Heavy Metal Biochemical Assessments


Mercury’s recent presence in the body can be assessed with blood and urine samples because the initial half-life of blood mercury elimination is 3 days. The half-life of elimination for whole body mercury is between 60 and 90 days. Generally, the levels of mercury are below 10 mcg per liter in urine and below 40 mcg per liter in blood. Hair analysis can be useful as an estimate of long-term exposure to mercury.

To diagnose acute mercury toxicity, symptoms of respiratory distress are evaluated along with lab evaluation with a complete blood count and differential, serum electrolytes, glucose, liver and renal function tests, and urinalysis. Chest readiography and serial ABG measurements should be used for patients with severe inhalation exposure.

Reference: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/MHMI/mmg46.html


Blood lead levels can assess recent exposure to lead. It’s the primary screening method for lead exposure. It can also be measured with erythrocyte protoporphoryn, but this test is not sensitive enough to determine if children have levels below 25 mcg per deciliter. Because lead later travels to soft tissues and eventually to bones and teeth after several weeks, long-term exposure can be measured in bones and teeth with x-ray techniques.

Reference: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/phs13.html


Cadmium in urine is best for determining level of recent and past exposure in the body. Analysis of hair and nails is not as useful because of factors of contamination from environment. Blood calcium can be useful to determine recent exposure in the body.

Reference: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts5.html

Published by David Despain, MS, CFS

David is a science and health writer living on Long Island, New York. He's written for a variety of publications including Scientific American, Outside Online, the American Society for Nutrition's (ASN) Nutrition Notes Daily, and Institute of Food Technologists' (IFT) Food Technology magazine and Live! blog. He's also covered new findings reported at scientific meetings including Experimental Biology, AAAS, AOCS, CASW, Sigma Xi, IFT, and others on his personal blog "Evolving Health." David is also an active member of organizations including the National Association of Science Writers (NASW), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Society for Nutrition, the Institute of Food Technologists, and the National Audubon Society. David has a master's degree in human nutrition from the University of Bridgeport, and a bachelor's degree in English from University of Illinois at Springfield. He also earned his Certified Food Scientist credential from the Institute of Food Technologists.

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