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From the Townsend Letter
January 2016

The Re-emergence of Thallium as a Heavy Metal Contaminant of Human Populations
Michael Rosenbaum, MD, and Ernest Hubbard
Based on an interview with Nancy Faass, MSW, MPH
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Testing and Clinical Interventions
Clinical Screening
I encourage anyone who is working with patients to put this right on the front of their radar, because there are a great many symptoms being ascribed to other causes that, in fact, may correlate with exposure to thallium or other toxic metals. You will want to put testing in place so that it is available, and it is as affordable as possible. We use a simple questionnaire to determine if patients are a candidate for heavy metal toxicity testing.

Talking Points in Screening Patients

  • Are you experiencing symptoms for which there are no other logical explanations?
  • Are you exhibiting symptoms of heavy metal toxicity?
  • Have you experienced a possible exposure; for example, do you live near a power plant or a refinery?
  • What are your 10 most frequently consumed foods?
  • Have you had a toxic heavy metals test in the last 2 or 3 years?

Differential Diagnosis
EH: Metals, including thallium, are important to rule out because of the ubiquitous toxic effects that occur across every major system in the body, including the brain and nervous system. If you have patients with any of the following symptoms, heavy metals testing will be absolutely essential to a good differential diagnosis.

MR: To date, the gold standard in laboratory evaluation is a 24-hour urine collection, with provocation. The provocation agents (EDTA and DMSA) that work well for lead, mercury, and cadmium do not work for thallium. Although, provocation does not appear to be necessary, our testing found that the zeolite supplement ORËÁ appears to increase thallium excretion. The normal range is considered to be below 5 mcg/liter/24 hr, although different reference ranges are sometimes seen. Of all the integrative labs, I think Doctor's Data is best suited to this test. However, even Quest and LabCorp can perform it and may send the sample to a reference lab.

Hair analysis is used less frequently because the quantitative relationship between exposures, internal levels, and relative concentrations has not been clearly established. "Among poisoning victims, hair concentrations range from 48 ppb to 35,000 ppb with most between 150 and 1500 ppb…With regard to timing, elevated thallium concentrations have been found in hair as early as 2–3 weeks after ingestion in poisonings and as late as 13 months after the cessation of…occupational exposures."8

MR: The most effective approach to removing thallium from the body is utilizing a substance called "Prussian blue."9 Prussian blue contains a potassium ion that is replaceable. Thallium displaces the potassium from the Prussian blue, and it occupies the Prussian blue instead. That is how the body gets rid of it.10 For some reason, the same treatments that typically are used for lead and mercury may not work for thallium. For instance, I often use DMSA to treat mercury poisoning. I use it for lead poisoning. It does not work for thallium. In fact, if you look at the literature, they say that aside from Prussian blue we do not know of much of anything else that really does work. Activated charcoal also helps, and now we know that ORËÁ, a form of zeolite, is helpful. There is also evidence that chlorella binds thallium. It is harder for a clinician to detoxify thallium than it is to detoxify any other heavy metal known.
Prussian blue is a crystal blue lattice of potassium ferric ferrocyanide that exchanges potassium ions from its lattice with thallium ions in the gut lumen, interrupting enterohepatic recirculation. The Prussian blue releases a negligible amount of cyanide (< 1.6 mg), the minimal lethal dose of cyanide in humans is indicated to be approximately 50 mg.11

Thallium in the Food Chain: Connecting the Dots
EH: On July 3rd of 2014 in an otherwise random internet search on what might be the source of the thallium, I stumbled across a Czechoslovakian paper from 2006: "Uptake of Thallium from Artificially Contaminated Soils by Kale."12 In our attempts to identify the source of the thallium we had ruled out cement manufacturing in Marin County, petroleum distillation, coal-powered plants, and fire-generated electrical plants.

MR: In this Czechoslovakian article they stated directly in the abstract, "It can be concluded that the ability of some plants of the brassica family that are planted as common vegetables to accumulate thallium is very high and can be a serious danger for food chains."13

NF: This seems hugely important because currently the green drink du jour is that kale-based green drink…

MR: Kale has become the icon of the green movement.

EH: I had studied enough and talked to Michael enough about the symptom progression and the symptom profile to know that there was a high correlation between the clinical presentation of some of the study participants and high levels of thallium. When the dots got connected to the possibility that it was coming from kale consumption, I emailed everyone in the study with a blinded survey.

