Cadmium toxicity found in athletes with bone and joint disease
One of the things I love about my job is the challenge of unraveling unexplained health problems in people who, by any kind of measure, should be at the pinnacle of good health.
In this article, I present the cases of two athletes, Trevor, a former friendly running rival of mine, and Natasha, a professional triathlete. Trevor is now 59 and Natasha is 22 years of age. Both are health conscious people who appear to have been doing all the right things to remain in great condition. However, something has recently gone terribly wrong for both of them!
"I am a 22-year-old triathlete. I began my journey with the sport around 10 years ago. I slowly increased my commitment to the sport during this time, to where I am now able to train almost as a full time athlete, with some part time university study thrown in. During my time in the sport I had some good results, but over the years have struggled with various health issues, and have found it difficult to find proper answers to the issues causing them.
My problems started with iron deficiency and energy issues. I then began (and still am) getting multiple stress fractures. Some of which I can pin point some contributing factors for their occurrence, but no overriding explanation for them. I also had an unusual and serous blood infection following a cycling crash which required being on intravenous antibiotics for several months. It was after this crash I first made contact with Gary Moller to attempt to rebuild my immune systems more naturally.
I have had good results with the work I have done with Gary, but still have not been able to reach a healthy enough state to race as an elite triathlete (which is my goal). I do not have bone density issues, but I still continue to get stress fractures, suggesting that my bones are weak.
It wasn’t until recently that I feel I may have finally begun to find an answer to my bone issues and some of my other health issues. My HTMA test showed an excessive level of cadmium in my body, which can contribute to bone weakening, low iron and energy production issues.
This was an interesting finding, and when I began to consider how the cadmium may have got into my system at high levels I have been able to narrow it down to almost one thing; eating very large amounts of strawberries and grapes. In season, for a number of years I would have consumed up to four chips in one day. I have cut my strawberry intake to only home grown, spray free fruit. My large intake of strawberries was mostly due to the supposed ‘health’ benefits I thought they possessed, as well as the incentive that they were ‘low calorie’.
I am now working through the low process of cleaning the cadmium out of my system."
As you would gather, I have known Trevor for many years and we have had some good running battles over the years. I had lost contact with Trevor, so it was quite a shock when he turned up at my clinic late 2015. He was so stiff and sore he could barely get down to take his shoes and socks off. Riding a bicycle and a motorbike were his main past-times but these were placed on hold due to the hip pain.
A subsequent Hair Tissue Mineral Analysis (HTMA), below, showed the pattern that is consistent with undesirable calcium shifting from bones to soft tissues, low manganese associated with cartilage disease, and elevated zinc relative to molybdenum which is associated with inflammation and immune dysfunction.
What piqued my interest was the hint of toxic elements, including cadmium (Cd), mercury and lead which are associated with some of the complaints that Trevor was presenting with. So, we treated what we saw and what we suspected, including attempting to mobilise toxic elements, should any be hiding deep in the body, such as in the bones, fat, liver, kidneys.
It is always the repeat test that gives the breakthroughs in solving these health mysteries!
Trevor's HTMA (09/2015)
Trevor's repeat HTMA (06/2016) - cadmium!
Bingo! Trevor's repeat HTMA has Cd off the chart - spectacular!
What these tests do not tell us is where the cadmium came from and when. More about this later.
Unfortunately, for Trevor, his hip joints have suffered so much damage that they are beyond healing. The pain and dysfunction are such that surgical intervention is required. In the meantime, we must do what we can to get all the cadmium out of his body to ensure the rest of his joints do not go the way of his hips and also to get his general health and energy back to the previous high standards.
Natasha was not a happy person when she contacted me. Natasha was a promising professional triathlete who's career had fallen completely off the rails. She was almost house bound while on powerful intravenous antibiotics. Despite all her efforts, including very low training volumes and restricted running, she was crippled by repeated stress fractures (refer to her story later in this article).
Natasha's HTMA (08/2015)
Like Trevor, there is the familiar pattern of calcium loss from the bones and low manganese. Of considerable interest is the presence of significant levels of cadmium (Cd).
As with Trevor, we treated what we saw and what we suspected. As with Trevor, we all strained our brains with trying to figure out where the cadmium was coming from!
Natasha's repeat HTMA (10/2016) - cadmium!
Another Bingo result with elevated Cd! Like Trevor, Natasha has evidence of cadmium toxicity. There is a lot of action to be seen in her repeat HTMA but these are side issues for this article about cadmium toxicity.
How did Trevor and Natasha come to have such high levels of cadmium?
The main source of cadmium accumulation in New Zealand soils is superphosphate. Cadmium is also found in aviation fuel and diesel. It is used as an anti-corrosive and as an anti-fouling agent on baot hulls. I see a lot of cadmium in farmers, engineers and mechanics. Many suffer toxic elements-related diseases as they get older.
Here is a typical HTMA for an older farmer:
"Two million tonnes of superphosphate fertiliser containing 30 to 40 tonnes of the heavy metal cadmium is put on New Zealand soils every year. Standard farming practice over the past 70 years has involved the use of superphosphate, especially in dairy farming, which has resulted in dangerously high levels of cadmium in our soils and consequently our food. In the Waikato for example, 160,000 hectares should now be officially labelled as contaminated were it not for the fact that changes to legislation in 2012 removed agricultural land from any contamination classification.
Cadmium accumulates in the kidneys and liver, and is linked with breast and testicular cancer. Kidneys from sheep older than two and a half years are not permitted for human consumption because of the cadmium levels, but may be used as offal in products such as blood and bone to be used in home or market gardens or in pet food."
