from the tissues where they may have been building up for many years due to impaired metabolism. During the first three to nine months of the nutritional protocol and retesting process, it is very common to release metals such as copper, aluminum, mercury, manganese, cadmium and lead. As these toxic substances are released from tissue storage, and move through the blood to be excreted through the liver and kidneys, they are capable of causing some of the symptoms typical of acute exposure to the metal. In addition, for many chronically ill people, some degree of liver detoxification impairment is part of their problems and can even be due to the very metal being cleared, especially in the case of copper toxicity.

Slowing down the Nutritional Balancing program by reducing the number of times per day the protocol is taken in order to slow down the release of the metal is the simplest approach to reducing the detox symptoms. However, this can interfere with the other benefits of the program if the dosage reduction continues for many months. There are a few products that can improve the detox process to the degree that a more normal level of supplement usage can be maintained during the detox process and allow for faster progress overall in rebuilding body energy. Copper elimination often aggravates the same chronic problems the copper has been causing including skin problems, irritable bowel, digestive disturbances, headaches, neuralgia, hormonal imbalances, constipation and insomnia. The best product for improving copper detox symptoms is Extended Health’s Liver Support. This was developed for use during various methods of chelation and it really does help the liver to handle the higher influx of metal to be cleansed from the system.

Nutritional Balancing is a highly sophisticated nutritional system that rebuilds the body’s own ability to chelate and excrete heavy metal. It balances body chemistry to allow the cells to release metals that are sequestered deep in the tissues and are not available to be removed by externally administered chelating agents. Using a Nutritional Balancing approach also prevents the significant loss of essential minerals from the body that is typical of intravenous and oral chelation in spite of the mineral supplements that are usually given. However, the release of metal at times can be quite high so formulas such as Liver Support can bolster the liver’s ability to excrete metal into the bile, through the gall bladder into the intestinal tract and then out through the bowels. All of these organs must be active enough to complete the process of full elimination of the metal.

The best general chelating product that can improve urinary output of metals such as lead, aluminum, copper and mercury without pulling out large amounts of calcium, magnesium and zinc, is the RNA Results Advanced Cellular Zeolite. This zeolite is absolutely pure and suspended in 100 percent pure water. It is nano-sized which means that very small doses are highly effective due to the greatly increased surface area of the zeolite crystals. Because the zeolite has a cagelike shape, once the positively charged molecules of mercury, lead, copper and other substances such as free radicals and toxic chemicals bond to the zeolite, they are neutralized and no longer capable of interacting with the body to cause symptoms. The zeolite leaves the body within five to seven hours along with the toxic substance that has bonded to it. Due to the low dosage required when using pure nano-sized zeolite, the digestive side effects that sometimes occur with micron-sized products do not occur. Zeolite, like all chelating substances, can only pick up metals that have been released from the tissues in a free form. This product must be purchased from a licensed health care provider.

Suggested Reading

  • Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, Lawrence Wilson, MD
  • Energy, Colin and Loren Chatsworth
  • Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease, Dr. Paul C. Eck and Dr. Larry Wilson
  • The Strands of Health: A Guide to Understanding Hair Mineral Analysis, Rick Malter, PhD
  • Trace Elements and Other Essential Nutrients: Clinical Application of Tissue Mineral Analysis, Dr. David L. Watts
  • Toxic Metal Syndrome: How Metal Poisonings Can Affect Your Brain, Dr. H. Richard Casdorph and Dr. Morton Walker
  • Why Am I Always So Tired?, Ann Louise Gittleman, MS, CNS
  • Mental and Elemental Nutrients, Carl C. Pfeiffer, PhD, MD
  • Nutrition and Mental Illness, Carl C. Pfeiffer, PhD, MD
  • Natural Healing for Schizophrenia and Other Common Mental Disorders, Eva Edelman
  • Depression Free, Naturally, Joan Mathews Larson, PhD
  • Changing the Course of Autism, Bryan Jepson, MD
  • Children With Starving Brains, Jaquelyn McCandless, MD
  • Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Natasha Campbell-McBride, MD
  • Healing Schizophrenia, Abram Hoffer, MD
  • The Natural Medicine Guide to Schizophrenia, Stephanie Marohn
  • The Natural Medicine Guide to Autism, Stephanie Marohn
  • Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome, James L. Wilson, ND, DC, PhD
  • Chronic Fatigue Unmasked, Geral E. Poesnecker, ND, DC
  • An Alternative Approach to Allergies, Theron G. Randolph, MD, and Ralph W. Moss, PhD
  • Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, Dr. Robert C. Atkins
  • The Yeast Connection, William Crook, MD
  • Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution, Richard K. Bernstein, MD
  • Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon with Mary Enig, PhD
  • Know Your Fats, Mary Enig, PhD
  • The Mood Cure, Julia Ross, MA
  • Toxic Psychiatry, Peter R. Breggin, MD
  • Heart Failure, Thomas J. Moore
  • The Schwartzbein Principle, Diana Schwartzbein, MD

Chinese Herbal Support

In general, various forms of Chinese herbal therapy are very helpful in the early stages of healing to help control symptoms and reduce the need for medication. There are many excellent formulas to help with menstrual and menopausal symptoms, gall bladder discomfort, breathing problems and coughing, digestive weaknesses and pain of many types. The herbal tonics when used properly are an excellent method of speeding up the rebuilding process, increasing energy and reducing the effects of aging. For very targeted therapy of specific problems, it is often more effective than other methods. It combines well with Nutritional Balancing although many people find the nutritional program to be all they need.

The well known and commonly available Chinese herbal formula called Yin Chiao, or Yin Qiao is very helpful in relieving detox and die-off symptoms as well as general discomfort ranging from sore throats, insect bites, ear aches, and non-chronic headaches to poison oak and neuralgia, especially trigeminal neuralgia. Taken right away and frequently during the onset of a cold, it can stop it or make it much milder if the flu is not very strong. If it comes on anyway, Yin Chiao is very helpful with the symptoms and reduces fever. It is especially helpful in candida detoxification and can be used quite freely to control the flu-like symptoms typical of candida die off. It can be taken every hour at first until symptoms begin to subside. Then take it whenever the symptoms recur. The main contraindication is loose bowels although only a few have this problem and it is usually temporary. For some, it is just too laxative at high doses. After a while, as the candida clears the system, it will not cause such severe reactions as there will not be as much candida in the system dying off all at once. The liver will be able to take care of the toxins released and no particular symptoms will occur.

The digestive discomfort that occurs with all kinds of detox and die off situations is very often helped by the Chinese herbal formula known as Curing Pill. The Health Concerns brand called Quiet Digestion is particularly effective. Quiet Digestion is excellent for cramping, bloating, gas, generally poor digestion, nausea, diarrhea and when combined with Yin Chiao, is very good for the stomach flu. It will control irritable bowel episodes if it is taken three pills each hour and the person lies down until the symptoms pass. Usually three doses will do it. Copper toxicity causes many irritable bowel type symptoms including bloating, cramping, and abdominal tenderness. Quiet Digestion taken regularly will minimize the flare up of this problem while the copper is being eliminated.

This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2008.

Theresa Vernon, L.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist, Chinese herbal therapist, and nutritionist in Southern California. She works with people all over the United States and in other countries. Visit her website at

© 2015 The Weston A. Price Foundation for Wise Traditions in Food, Farming, and the Healing Arts.