Heavy Metals in the Brain: Toxicity and Neurological Symptoms

by | Mar 29, 2024 | Autism Spectrum Disorders, Blog, Environmental Toxins

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Our bodies are made up of metals and minerals. However, when the immune system does not work properly, metals begin to displace minerals. They can then build up, leading to heavy metal toxicity and neurological symptoms.

For example, neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and neurobehavioral disabilities like ADHD and autism are linked to heavy metals in the brain.

Luckily, the body has its own natural way of getting rid of heavy metal toxins. In this guide, we will explain which heavy metals to be concerned about, the potential symptoms and disorders they may cause, and how we can help.

Heavy Metals in the Brain

Exposure to high amounts of certain heavy metals like aluminum, mercury, thallium, manganese, and arsenic can have detrimental effects on the brain. Unfortunately, many of these effects can be permanent.

The good news is that studies show that identifying and finding solutions for symptoms early on can help stabilize or even improve conditions. The first step is to get tested for the following toxic metals in the brain.


Aluminum is one of the most commonly used household metals. It is also present in our water sources and food. People who work as welders are often exposed to this heavy metal in high amounts.

A 36-year study investigated aluminum in the brains of 511 patients. The researchers found a significant connection between aluminum in the brain and Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and Down’s syndrome.


Mercury is a toxic heavy metal and one of the four metals on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of 10 chemicals of public health concern. This heavy metal is hazardous to everyone, especially pregnant people and children.

Unborn babies and children are also more vulnerable to mercury’s impact on the brain. Early mercury exposure is linked to poor cognition, memory, attention, language, fine motor skills, and visuospatial skills.


Cadmium is a carcinogen metal. It is another of the metals on the WHO’s list of 10 chemicals of public health concern. Humans have increased environmental levels of this toxin, mainly via electronic waste.

Research shows that children and aging adults are particularly vulnerable to cadmium. Older adults exposed to this neurotoxic metal can cause a significant increase in age-related cognitive decline.


Thallium is a soft metal that is highly poisonous in large doses. It is used as a rat poison and fungicide. Surprisingly, it is also an ingredient used to make cigarettes.

This metal can also harm human health. Thallium can be harmful even if someone is exposed to small amounts, especially over the long term. For example, heavy metal toxicity and mental health conditions like depression are connected.


Manganese is an essential micronutrient for humans. However, in high doses, it is harmful to human health. The most common sources of toxic levels of manganese include air pollution, fungicides, and silicon.

Long-term exposure to this metal can lead to central neurologic sequelae featuring cognitive, sensory, motor, and emotional effects. People who work in the welding, mining, and steel-cutting industries are particularly at risk.


Arsenic is technically a metalloid, or a substance halfway between a metal and a nonmetal. It is a common ingredient in pesticides and many other man-made products. Even though it is widely used, arsenic is another of the WHO’s chemicals of concern.

Like cadmium, arsenic has been indicated as a risk factor for cognitive decline in older adults. Children exposed to arsenic have been shown to suffer from attention, memory, verbal comprehension, and reasoning deficits.


Tin is another common household metal in foil and canned and jarred foods. Despite its toxicity to human health, the government has placed few regulations on its use.

This heavy metal falls under the class of environmental toxins known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs get their name from their interaction with human hormones.

Certain types of tin called organotins can also lead to adverse effects in the brain. For example, organotins can cause brain inflammation, neuronal death, and oxidative stress.

neurological conditions from heavy metals

Heavy Metal Toxicity Neurological Symptoms

Neurodegenerative disorders are conditions featuring a significant loss of brain cells. Some of the most common ones include MS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS.

Most neurodegenerative disorders are sporadic. In other words, someone may have the genes for these disorders but never develop them, and experts are not always sure what triggers these genes to ‘turn on’ in some people.

Groundbreaking research has uncovered one possible trigger for neurodegenerative disorder genes: heavy metal exposure. Next, learn how toxic metals may play a role in these neurological disorders.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder. It occurs when the immune system attacks the central nervous system’s communication system. Symptoms like numbness, weakness, and difficulty walking may then result.

Researchers have examined the brains of MS patients for heavy metal content. One study found a higher concentration of heavy metals like mercury and lead in the brains of MS patients compared to controls.

The theory is that toxic metals promote brain cell death. The brain subsequently mounts an immune response. Over time, this immune response may go awry, leading to the autoimmune symptoms prevalent in MS patients.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition affecting the motor system. It is a progressive disease, meaning it starts slowly and worsens over time. One of the first symptoms is tremors; one of the last is movement loss.

Studies of the brains of people with Parkinson’s disease show high amounts of toxic metals like mercury and lead. They also have high concentrations of iron and copper. These metals are known to bind and hold onto toxic heavy metals.

Heavy metals could also play a role in the formation of Lewy bodies. Lewy bodies are hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, affecting more than six million Americans. It is particularly devastating, as it progressively damages someone’s ability to remember, think, and live.

This neurodegenerative disease was one of the first suspected to have a link to heavy metals. However, it is extremely difficult to study. Patients lose a significant amount of brain matter by the time a biopsy can be taken.