Fish pellets that are made from bone and offal from older animals and chickens, may be a source of cadmium which is further concentrated in farmed fish such as salmon. As a precaution, I recommend that my patients avoid farmed fish, including shrimps.
Cadmium accumulates in cartilage and the active outer portions of bone, hence the association of cadmium with diseases of the bones and joints. Cadmium weakens the immune system and interferes with many nutrients, including iron, copper, zinc, manganese selenium, sulphur and vitamin C. Cadmium is associated with extreme fatigue, poor skin, inflammation and even depression. Its nasty stuff!
Cadmium: It has to be in their food
Because neither Trevor nor Natasha had occupations or hobbies that might have them exposed to cadmium, our attention was focused on their food. Natasha gave the first clue: habitually eating lots of grapes, and strawberries by the punnet.
Some of the supplements I have given these athletes are known to mobilise cadmium. This will explain the spike in cadmium in the repeat tissue analyses for both athletes. When we begin mobilising deposits of cadmium deep in the body, such as the bones and cartilage, symptoms may temporarily worsen. With time, the symptoms do abate and the person will gradually feel better.
Please be aware that we are talking about "cadmium toxicity" rather than "poisoning". With "toxicity" the symptoms are much more subtle than those documented for cases of outright "poisoning".
Cadmium will only show on the hair tissue mineral analysis if the body was excreting cadmium at the time the hair was growing (hair, skin and nails is one of the excretory pathways fro eliminating toxins from the body). A person with cadmium toxicity, as seen in the HTMA, may have had, either a large single dose, or exposure to small amounts over a long period of time.
One of the challenges is determining the source of contamination, including ensuring there is no ongoing exposure to the toxin. In the case of these two athletes, Trevor and Natasha, there was no obvious history of exposure to cadmium, such as handling cadmium batteries, living and exercising in heavily polluted environments, or spreading fertiliser. The only common factor has been the consumption of large quantities of grapes and strawberries over a long period of time.
Is it the grapes and strawberries?
Trevor confirmed that he has had an unusually large consumption of grapes over the years, Natasha is the same, along with an excessive intake of strawberries. What is consistent, as well, is both have HTMA confirming the presence of cadmium in their bodies, and both have symptoms that are consistent with long term, low level exposure to cadmium.
While we can't be sure the culprits are strawberries and grapes, they are the only possibilities so far identified. Cutting these down, or out of the diet, will do no harm while saving them some money.
We need more research otherwise there is too much guessing as to what is going on, including knowing exactly where these nasty toxins are coming from.
Why cadmium may be higher in athletes as compared to sedentary people
Grapes and strawberries are typically gown in soils that are heavily fertilised with superphosphate and/or blood and bone, or the soil may have been contaminated from previous applications of superphosphate. What is grown may consequently be high in cadmium. Grapes and strawberries are very high in sugar. This explains why athletes doing exhausting exercise may inadvertently end up habitually scoffing large amounts (instinctively consumed to satiate sugar cravings).
Hard exercise can temporarily depress kidney function which is one of the main excretory pathways for getting cadmium out of the body. If kidney function is depressed, cadmium may accumulate faster in the athlete as compared to more sedentary individuals.
Where to from here?
Unfortunately, for Trevor, serious damage has been done to his joints, principally his hips, to the extent that the only resolution of his pain and immobility is hip replacement surgery which is scheduled to happen in the next few months. We did our best to save his hips; but the damage has been done and past the point of being reversible. The surgery will be a huge boost to his quality of life. My role with Trevor now is to prepare him for surgery and to ensure that his other joints, including knees, do not go the way of the hip joints.
Natasha is back training, she has lost weight and regaining her zest for life! She is still having episodes of bone pain, but no more stress fractures have been had. It is her intention to return to racing later in the year.
Natasha is placing far more attention to performance nutrition without the help of strawberries! She recently produced a career PB on a cycling split which is most encouraging.
For the health authorities
Come on! We need much more thorough testing and reporting of levels of toxins in our foods and soils.
Its ridiculous and harmful that agricultural soils of New Zealand are exempted from contamination classification!
In the case of foods such as strawberries and grapes we have no idea, as consumers, where that latest batch have come from unless we are really attentive. Did they come from Chile, the USA, Australia, Pukekohe or China? Where were they grown: on clean soil, or a former toxic waste dump? We just do not know. We must know. Our health depends on knowing what we are really putting into our bodies.
Insist on knowing where your food comes from and do what you can (not much unfortunately) to ensure it is free on toxins. Ask the supplier where that batch comes from and seek their assurance that it is free of toxins. Talk to your MP about your concerns.
If you have unexplained aches and pains, or suffer an illness that has no convincing explanation, consider the possibility that there is a toxin in your body. Get hold of me - get tested. Don't just take drugs like Prednisone, or Methotrexate. These drugs treat nothing more than the symptoms and may do more harm than good, if used for more than a few weeks.
What is really in your food?
Are you consuming too much of a food, such as fish and oysters, that are high in cadmium? Refer to the PDF here which list the cadmium content of foods, including grapes and strawberries, from page 150. Appendix 9, from page 145 of the report, lists the levels of other toxins, mercury and arsenic of foods in New Zealand. It is interesting.
The problem with these reports is they become dated quickly and the results are only as informative as to batch of food that was tested. Much of our food is imported and may have very different levels of contaminants as compared to the locally grown product, for better or worse. Because the berries from one farm are "low" in a toxin, does not necessarily mean that the ones grown on the farm just across the road are similarly "low".