Foods that can chelate heavy metals - woo?

Every now and then, one reads of vegetables or foods that have the ability to chelate heavy metals such as lead or cadmium out of the body - is this 100% woo? I was under the impression that the only thing that can chelate a heavy metal is whatever chemical that has been specifically tailored to bind to that molecule and take it out of the bloodstream.


Also woo is the suggestion that chelation therapy is a panacea that can cure everything from cancer to heart disease or even autism. Those claims are sometimes made by alternative medicine practitioners and the American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) was charged with making such claims by the FTC, which barred them from making such claims in the future.

Does activated charcoal have that ability? I know it’s basically a “sponge” to hang onto stuff you’ve ingested that you shouldn’t have, until everything comes out together at the back end.

Can charcoal absorb heavy metals that are circulating your bloodstream?

The short answer is No. It is sometimes used in cases of acute poisoning, but not for metals. It is used only for poisons that bind to carbon.

Heavy metal poisoning is rare in the US. The various “detox” diets are woo.


The medium-length answer is also no. Charcoal is used to absorb molecules in the stomach or intestines; it doesn’t really reach the bloodstream (in any useful way).

Here’s a review paper that includes a section on natural chelation (3). It has lots of references you can dive into for more information.

Be sure to read more than just that section. It has warnings about how too much initial chelation, for example, can cause problems. A trained, experience doctor can avoid this, ramp up things properly, monitor side effects, switch medications (which is often a good strategy, etc. And the big one: when enough is enough. These things can mess with calcium and such. You don’t want to be using them more than needed.

The problem is plants (e.g., sulfur rich ones or cilantro) might have limited uses for certain types of metals. But you’re just messing with stuff even the pros don’t know a lot about, never mind a naive consumer. How many garlic cloves do you need to eat a day to get any affect without getting into the “too much” zone? Are the garlic bulbs you’re buying lower or higher than average in sulfur? Etc. Seeing a doctor and getting real medication seems a whole lot smarter.

Citric acid, as in oranges and lemons, is a pretty good chelator of heavy metals. Trouble is, It’s also a Krebs cycle intermediate, meaning the body is going to break it down into CO2 and make ATP out of the released energy whenever it can, and to blazes with any bound up Cadmium. To get metal ions excreted, you really need non-food chelation agents, like EDTA or EGTA:

The problem is plants (e.g., sulfur rich ones or cilantro) might have limited uses for certain types of metals.

I assume cilantro and coriander are the same plant, yes?
A webcomic :rolleyes: stating coriander purges metal poisons from the body.

The leaves and stems of coriander are called cilantro and used as seasoning.

Basically, cilantro is to coriander as bacon is to pork.

Damn, now I’m hungry. :smiley:

Both the seed and the leaf are used as seasoning, but the flavors are different.

In some but apparently not all parts of the world, cilantro is the leaf stage and coriander is the seed stage of the same plant.

The leaves change flavor when the plant bolts to seed, making them undesirable for leaf use. (This is a problem with some herbs but not all of them.)


Bacon is cured pork, usually pork belly.

Cilantro isn’t cured. Cilantro is fresh leaves.


Cilantro is a consumable cut from part of another consumable, coriander. Bacon is a consumable cut from part of another consumable, pork.

Please point out where I claimed that cilantro is cured.

Next you’ll gripe that coriander isn’t even an animal!!! :eek:


Bacon is distinguished in large part by how it is prepared, much less so by what piece of the animal it is. Pork belly isn’t bacon. But you can make it from pork belly. Or from a completely different cut. That’s why your analogy was bad.

Never seen or heard of bacon (in the U.S. sense of the word) being made from anything besides pork belly.

Then you haven’t even read the Wikipedia article on it.

Beef bacon (and lately, turkey bacon) are available in most grocery stores.

Beef bacon was very handy some years ago when preparing a meal for some observant Jewish houseguests.

Are you seriously claiming that you think I don’t know what an analogy is?

Analogies only work if there is actually a similarity between the cases.

The distinguishing factor separating bacon from pork is not that bacon is cut from the rest of the carcass. The distinguishing factor separating bacon from pork is precisely that bacon is cured in a particular fashion. Uncured pork belly is not bacon. (And no, not all bacon is made from the belly cut.)

In addition, the distinguishing factor separating cilantro from coriander (in forms of English that make that distinction) is not that cilantro is cut from coriander. Cilantro is not a specific cut taken from coriander. Cilantro is the whole plant, during the vegetative growth stage. Coriander is the seed, or the whole plant being grown for seed production.

Spirulina can chelate arsenic, but it would be pretty unusual to see it being consumed as a meal.

Another option might be therapeutic sweating. Heavy metals including mercury, cadmium, and lead can be excreted through sweat.

I searched on therapeutic sweating. Google auto-asked “Can you sweat toxins out of your body?” NY Times answers:

I sweat for effect, not for woo.

Here’s a link to a systematic review of heavy metals excreted through sweat: