Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Heavy metals are difficult to test for and currently there are no gold standard testing methods. If you go to a conventional medical doctor, they will probably run blood tests (or maybe even roll their eyes at you because they have not been taught about heavy metals at medical school p.s. I was not, and I had to learn about it myself through researching and attending seminars run by doctors who specialize in this area).
With the exception of lead, blood tests are not great ways to test for heavy metal burdens in your body because heavy metals, like many other toxins, are lipophilic (they are fat soluble) which means that they have an affinity for our tissues rather than stay in the blood stream for long.
If you run a blood test for mercury, it’ll tell you how much mercury you have come into contact with/ingested in the last 24-48 hours (e.g. if you ate tuna the night before it’ll probably be high – but it will not accurately reflect how much mercury you have been exposed to during your life time, and how much is bound up in your tissues aka the body burden.
The body burden is the level we are mainly concerned with, because it is through the binding to enzymes and proteins in our tissues, and interfering with neurotransmitters and hormones that heavy metals exert their toxic effects, for example, affecting ATP production in the mitochondria, leading to fatigue, brain fog etc)
I’m going to focus mainly on mercury here because that is the metal I have experience with.
There are different types of mercury and in order to know what test best to run, you need to know what type of mercury you are looking for:
Methylmercury – this is the mercury that is in seafood and fish – it is best reflected by a hair tissue mineral analysis however note that some people may lack the ability to excrete methylmercury into their hair, therefore leading to a falsely negative test. Experienced practitioners may be able to look at the other mineral composition of the hair tissue to come to a conclusion, however, and that’s why it is always a good idea to work with a practitioner knowledgeable about heavy metals as testing is not always accurate.
Elemental mercury – this is the mercury found in dental amalgams. it is excreted via the kidneys but again – the accuracy of urine mercury depends on kidney function and also how much bound up mercury actually shows up in your kidneys. (some practitioners use a provocation test whereby they use a chelator e.g. DMSA to bind to heavy metals which are then escorted out through the kidneys – this again, depends on proper kidney function for an accurate test)
Ethylmercury – in vaccines although this is now banned apart from multi-dose Influenza vaccines.
There are also other tests e.g. stool, and most practitioners will use a combination of the different tests available with clinical correlation to come to a conclusion.
This article provides information for education purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or recommendations. I strongly advise you to work with a practitioner rather than ordering tests off the internet because, as you can see, diagnosing heavy metal toxicity properly requires experience and evaluation of many facets that a single test may not be able to provide.