However, experts have found indirect evidence for the impact of heavy metals on Alzheimer’s disease. For example, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease can have similar causes, and Parkinson’s is linked to heavy metals in the brain.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a neurodegenerative disease impacting the motor cortex and spinal cord. It can cause nerves to scar, harden, and die. Ultimately, someone with ALS may lose the ability to control their muscles.

By the time researchers can biopsy the brain cells of people with ALS, most of the nerves have decayed. However, experts have found that brain cells that control the muscles take up toxic metals more readily than other neurons.

Researchers have found a similar effect in nerves of the spinal cord. People with ALS often have high amounts of heavy metals in certain areas. Their spinal cord nerves that control muscle movements are full of these toxins, especially mercury.

Interestingly, experts have found that heavy metal exposure may be the only link between people with co-occurring MS and ALS. MS and ALS do not share common genes. With no common genes between these conditions, experts believe this hypothesis could be even more likely.

Cerebral Small Vessel Disease

Cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD) is not a neurodegenerative disorder itself. However, it is a risk factor for developing neurodegenerative conditions. For example, experts estimate that up to 45% of dementia patients have CSVD.

CSVD occurs when small blood vessels, arteries, and veins in the brain start to malfunction. In addition to neurodegenerative disorders, CSVD can cause other brain-related conditions, including:

  • Stroke
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Mental disabilities
  • Psychotic disorders

The brain areas compromised in CSVD are responsible for bringing oxygen and nutrients to brain cells and disposing of cellular waste products. When these systems break down, brain cells start to die off.

Experts still need to be 100% sure what causes CSVD. However, recent research has found that heavy metals, specifically lead, copper, mercury, arsenic, and cadmium, may play a role.

Heavy Metals and Behavioral Disorders

Heavy metal exposure does not just increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders. It has also been linked to neurobehavioral disorders, which affect one in six US children.

Neurobehavioral disabilities compromise a host of cognitive abilities. They may affect attention span, insight, awareness, social judgment, impulse control, and decision-making skills. They can also impact mood and emotional expression.

Severe neurobehavioral disorders can disable someone to the point of not being able to live independently. Two well-known types of neurobehavioral disabilities are autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Heavy Metals and ADHD

Children are especially sensitive to heavy metals. Experts theorize that exposure in the womb or at a young age could increase the risk for conditions like ADHD.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders. Most people are diagnosed in childhood, but adults can have ADHD, too. This disorder features heavy metal toxicity and neurological symptoms like forgetfulness, excessive talking, fidgeting, and poor impulse control.

Exposure to mercury, lead, and manganese has been linked to ADHD. Other studies investigating the rising prevalence of ADHD diagnoses have added neurotoxic metals like arsenic to that list.

These toxins are not just in the environment. They may also be present in certain brands of baby food. Baby food from Gerber Products Company and the Walmart brand Parent’s Choice have been indicated as possibly containing toxic levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury.

Heavy Metal Detox and ADHD

Supporting the body’s natural detoxification pathways can help with the elimination of heavy metals. A detox can restore the natural balance of metals and minerals and potentially improve heavy metal toxicity and neurological symptoms.

When promoting the elimination of heavy metals from the body, doctors use a technique called chelation. Chelating agents bind to and destroy metals, allowing the body to dispose of them as waste.

We do not recommend trying chelation at home. There are many risks associated with over-the-counter chelating products, especially for children. The safer strategy is to use a detox diet.

Detox diets involve reducing the consumption of foods that are high in heavy metals. At the same time, dieters will increase their consumption of foods that promote detox and the elimination of heavy metals.

Heavy Metals and Autism

Autism, now known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is another neurobehavioral disorder linked to heavy metal exposure. Heavy metals are not the sole cause of ASD cases. Some are due to genetics.

ASD does not present in the same way for everyone. Some common symptoms of ASD include difficulties with social interaction and communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors.

Emerging research has found a connection between heavy metal exposure and ASD diagnoses. Toxic metals like mercury, copper, and zinc are thought to be the main heavy metals involved in this neurobehavioral disorder.

Heavy Metal Detox for Autism

Detoxing the body of heavy metals will not always help with autism symptoms. Remember that some types of autism are genetic and may not have anything to do with heavy metal exposure.

However, some studies have claimed that chelation can improve symptoms of ASD. We need more research to know for sure. In the meantime, the risks of chelation for autism are not worth the possible benefits.

Parents wanting to test the effects of heavy metal detox on their child’s symptoms may be searching for a safer solution. Increasing the consumption of foods containing glutathione is a great place to start.

Some studies have found that children with ASD are deficient in glutathione. Glutathione plays a role in detoxing the body. Theoretically, getting more of this nutrient through a diet could prevent heavy metals from provoking ASD.

Heavy Metal Testing and Solutions

These neurological symptoms of heavy metal toxicity can impact people in every stage of life. Toxic metals can increase the risk of neurodegenerative disorders in older adults and neurobehavioral disabilities in children.

Are you concerned about how heavy metals may be affecting your or your child’s health? Revolution Gut Health offers testing services to help you find out your total toxic burden.

Book a free consultation to learn more about our testing services and solutions for heavy metal toxicity.

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