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Your Favorite Green Juice Might Contain Unwanted Ingredients

Green juices have been having a moment for what seems like years. Many people have jumped on the green juice bandwagon, everyone from fitness buffs to health-conscious consumers to weight loss advocates. Most green juices include a combination of green leafy vegetables, grasses, cruciferous vegetables, and other healthy ingredients.

But here’s something that might color your opinion of green juice drinks: Some of the superfoods in these drinks (we’re looking at you, kale and broccoli) may be hiding  high levels of heavy metals, particularly thallium.

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What Exactly Is Thallium – And What You Should Know About It

Thallium is a soft, malleable heavy metal that’s colorless, tasteless, and water-soluble. Little wonder, then, that it was once a favored homicidal poison and commonly used as a rodent or ant killer. Fortunately, thallium has long been banned in the United States and many other countries due to accidental poisoning; however, small amounts of thallium are still used industrially for purposes such as manufacturing semiconductors, imitation jewelry, optical lenses, and green-colored fireworks.

Thallium can also be found naturally in the environment, although usually at low concentrations. But emissions from natural, or human, causes can lead to increased levels of the heavy metal in the environment, where it can eventually pose a major threat to terrestrial, aerial, and aquatic systems.

In particular, high concentrations of thallium in soil can result in uptake and storage by plants. As a result, thallium can then enter the food chain and accumulate in our bodies, causing severe health problems, and perhaps even death. High thallium concentrations have been found in drinking water and many green vegetables, some of which have been deemed “superfoods,” including Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard, turnip (greens and roots), green cabbage, broccoli, and collard greens.

On average, the human diet contains approximately 2 ppb thallium, most of which is secreted in urine and feces. But it’s important to note that juicing or eating massive amount of certain green superfoods day in and day out could contribute to thallium toxicity. All of which means you might want to cut back a bit on the green juice or smoothie you’re consuming daily.

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Thallium Poisoning Symptoms

Thallium toxicity is known to be even higher than lead, mercury, and cadmium. Because  thallium poisoning is rare and published data is limited, it’s often misdiagnosed until confirmed by urinary and blood tests. Victims of thallium poisoning are often unaware that they have consumed or been exposed to the heavy metal.

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Severe cases of thallium poisoning can cause death in five to seven days following exposure. The lethal dose of thallium in humans is reported to be 10 to 15 mg/kg, but deaths have been known to occur in adults with doses as low as 8 mg/kg.

Thallium is quickly and almost completely absorbed via several pathways, including ingestion, eyes, inhalation, and skin exposure. Upon absorption, thallium spreads widely to multiple organs in a distribution pattern similar to that of potassium ions, resulting in thallium deposition in all tissues, especially neuronal, heart, kidney, liver, and dermal tissues. The symptoms of thallium poisoning are highly variable, depending on the dose and route of exposure.

Thallium poisoning occurs in three stages: gastrointestinal, neurological, and alopecia.

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Gastrointestinal

Thallium and its salts are corrosive to the gastrointestinal mucosa; this phase of thallium poisoning may begin immediately after ingesting a large dose of thallium or 24 to 48 hours after smaller ingestions. Symptoms can last for 12 to 96 hours. In some cases of chronic thallium poisoning, patients may experience few or no gastrointestinal symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, followed by constipation
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Neurological

This phase of thallium poisoning is characterized by painful, rapidly ascending sensory neuropathy, and may be accompanied by motor neuropathy. The neurological phase may begin two to five days after ingestion, although it may occur sooner after a massive exposure.

Symptoms include:

  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Severe pain
  • Skeletal muscle cramps
  • Tremor
  • Ataxia (impaired coordination)
  • Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement in which the eyes move rapidly from side to side, causing reduced vision and depth perception)
  • Altered mental status
  • “Stocking-glove” numbness and tingling
  • Vision changes due to dysfunction of cranial nerves
  • Burning feet
  • Difficulty walking
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Short-term memory and cognitive deficits
Photo: Twenty20.com/evgeniapetzer

Alopecia

Alopecia, or hair loss, is a hallmark of thallium poisoning and can occur two to three weeks after other poisoning symptoms begin. Complete hair loss can occur within a month of exposure.

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Additional Thallium Poisoning Symptoms

In addition to gastrointestinal, neurological, and alopecia symptoms, thallium poisoning can cause the following conditions or symptoms:

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  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Respiratory depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Inflammation of the mouth, lips, and gums
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Dry and crusty scaling of skin
  • Pneumonitis
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
  • Pulmonary edema
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