Awareness of our daily heavy metal exposure and common heavy metal burden continues to grow. Multiple studies typically reveal that all persons tested have burdens of mercury, cadmium and lead in their body tissues. These compounds are associated with serious health complaints including immune dysregulation, elevated blood pressure, neurologic deficits, endocrine disruption and cancers, to name just a few. As a result the supplement industry is looking for ways to help the consumer deal with this toxic metal burden. Safe and effective mobilization of heavy metals from the human body can be accomplished by using one or more of the following: 2,3-dimethylsuccinic acid (DMSA), Dimercapto-Propane-Sulfonic Acid (DMPS), and Ca,Na2-EDTA. Each of these compounds have been extensively studied with multiple publications in the medical and scientific literature attesting to their safety and efficacy. However, many other products are currently being promoted as safe and effective heavy metal ‘chelators’ for humans including sodium alginate, fulvic/humic acids, cilantro, and chlorella (including proprietary forms of those green products).
Fulvic acid, one of the humic acids or humic substances, is a component of peat moss and is found in water supplies where peat moss is present. A review of articles on ‘fulvic acid’ or ‘humic acid’ in Pubmed failed to turn up any studies of animals or humans showing that fulvic was able to in any way reduce an existing heavy metal burden. There were however, two articles indicating that it may be beneficial in reducing the amount of cadmium absorbed into the body or stored in the kidneys. When mice were given water containing cadmium with differing amounts of humic acids no difference in intestinal absorption of cadmium was found, but there was less cadmium found in the mouse kidneys. It is not clear what tissue ended up with the cadmium that was not deposited in the kidneys, so the health implications of this study are unclear. Slightly different results were found in a human study.
Eighteen men with an average of 8 years of industrial cadmium exposure were given a multimineral product (potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese, copper, vanadium cobalt, molybdenum and selenium) with a base of humic acid. After six weeks those taking the humic-based mineral supplement showed lower blood cadmium levels and a reduction of elevated alanine-aminotransferase. The authors concluded that this mineral/humic complex reduced the absorption of cadmium in these occupationally exposed men. It did not however, demonstrate any ability to mobilize or reduce body stores of cadmium in these seriously toxic men and it is far from clear as to what effect the ‘base of humic-acid’ had on these subjects.
These are the two studies that are used as a ‘scientific basis’ for promoting the use of fulvic acid as an agent to reduce the toxic metal load in humans. This makes one wonder how an agent that may help to reduce the absorption of cadmium in humans somehow magically gains the ability to mobilize or chelate all heavy metals from their binding sites inside human tissues. In addition to this puzzling lack of proven, or even implied, effectiveness one must also ask about its safety in humans? As it turns out, fulvic acid appears not only to be ineffective for heavy metal mobilization in humans, but potentially dangerous as well. It is causally implicated in cartilage and red blood cell destruction and in thyroid dysfunction (including goiter formation).
Kashin-Beck disease is a chronic degenerative osteoarticular disease that occurs when the drinking water supply contains fulvic acid, and is especially active when a deficiency of selenium is also present. In experimental models fulvic acid has been shown to accumulate in the bone and cartilage leading to increased oxidative damage. Degeneration of the articular cartilage of the knee is a result of the combination of fulvic acid in the water and an inability to quench the free radicals due to a selenium deficiency. Fortunately, such destruction can be stopped with adequate selenium. The presence of humic acids in groundwater has also been implicated in an increased incidence of goiter. Further study with animals indicated that humic acid in the water enhances the effect of a low-iodine diet rather than being goitrogenic in and of itself. This is probably due to the ability of humic acid to bind certain metals that are present with it in water. This aquatic toxic-metal binding ability has also been evidenced with arsenic, the most commonly found heavy metal in groundwater around the globe. This humic acid-arsenic combination has been shown to be highly effective at causing enhanced oxidative damage to red blood cells resulting in decreased plasmin levels and cell lysis. Since arsenic is ubiquitous in groundwater in the United States and across the world, the idea of taking a fulvic acid supplement with our current water supply is something that every health-provider should be strongly counseling against.
In summary, fulvic/humic acids appear to be able to make complexes with certain toxic metals (cadmium and arsenic) and other minerals (iodine). These complexes may reduce the uptake of cadmium in humans, but not in mice, and certainly appear to block the uptake of iodine. Fulvic acid is itself a pro-oxidant and when complexed with arsenic has an even greater pro-oxidant action. Its pro-oxidant actions have been implicated in the genesis of articular cartilage destruction and red blood cell destruction.
With all of that information readily available from a fairly quick and easy PubMed search, one must wonder why any supplement company is selling fulvic acid at all, and especially why it is advertised as a treatment for heavy metal burden.
 Lind Y, Glynn AW. The influence of humic substances on the absorption and distribution of cadmium in mice. Pharmacol Toxicol. 1999 Jun;84(6):267-73
 Hudak A, Naray M, Nagy I, Molnar M, Gomory I, Ungvary G.The favorable effect of humic acid based complex micro-element preparations in cadmium exposure. Orv Hetil. 1997 Jun 1;138(22):1411-6.
 Peng A, Wang WH, Wang CX, Wang ZJ, Rui HF, Wang WZ, Yang ZW. The role of humic substances in drinking water in Kashin-Beck disease in China. Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Apr;107(4):293-6.
 Yang C, Wolf E, Roser K, Delling G, Muller PK. Selenium deficiency and fulvic acid supplementation induces fibrosis of cartilage and disturbs subchondral ossification in knee joints of mice: an animal model study of Kashin-Beck disease. Virchows Arch A Pathol Anat Histopathol. 1993;423(6):483-91.
 Laurberg P, Andersen S, Pedersen IB, Ovesen L, Knudsen N. Humic substances in drinking water and the epidemiology of thyroid disease. Biofactors. 2003;19(3-4):145-53.
 Huang TS, Lu FJ, Tsai CW, Chopra IJ. Effect of humic acids on thyroidal function. J Endocrinol Invest. 1994 Nov;17(10):787-91.
 Hseu YC, Chang WC, Yang HL. Inhibition of human plasmin activity using humic acids with arsenic. Sci Total Environ. 2001 Jun 12;273(1-3):93-9.
 Hseu YC, Yang HL. The effects of humic acid-arsenate complexes on human red blood cells. Environ Res. 2002 Jun;89(2):131-7.
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