A heavy metal detox is a supplementation routine designed to take heavy metals like lead and mercury out of your body.
While somewhat controversial, many people believe that a heavy metal detox is an avenue for better physical and mental health.
The negative health effects of high levels of heavy metals in your body are well-established; the only question is whether a particular heavy metal detox is going to substantially reduce levels of heavy metals in your body to an extent that will make a significant difference in your health.
We’ve taken a close look at the ten best heavy metal detoxes available on the market right now and ranked them according to their efficacy.
1. Chlorella Super Green + by Nuzena
Nuzena is a brand-new supplement company known for their potent and no-nonsense formulas.
While ranking the top heavy metal detox supplements, Nuzena leads the list.
Their Chlorella is also broken cell walled (absorbable for humans) too, so it looks as though this supplement does exactly what it claims to — “support heavy metal detox, fight inflammation, and provide antioxidant support”.
Easily a top 3 option and also one of the cheapest options on this list.
2. Nested Naturals Super Algae
Among the heavy metal detox supplements that use algae-derived compounds, Nested Natural Super Algae is the best.
It uses a blend of spirulina and chlorella, both of which are derived from organic sources for extra purity.
These two key ingredients are delivered in a cellulose capsule that contains 250 mg of each ingredient. Thanks to the dual detox action of the chlorella and spirulina, this supplement is our top choice.
3. Schizandu Hardwood Activated Charcoal Powder
Schizandu takes advantage of the natural detox powers in activated charcoal to pull heavy metals and other toxins out of your system.
The activated charcoal is finely powdered, so you can mix it into a drink or smoothie, or just swirl it up in a small amount of water and drink it.
It comes in a 32 oz tub, so it’s an excellent bulk buy and an excellent choice if you want to follow a high dose or a specialized detox program.
4. Potent Organics Chlorella
If you want a heavy metal detox that uses chlorella and is also certified organic, Potent Organics Chlorella is the way to go.
With 600 mg of chlorella per capsule, it delivers a strong and concentrated dose using a vegetable cellulose capsule.
For these reasons, it compares favorably to competitors that use pressed tablets that generally have a lower dosage and more binders and fillers.
5. Dr. Mercola Fermented Chlorella
One of the drawbacks of “green” detox sources like chlorella is that your body has a hard time absorbing the raw plant material.
To get around this, Dr. Mercola uses a fermented version of chlorella which allows bacteria to break down parts of the plant wall to improve bioavailability.
If you want a single-source plant-based heavy metal detox, Dr. Mercola Fermented Chlorella is a good call.
6. Now Chlorella
Now specializes in simple and straightforward supplements, and that’s exactly what you’ll get with this chlorella supplement.
At 1000 mg per capsule, it delivers a heavy dose of algae-derived compounds to chelate and remove heavy metals from your body.
It doesn’t have any fancy processing techniques or additives, but it is a reliable solution for algae-based heavy metal detox.
7. Worldwide Nutrition Liquid Zeolite
Worldwide Nutrition Liquid Zeolite uses zeolites to remove heavy metals from your body, which makes it stand out from many of the other heavy metal detox supplements.
Zeolites are naturally occurring mineral compounds that have a tremendous amount of surface area relative to their size, which lets them absorb many organic and inorganic toxins, including heavy metals.
Worldwide Nutrition Liquid Zeolite comes in liquid form, which might limit the amount of zeolites that can be delivered in a single serving, but its unique approach alone makes it worth a look. It’s super-pure and simple to boot.
8. Good Natured Chlorella Spirulina
Good Natured Chlorella Spirulina takes a high volume approach to their detox tablets. These 50/50 chlorella and spirulina supplements come in bags of 1250 tablets each, and instead of capsules, the plant material is compressed into a tablet.
This necessitates including some binders and fillers, and might not be the most natural way to deliver the plant materials, but many people still find it an effective heavy metal detox, perhaps due to Good Natured’s patented “cell cracking” method which releases more active compounds.