Correlating Exposure and Symptoms
EH: When we surveyed participants, we simply asked them to list their top ten favorite vegetables, whether they were organic or not, and approximately how much they ate. People with very low levels of thallium did not eat a lot of crucifers, if any, and people with very high urine thallium were eating kale, cabbage, and broccoli three to ten times a week. There was a fairly strong correlation. So I immediately sat down with Michael, and we began designing the next phase of the study. Within a month Michael and I knew we were onto something.
When we realized that there was a strong correlation between high thallium in the urine, high kale consumption, and thallium-like symptoms, the very first thing that we did was discuss with each of the people who were exhibiting high thallium and eating a lot of crucifers whether or not they would be willing to change their diet, and they were. They also continued taking ORËÁ. We noticed within 60 to 90 days a substantial decline, especially in the case of three people who had all showed significant symptoms and thallium in their urine.

Pilot Study 3
EH: Based on this information, we designed our third pilot study, submitting 121 samples of various foods for testing by two different laboratories for the presence of thallium and other metals.14 This led to the identification of thallium in the present-day food chain, in approximately 20% of samples, and notably in cruciferous vegetables such as kale.

EH: Over the course of the past year, we personally reached out to the local organic community, to growers, and retailers. However, in terms of interviews and publishing, we sat on this data for a year, because we wanted to be sure that this information was going to get out to the public in a productive and conscientious way. On July 7, 2015 an article entitled The Vegetable Detective was published on a blog that serves about 150,000 readers (see Since then, the issue has been featured on, Huffington Post, at least 10 other blogs, and on the Dr. Oz show (in a segment aired on 10/09/15).
As an interesting update, once our research went public I started receiving calls from people all over the world who had high thallium, from as far away as Tel Aviv and Ireland. I have been Skyping with them and they are showing me their Doctor's Data thallium reports, saying: "Everybody I've been to has put me on a super food-juice diet." I have suggested that they stop their exposure, and I've gotten emails from them indicating that they are actually starting to feel better.

EH: In these pilot projects, we were able to demonstrate on a small scale that both thallium in the urine and symptoms started to abate with a reduction in the intake of cruciferous veggies. This is an important finding, because if patients continue to replenish the source of the thallium every day with kale green drinks or stir-fried vegetables, even the best chelation of thallium is going to be hampered by a continual replenishment.
A second article will be published in a forthcoming issue of Townsend Letter with additional (and surprising) information on potential sources of thallium in the food chain, including organic baby food, and updates on (equally surprising) responses from the organic food industry.

Common Sources of Thallium

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, sources of thallium pollution include gaseous emission of cement factories, coal-burning power plants, and metal sewers. Thallium has also been associated with petroleum distillation. The US Geological Survey estimates that the annual worldwide production of thallium is approximately 10 metric tons as a by-product of the smelting of copper, zinc, and lead ores. The primary source of elevated thallium concentrations in water is the leaching of thallium from ore-processing operations.

Approximately 60–70% of thallium production is utilized in the electronics industry in superconducting materials, and the remainder in the pharmaceutical industry and optics manufacturing. Thallium is also used in infrared detectors, photo-resistors, and gamma radiation detection equipment. Commercially, thallium was the active ingredient in rat poisons, insecticides, and in marine paint to deter the growth of barnacles on boats.

In medicine, trace amounts of thallium serve as a contrast agent in the visualization of cardiac function and tumors. Thallium is also used in stress testing for risk stratification in patients with coronary artery disease. The amount of thallium utilized is a minute fraction of the toxic doses we have discussed and should pose no health problems.

Ruling Out Thallium Toxicity

Thallium toxicity can cause symptoms also associated with a number of other disorders:

  • Neurological symptoms including ataxia, tremors, seizure activity (petit mal and grand mal), arrythmia, neuropathies, neuritis, autism
  • Neurological disorders: cognitive disruption, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other dementias
  • Conditions involving demyelination, which is the hallmark of certain neurodegenerative diseases that include multiple sclerosis and Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Liver toxicity, renal dysfunction or failure
  • Energy-related conditions such as fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome (CFIDS)
  • Alopecia
  • Idiopathic disorders

Chemical Analysis of ORËÁ™

ORËÁ™ is a colorless, odorless liquid containing nanoparticles solubilized from clinoptilolite, a naturally occurring zeolite, utilizing a unique proprietary process. Clinoptilolite is federally classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe). Chemically, it is characterized as a "calcium-sodium-potassium aluminosilicate." Chemical analysis of the initial clinoptilolite material from which ORËÁ™ is produced, performed by a third-party analytical chemical company, shows the following composition: potassium 2.85%, sodium 1.15%, calcium 1.77%, magnesium 0.33%, aluminum 12.22%, silicon 66.73%. As a soluble nanoparticle, ORËÁ™ can be absorbed by the body through the digestive process and carried to the cells through the circulation. The testing of numerous individuals who have used ORËÁ™ confirms that it removes aluminum and other heavy metals from the body.7

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