Heavy Metals Testing

Posted on Sunday, August 15, 2010 |

‘All substances are poisons … dose differentiates a poison.'

---Paracelsus (1493-1541)


Toxic heavy metals can cause the following health problems:


· Renal dysfunction

· Obstructive lung diseases and has been linked to lung cancer.

· Bone defects in humans and animals.


· Ulceration

· Kidney and liver damage

· Damage to circulatory and nerve tissues.


· Anemia, liver and kidney damage, and stomach and intestinal irritation


· Problem in the synthesis of hemoglobin

· Damage to the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, joints, reproductive system and the nervous system


· Tremors, gingivitis and/or minor psychological changes

· Damage to the brain and the central nervous system

· Congenital malformation


· Decreased body weight, heart and liver damage

· Skin irritation


· Kidney and liver damage

· Death


· Bone disorders including fractures, osteopenia and osteomalacia



· This is usually done to test for chronic lead exposure.

· The test result will increase if positive for lead exposure since lead interferes with RBCs ability to make hemoglobin.

· ZPP reflects an average of lead exposure but not recent exposure.

· The result is normal until the lead concentration is greater than 25 micrograms per deciliter.

· ZPP is not sensitive enough because values do not rise until lead concentrations exceed the acceptable range.


· It is the most widely used instrument for clinical trace element analysis in biological samples.


· It has improved the limit of quantitation (LOQ) to parts per billion (ppb, μg/L) and permits the simultaneous measurement of multiple elements.

· Zeeman Effect background correction improves the element signal measurement when testing in complex specimens such as serum, plasma or blood, and other specimen-handling enhancements have further improved sensitivity and precision.

FLAME AAS (FAAS) has a LOQ of parts per million (ppm, mg/L).


· Consists of flame AES and plasma source emission spectrometry, which measures photon output rather than photon absorption as in AAS. The emission line(s) of the excited electrons are measured. The LOQ is ppm (mg/L). The sample in neutron activation analysis (NAA) is irradiated with low-energy neutrons for the production of radioactive nuclides. In NAA there is excitation of the atomic nucleus, so that the trace element is determined independently of its physical or chemical state. The newly formed radionuclide emits X- or γ-rays. The LOQ is ppb (μg/L) to parts per trillion (ppt, ng/L) with multi-element detection, but with a limited dynamic range. This technique is especially suited for in vitro trace element determination in biologic matrices. In instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) there is direct measurement of the emitted X or γ radiation. Inductively coupled plasma–mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS) is a highly sensitive and specific method for the measurement of multiple trace elements in a single run over an especially broad dynamic range with low background interference and LOQs of ppb (μg/L) to ppt (ng/L). An internal standard is used for enhanced precision ( Milne, 1994 ; Chan, 1998a ).


· The first morning void urine is less affected by recent dietary intake.

· May be obtained from accessible tissues (hair, nails) and body fluids (serum, urine), or the activity of a trace element-dependent enzyme. Hair, fingernail or toenail analyses provide a retrospective window or an assessment of chronic exposure for the period of hair or nail growth ( Gibson, 2002 ).

Table 26-5 -- Properties of Essential Trace Mineral Elements


Tissue distribution

Body content

Transport (Reference value)



Spleen, heart

4–6 mg Cr (III)

Transferrin-P 0.15 μg/mL Cr (0.12–2.1 μg/L)

Urine 100–200 ng/day


Muscle, liver, fat

1.1 mg

Albumin (0.11–0.45 μg/L)

Urine 80%


Muscle and liver

Liver 30–50 μg/g dry; 50–70% of body Cu

50–80 mg (1.2–2.5 μg/g fat-free tissue)

Ceruloplasmin 60–95%, albumin, transcuperin (Cu-S: 70–140 μg/dL AAS)

Feces includes bile and unabsorbed dietary Cu


Thyroid: 70–80% of total body I in thyroxin bound to thyroglobulin

15–20 mg (11–15 mg in thyroid)

Thyroxine-binding protein, 80% thyroxine-binding prealbumin (transthyretin)

Urine 100–150 μg/day


RBC Hb 400–600 mg/L, liver, spleen, bone marrow 25%, myoglobin

4–5 g (3/4 in Hb)

50 mg/kg

2.5 g in RBCs

Transferrin-P (2–2.5 g/L)

Ferritin-S 1 μg/L = 10 mg tissue iron stores

Hemosiderin 1 g iron (Mn-blood: 200 nmol/L)

Bile 84 μg/kg, blood loss, menses, GI mucosal cells


Liver, bone, pancreas

12–20 mg

Bile and intestinal secretions


Liver, kidney, bone, adrenal

Blood 30–700 nmol/L

RBC protein, α1-macroglobulin (S: 8–34 μg/L)

Urine 90%, bile 10%


Liver, kidney, muscle

15 mg

Protein [Se-P: 7–30 μg/dL]

Urine 60%, feces 40%


Muscle 60%, bone 30%, liver, prostate, semen

1.2–2.3 g

Albumin 60–70%, α2-macroglobulin (Zn-P: 11–22 μmol/L)

Feces, gut secretions, GI mucosal cells

Data from: Fausto da Silva, 1991 ; Milne, 1994 ; O'Dell, 1997 ; Kohlmeier 2003 .

P = plasma; S = serum; AAS = atomic absorption spectrometry.

Source: Henry’s Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods 21st Edition, Edited By Richard A. McPherson, Matthew R. Pincus, 2007

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