I'm not sure all heavy metals are toxic, but most are.

Some may be present as insoluble compounds, or otherwhise hard to get into an organism, but that's a side aspect. For example, I would count copper as toxic, even if some salts are triggering to vomit just too quickly to swallow poisonous doses.

So, in this sense, are they all toxic?
Is the toxicity based on the same mechanism?


1 Answer 1


Heavy metal toxicity is actually due to the inhibition of the body's natural enzymes as well as the denaturing of proteins that it causes.

Here, Tchounwou et. al go into detail about the mechanics of different heavy metals and how they interact with the human body specifically. It even suggests ways that the heavy metals could be introduced.

A short summary on the damage caused by what was studied:

  • Arsenic inhibits DNA repair.
  • Cadmium toxicity isn't well known, but they think it causes single strand DNA damage.
  • Chromium causes chromosomal abnormalities thought to be caused by oxidative damage.
  • Lead prevents the body from interacting with Calcium which is a key element in many biological processes. It also competes with other metals for the active sites in different enzymes.
  • Mercury depletes the body's antioxidants.

So to answer your question, no, the heavy metals are not all working on the same mechanism. It all depends on what dose, how it was introduced, and the particular metal. Also, anything can be toxic in the right amount (people have died from water toxicity in drinking contests).

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Water is not toxic. Excess water causes hypervolemia. $\endgroup$
    Jun 2, 2015 at 9:13
  • $\begingroup$ Fatal water intoxication is what I learned it was called in school. $\endgroup$
    – SolarLunix
    Jun 2, 2015 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah.. Actually it is not an intoxication by water, you see. Excess water just dilutes up the electrolytes. Water is not inherently toxic. $\endgroup$
    Jun 2, 2015 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ Huh, wow I didn't know that, thanks @WYSIWYG I never actually looked into the mechanics of it. $\endgroup$
    – SolarLunix
    Jun 2, 2015 at 17:02

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