Heavy Metal Poisoning in Dietary Supplements: What You Must Know.

Whether it’s to boost your immunity, lower the risk of health problems, or to address a particular condition, dietary supplements are a big hit in America. They come in various forms and contain different nutrients which have proven health benefits. But, dietary supplements also contain traces of heavy metals. One study which examined 121 natural health products found that many products exceeded the safe daily consumption limits for Mercury, Cadmium, Lead, and Arsenic.

In the modern industrialized world, heavy metal contamination in food, water, and dietary herbal supplements is a reality we cannot escape. We must cope with it. However, you can avoid products with unsafe levels of heavy metal content. In this article, we shall look at the risks of heavy metal poisoning and what you can do to keep it safe.

The risk of heavy metal poisoning in dietary supplements.

We should not tolerate dietary supplements that contain traces of heavy metals over the limits. However, the reality is, heavy metals are present in natural plant products. The study which examined 121 natural health products found that many contained traces of heavy metals. But this is not strange. Science shows that heavy metals are a part of the natural ecosystem. They are a part of the earth’s crust and are found in soil in nearly all geographical locations. Therefore, it is not strange to find traces of arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury in plants and natural plant products. It is highly unlikely for living organisms, including plant-based supplements and human beings, to not be without some level of heavy metals within their systems. In fact, science shows that humans require various levels of different metals like Calcium, Chromium, and Iron, for the proper functioning of the body.

The presence of heavy metals in our systems is not dangerous per se. However, excessive levels of heavy metals, brought about by consuming products that don’t adhere to the acceptable standards, poses a risk of Heavy Metal Toxicity.

What makes toxic levels of heavy metals in dietary supplements particularly risky?

Many consumers may think that they can fall back to the FDA. After all, the FDA checks whether drugs are safe to consume and which ones are not. But Congress defines dietary supplements pretty much like food. Thus, manufacturers of supplements have no obligation to provide proof of quality before availing a product for sale. The best that the FDA can do, according to the Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act 1994, is to check if a product is safe after it has been on the shelves.
The rules also stipulate that you don’t need a doctor’s prescription to purchase a supplement. Thus, without educative articles like this one, many consumers would be intoxicating themselves with heavy metals in a quest for the health-giving components of supplements.

Most dietary supplements contain only traces of heavy metals. However, the health-giving components in supplements are also available in small quantities. Therefore, the positive impacts of a dietary supplement only occur when you take the supplement consistently over a prolonged period. Ironically, this cumulative effect also happens with the toxic heavy metals creating a health risk.
When heavy metals accumulate in your body, it can be detrimental to your health. Scientists attribute many chronic health problems, such as brain damage, and organ failure, to the accumulation of heavy metals in our bodies.

What can you do? 

The government, FDA, and your doctor may not provide much help to protect you from dietary supplements with excessive levels of heavy metals. But you can do something about it. Here is more on what you can do
Know the acceptable limits.
Acceptable level of toxins is not the kind of information that to always have with you. But it does pay to keep in mind where you can retrieve it. For example, the American Herbal Products Association prepared California Proposition 65, which recommends daily limits for heavy metal consumption. Some of the recommended limits are:

0.5 µg of Lead/day
4.1 µg of Arsenic/day
10 µg of Cadmium/day

But these figures wouldn’t make any sense if you cannot figure out the heavy metal content in your daily dose of the supplement.

Learn how to calculate your intake.

Here’s a simplified way to tell whether your supplement is within or exceeds the acceptable daily limit.
For example, the Certificate of Analysis of ashwagandha capsules shows that it contains Lead at 0.0392ppm. Each capsule weighs contains 450mg of powder. Therefore, at a daily dose of two capsules per day, you would be taking 900mg of powder per day (0.9g). This quantity of supplement contains.

In the math od toxic analysis, 1ppm translates to 1 mg toxic element per 1g product.

0.0392 ppm is equivalent to 0.0392 µg lead per 1g of ashwagandha = 0.0392 µg lead

Simplified Calculation:  

0.0392 µg lead  x   0.45g (one capsule)   =   0.0176 µg lead per capsule or 0.0352 µg lead per serving.

0.0176 µg of lead will be ingested for every capsule of ashwagandha per capsule or 0.0352 µg lead per serving of 900mg/day

These levels are exceptionally low and below CA PROP 65 limits.


How do you determine if a PROP 65 warning label is needed?

Commonly known as a ‘Prop 65 warning’, it must be applied to any product containing a listed chemical, unless the level of exposure is below the regulatory safe harbor level. Firstly, check whether the chemical is listed and, if it is, whether the level in the product exceeds the safe harbor level. If it is not listed, or the level is below the safe harbor level, no ‘Prop 65 warning’ is required.


Be a vigilant buyer.

Since existing regulation is insufficient, you should be extra vigilant about the products you buy. Checking out the Certificates of Analysis is great, but some unscrupulous manufacturers use fake certificates. Also, some manufacturers use outdated methods that give inaccurate results.

The reliability of the verifying agent and the accuracy of the testing methods are vital.
You should purchase supplements from manufacturers who use multiple highly-regarded laboratories to verify their products. You should be confident about the autonomy of the laboratory, and its standards. You should verify the product’s accuracy before purchasing.


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