Toxic metals are naturally occurring metallic substances that disrupt vital bodily functions. Most toxic metals are considered "heavy metals" and include substances like mercury and lead. Hair loss is only one of many possible symptoms of metal toxicity. Because hair loss can occur for a variety of reasons, medical testing is the only way to determine whether metal toxicity is the cause. Understanding the connection between toxic metals and hair loss can help you identify problems sooner for a more positive prognosis.
Many different toxic metals exist, though some are more commonly encountered than others. Among the most prevalent are arsenic, aluminum, cadmium, lead and mercury—all of which are considered heavy metals. Other less common toxic metals include beryllium, nickel and iron.
While each toxic metal causes its own unique problems, symptoms can overlap somewhat. According to Medscape, mercury toxicity can result in a condition called Pink’s disease, which causes symptoms like hair loss, rash, hypertension and mental disturbances. Mercury damages the body by interfering with vital processes like nerve transmission and cell division, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. In some cases, tooth loss may accompany hair loss in patients with mercury poisoning.
Hair loss can also occur with arsenic poisoning and, less frequently, as a result of lead or copper toxicity. Other symptoms of metal toxicity include fatigue, weight loss, darkening of the skin and conjunctivitis.
While toxic metals occur naturally in the environment, processes like industrial pollution can lead to excessively high concentrations in the air, water and food. For instance, lead was once widely used in gasoline, paint and other common items and persists in the environment today despite its removal from these products in the 1970s.
Mercury is still used in medicinal products like dental amalgam fillings and vaccinations, some of which contain the mercury-based preservative thimerosal. Arsenic is often found in tap water, while aluminum is present in some brands of anti-perspirant deodorant, aluminum foil, fireworks and cookware.
Medical analysis of the blood, hair or urine is the only definitive way to determine whether toxic metals are the cause of hair loss. If tests indicate metal exposure, chelation therapy using substances like DMPS, DMSO and EDTA can help remove metals from the body.
While toxic metals cannot be avoided entirely, it’s possible to reduce your overall body burden by limiting exposure to known sources like dental amalgams and large predatory fish. Maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly and observing other basic healthy lifestyle guidelines can help minimize the damage caused by toxic metals in some cases.
If you experience hair loss accompanied by vomiting, convulsions, heart palpitations or other severe symptoms, seek medical help immediately. These may be signs of a serious health condition.