9. Zetox Zeolite Suspension
Zetox Zeolite Suspension uses micronized zeolites suspended in water to remove heavy metals from your body, but in addition to this it includes a massive dose of vitamin B12, ostensibly to increase your overall energy levels.
While the zeolite approach is innovative, not everyone will want a heavy B12 dose, so this product has, at best, a niche application.
10. Healing Foods Company Medicinal Clay
Healing Foods Company Medicinal Clay uses a blend of different “micromineral” clays to deliver a powder-based product that is designed to both detox your body and deliver inorganic minerals like iron, calcium, iodine, and magnesium.
Unlike many other detox products, this supplement actually delivers nutrients versus only taking them out of your body.
Still, the fact that this product has some metals, like iron and magnesium, makes it more susceptible to contamination or trace amounts of heavier metals.
Add to that the fact that the exact types of clay are not disclosed, and you’ve got several factors that will deter many, though not all, people.
Who should buy a heavy metal detox?
Heavy metal detoxes are controversial, not because the effects of heavy metals themselves are in dispute, but because of disagreements about the relevant concentration of heavy metals that will cause problems and whether a heavy metal detox routine is a good way to reduce heavy metal levels.
Heavy metal detoxes are popular among people who have vague and nonspecific health complaints like fatigue, weakness, and chronic pain, for whom standard treatments haven’t been effective. A typical heavy metal detox routine is fairly short (a few days or so), so as not to disturb the levels of other essential metals in your body, like zinc, copper, and iron, to name just a few.
If you’re out of options elsewhere and are looking for something else to try, a heavy metal detox might be worth a shot.
You should not buy a heavy metal detox if you have a medical condition which might be triggered by any changes in mineral levels in your diet, or if you take prescription medication and haven’t talked with your doctor first.
Some of the ingredients in commonly used heavy metal detoxes, like activated charcoal, can absorb prescription medications and affect the amount that gets absorbed into your body.
How we ranked
Unlike the situation with other supplements that have lots of high-quality studies supporting their use, there are very few direct investigations on using heavy metal detoxes to treat any specific health conditions.
Since we didn’t have a large pool of scientific research to pull from directly, we had to rely on more general principles of biochemistry to identify which supplements that purport to be heavy metal detox supplements actually offer the possibility of working.
We examined the ingredients used in a wide variety of detox supplements to see if they contained compounds known to bind with or chelate heavy metals.
Some of the leading candidates were supplements that used chlorella, spirulina, or activated charcoal. These compounds are known to bind with common types of toxic heavy metals, like mercury, cadmium, arsenic, and lead.
These compounds also fulfilled our second and equally important criteria: safety. While it’s hard to characterize the full safety profile of a supplement without a rigorous study, there are some options that can be ruled out as unsafe from the get-go.
This includes anything that uses risky herbal compounds that have been associated with side effects in other research, or compounds that have direct negative effects on your body, like heavy doses of diuretics. While eliminating these options doesn’t fully guarantee the safety of what’s left, it does help cut out some obvious products that don’t belong.
Next, we applied our usual criteria for purity and high quality supplement design. We looked for supplements that followed good manufacturing processes and used little or nothing in the way of unnecessary fillers, binders, or stabilizers.
We aggregated all of the remaining products and ranked them according to overall quality. These products made up our list of the highest quality heavy metal detox products on the market right now.
Heavy metal detox supplements are designed to remove compounds like lead, mercury, arsenic, and other heavy metals from your body. It’s well-known that the presence of heavy metals is bad for your health, especially in high amounts, but there’s controversy over whether how well heavy metal detox supplements can remove them.
The matter is only complicated even more by the fact that there are several different types of heavy metal detox supplements, each of which employ different mechanisms to capture and remove heavy metals from your body.
Heavy metals are associated with a wide range of negative health consequences. Heavy metals include lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic. These elements are found in trace amounts in everything from fish to potatoes to paints to cigarette smoke to industrial byproducts.
Heavy metals are toxic to just about any major function in your body; a report published in 2003 in the British Medical Bulletin outlines the various risks associated with heavy metal exposure (1).
These include cancer, bone damage, and kidney damage (all associated with cadmium exposure), cognitive impairment (lead and mercury), and skin disease (arsenic) to name just a few.
The negative health effects of heavy metals are so pervasive because they behave similarly to other metallic ions that are essential for your body’s normal function. Lead, for example, behaves very similar to calcium, and as a result, can interfere with bone development.
These well-established health hazards gave rise to the desire for ways to reduce the levels of heavy metals in your body.
Women can experience increases in heavy metal levels in middle age. As we just saw, some heavy metals, like lead, can mimic calcium. As a result, they get incorporated into your bones alongside normal calcium ions.
This happens because bone density starts decreasing during and after menopause, which releases these trapped heavy metal ions back into the body.
This was demonstrated in a study published in 1999 in the journal Environmental Research by a team of researchers from Sweden (2).
They analyzed a group of Swedish citizens of varying ages and found a surprising increase in blood lead levels around age 50-55. They concluded that this was the result of menopause-related reabsorption of bone material.
These findings suggest that women might be at an increased risk of the negative effects of toxic heavy metals as they get older, even if they aren’t exposed to them from the outside environment.
The main ingredients in heavy metal detox supplements are regularly used to remove heavy metals from water, soil, and other biological materials. With all of the risks associated with heavy metals, it should be no surprise that people want a way to remove them from their body.
This is where heavy metal detox supplements come in. Broadly speaking, there are four different kinds of compounds that you’ll find in a heavy metal detox supplement: activated charcoal, algae, clay, and zeolites (3, 4).
All of these are used in industrial, agricultural, and biological processes to trap heavy metals, and they all work in a similar manner. The material in the detox compound is a more “attractive” match for the chemical properties of heavy metal ions, so they stick to the detox compound more strongly than they stick to anything in your body.
If you consume these supplements orally, eventually your body will eliminate them like any other food waste—hopefully along with the heavy metals.
Compounds that trap heavy metals are known to help reduce heavy metal levels in the blood, but it’s unclear if a heavy metal detox can do the same. The theoretical justification of a heavy metal detox is sound, but they have not been directly tested.
Heavy metal detox is related to chelation therapy, which involves using heavy metal trapping compounds that get absorbed into the blood, trap heavy metals, and are then excreted in urine (5).
A heavy metal detox with something like chlorella or zeolites is different, because the compound doesn’t make it into your bloodstream. Whether a heavy metal detox supplement can achieve the same effect is not clear, and seems less likely.
Heavy metal detox supplements could, however, reduce the levels of compounds like lead, arsenic, and cadmium in your stomach, which is important because the primary source of these heavy metals (especially cadmium) is in the food that you eat.
Heavy metal detox compounds aren’t “specific” in their absorption capabilities. They tend to absorb heavy metals as well as large, complex organic compounds.
They are specifically used to remove organic contaminants in wastewater processing, but this same property could lead to some negative effects when used as a supplement, in certain circumstances.
On the organic side, a heavy metal detox could interfere with the absorption of prescription medication—indeed, massive doses of activated charcoal are used to treat prescription drug overdoses, because the detox compound absorbs the large organic compounds in prescription medication.
Indeed, one study from 2014 that was published in the American Journal of Cardiovascular Drugs was able to show that exposure to activated charcoal can inhibit the activity of a common anticoagulant medication (6).
The study used 18 volunteers all of whom took a cardiovascular drug, and also had activated charcoal at a range of time after ingesting the medication. The researchers were able to show a 28% inhibition of the drug even when the drug was taken six hours before taking the activated charcoal.
It’s important to note that the doses of activated charcoal used in heavy metal detox routines typically does not even come close to the amount used in medical settings, but with some medications, even a smaller decrease in activity could significantly impact the efficacy of the medicine.
This same principle may apply to other nonspecific detox agents, like zeolites, which can also be used to absorb pharmaceutical compounds.
Because direct studies in humans are lacking, dosing advice is hard to come by. The good news is that all effective heavy metal detox compounds have an extraordinarily good ability to absorb heavy metals.
When you combine this with the fact that heavy metals concentrations are low in absolute terms, even at harmful levels, it quickly becomes clear that even a very small dose (250-500 mg of chlorella or spirulina, or a teaspoon of activated charcoal) will be effective.
With regards to timing doses, keep in mind the restrictions pointed out earlier—avoid taking a heavy metal detox supplement close to a meal rich in zinc, iron, or other minerals if you are worried about deficiencies.
Q: What are some good foods for a heavy metal detox?
A: Natural food advocates encourage consuming algae-based foods, like chlorella and spirulina, alongside strong, green herb, like cilantro and coriander.
Powerful antioxidants like garlic and blueberries are also commonly used in heavy metal detox diets, though the efficacy of some of these later types of food is unclear when it comes to heavy metal detoxification.
The rationale for spirulina and chlorella is more clear: scientific research supports the claims that these compounds can bind with and reduce the toxicity of toxic heavy metals like mercury.
Research out of Japan in 2005 demonstrated that spirulina reduces the toxicity of mercury (at least in a mouse model) (7), and research published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology was able to show that chlorella compounds show a strong chelating ability against toxic metals like mercury (8).
While these studies are still a long ways from clinical research in humans, they still at least provide some theoretical justification for including algae-based foods in a heavy metal detox diet.
Cilantro, though, does have some solid evidence suggesting that it can chelate heavy metals, according to a 2013 review paper published in the Scientific World Journal that evaluated a wide range of potential natural treatments for heavy metal toxicity (9).
Coriander, of course, is from the same plant as cilantro, which explains its presence in detox recipes.
Q: What foods are high in heavy metals?
A: Foods typically pick up heavy metals through the soil. That means that the kinds of foods that are high in heavy metals tend to fit a pretty consistent set of criteria: they tend to be either 1) dense, concentrated sources of plant energy or 2) from animals or parts of animals that concentrate biologically active compounds.
When it comes to vegetables, the biggest culprits for the heavy metal cadmium, for example, tend to be cereals, nuts, potatoes and other root vegetables, and rice.
For animal products, the biggest culprits are fish, oysters and shellfish, and offal (internal organs of animals, like liver or kidney). Because of the high concentrations of heavy metals in vegetables as well as animal foods, this is one area where a vegetarian or vegan diet won’t help you.
If you want to cut down on heavy metals in your diet, rice, potatoes, and fish are the first place to start. Fish is a tricky one, though, because the right kinds of fish are also rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids thanks to their fish oil content.
You can either consume moderate amounts of fish, or take a fish oil supplement instead: these supplements go through a purification process to remove heavy metals from the oil.
Q: Can you take a heavy metal detox bath?
A: Heavy metal detox baths are popular among people involved in alternative medicine, though their efficacy is questionable.
These baths usually take the form of a solution of sea salt, essential oils, epsom salts, and/or some type of clay, like bentonite clay. Some of these compounds, like bentonite clay, have filtering or detoxifying properties when they come into direct contact with solutions containing heavy metals.
Others, like epsom salt, may be able to increase your body’s levels of magnesium. However, it’s hard to make a strong case that these bath ingredients can actually pull heavy metals out of your body in any appreciable amount.
Q: What are the negative effects of detoxing?
A: Most detox compounds, like spirulina, chlorella, and activated charcoal, are more or less harmless in their own right. Both spirulina and chlorella can be found in many different green superfood drinks, and activated charcoal is a popular ingredient in fancy cocktails, ice cream, and dessert garnishes.
The two issues you may run into with a detox routine are 1) potential interactions with prescription medication, and 2) negative effects from avoiding certain kinds of foods or drinks.
There are some concerns that detoxes that are based around activated charcoal could reduce the effectiveness of prescription medications that you take, even if you’ve taken them hours before a heavy metal detox supplement.
That’s because these sorts of “detox” compounds aren’t particularly specific: they can absorb all sorts of materials, like other metals (e.g. zinc or copper) and pharmacologically active compounds. Don’t do a detox routine without talking to your doctor if you take any prescription medications.
The other possible negative effect—from avoiding certain foods and drinks—mostly comes about when people go on crash detox diets or juice cleanses: by avoiding entire categories of food, you can sharply decrease your intake of critical vitamins and minerals, which could precipitate all sorts of negative health effects.
Q: How do you test for heavy metal toxicity?
A: In medical contexts, the clinically accepted tests for heavy metal toxicity involve blood and/or stool tests to measure the level of specific heavy metals in your body.
The most commonly tested-for compounds are lead, mercury, cadmium, and arsenic, though there are a few other less-common but still toxic heavy metal compounds that can get in your body.
Often, doctors may also conduct an environmental investigation if they suspect you have heavy metal toxicity: this isn’t a biomarker test, but a series of questions to determine whether there are any likely sources of heavy metal contamination in your life.
For example, people who live in old houses with lead paint, or who work in factories that deal with certain kinds of chemicals are at a much greater risk for heavy metal toxicity. Some alternative medicine practitioners conduct “provoked” tests for heavy metals, which involve exposing the body to a chelating agent before taking a heavy metal levels test.
These provoked tests are controversial, because standard reference ranges for safe heavy metal concentrations no longer apply—the chelating agent increases the concentration of heavy metals in the blood, some argue to an artificial extent.
Q: What kind of juice can you use for a heavy metal detox?
A: The most popular kinds of juices to use for a heavy metal detox all involve some type of algae product at a minimum: chlorella and spirulina are both potent agents for binding with heavy metals like mercury.
Other green leafy vegetables like kale and cilantro are also popular for heavy metal detox juices, as are general-purpose antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents like ginger or garlic.
While the specificity of these latter ingredients for treating heavy metal toxicity is more questionable, they are known to be good antioxidants, so there’s not much to lose by including them in a green drink or smoothie.
Q: Is cilantro good for a heavy metal detox?
A: Just in the last few years, cilantro (yes, the culinary herb) has become extremely popular in recent years, thanks in part to a highly-cited article published by Margaret E. Sears at Children’s Hospital of Easter Ontario Research Institute that reviewed a variety of supplemental strategies for chelating (binding and removing) heavy metals from the body (X).
It cites several papers on using cilantro as a chelating agent to remove lead and mercury from the body. While not all research was positive, this paper and others like it promoted the idea that cilantro was a particularly effective natural agent to remove toxic heavy metals from your body.
Coriander (being a different part of the same plant) also began to become popular for removing heavy metals because it contains many of the same potentially biologically active compounds.
Beyond their potential for heavy metal detoxification, both coriander and cilantro are healthy sources of several vitamins and minerals, and are routinely used in large amounts in cooking, so you know they’re solid on the safety front.
- Detox tea
- Colon cleanse
- Diatomaceous earth
- Green drink
- Juice cleanse
- Milk thistle extract
The negative short-term and long-term health effects of heavy metals are clear: damage to vital organs, increased risk of cancer, cognitive functioning problems, and bone damage are just a few of the possible consequences of high levels of heavy metals in your body.
What’s less clear is whether a heavy metal detox supplement can help in a significant way. While they haven’t been directly tested in randomized controlled trials, the theoretical grounds are fairly firm.
Detox compounds like activated charcoal and chlorella algae have been successfully used to pull heavy metals out of waste water, so they stand a chance of working in the body, too.
The real question is whether reducing levels of heavy metals in the stomach, where the supplements go, will have an effect on heavy metal levels in the rest of the body.
While there’s more research to be done, heavy metal detox supplements show some promise of being used to reduce heavy metal levels.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 heavy metal detox recommendation, click here.