252: Heavy Metals + Skin Rashes: What You Need To Know w/ Dr. Sonza Curtis, ND, PA-C, IFMP

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Do you feel like the words “heavy metals” are getting a lot of buzz lately? It seems like it's hot topic that you read about on social media where everybody's like, “Maybe I do have mercury poisoning? Maybe I have lead poisoning?” My guest today is going to give you the lowdown on how heavy metals and other toxins affect gut health and what you can do about it.

Today's guest, Dr. Sonza Curtis, ND, PA-C, IFMP, has a doctorate in Naturopathy for Healthcare Professionals and was certified through the Institute of Functional Medicine. She completed her undergraduate and master of Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. She has additional advanced training and specializes in Gut, Autoimmune, and Hormone health.

Dr. Sonza has always been committed to helping people get better naturally and has many techniques built into her practice designed to help patients get back to health better than before they came through her doors. Her ability to listen carefully to her patients, along with the mix of western medicine and naturopathy, make her a top Functional Medicine doctor in the Atlanta metro area.

Join us as we discuss everything surrounding heavy metals.

Have you ever done heavy metal testing or tried a heavy metal detox? What worked or what did you learn? Tell me about it in the comments!

Or, listen on your favorite app: iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Spotify | Stitcher | TuneIn | Subscribe on Android

In this episode:

  • What are heavy metals specifically and how do they differ from minerals like zinc, sodium, or potassium
  • What are the most common origins for heavy metal toxicity?
  • Why heavy metal toxicity is higher in women during menopause
  • Important things you should do before a heavy metal detox
  • What type of practitioner is best suited to deal with heavy metal issues
  • Heavy Metal myth busting


“We're full of metals, even as we're talking in the EMFs and different things of that nature, if a person is very sensitive sometimes they can't even take that… The two negatives repel. Sometimes even the conductivity in electronics can cause patients issues that can trigger, even intensify their heavy metals.” [7:30]

“If you're not pooping on a regular basis, guess what you're doing with that toxin? You're recirculating the toxins, and it's going to stay in there stronger. You have to make sure all the process of where you're detoxing is optimal before you start pushing things and trying to get it out.” [20:05]


Connect with Dr. Sonza Curtis online

Follow Dr. Sonza on Instagram | Facebook | LinkedIn

Healthy Skin Show ep.147: Could Breast Implant Illness Be Your Rash Trigger? w/ Dr. Anthony Youn

252: Heavy Metals + Skin Rashes: What You Need To Know w/ Dr. Sonza Curtis FULL TRANSCRIPT

Jennifer Fugo: Dr. Sonza, thank you so much for being here on the show. I'm super excited that you could do this first of all, and that we were able to figure out our crazy schedules to make this happen. It's just been such an honor to get to know you over the last year. I know that my guests and everybody who's listening to this episode are really going to appreciate what you have to share about heavy metals. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Curtis: Thank you for having me, Jen. Yes. It's been a joy getting to know you over the past year. Thank to the pandemic. I don't think we ever would've met had it not been for the pandemic.

Jennifer: That's very true. Good point. Let's kick this conversation off with what exactly are heavy metals? I feel like it's this hot topic that you read about on social media and then everybody's like, “Maybe I do have mercury poisoning. Maybe I have lead poisoning. I don't know.” What are heavy metals specifically and how do they differ from say minerals like zinc or sodium or potassium?

Dr. Curtis: Well, heavy metals, the most common ones are the mercury, the arsenic and the cadmium. Those are the most common ones. What they will do, they actually become irritant inflammant for the body. It can destroy tissue. Now, I'm going to tell my age here. I can remember my first exposure to mercury was those mercury thermometers.

Dr. Curtis: We would take the mercury out and play with them and not understanding that that mercury was getting into our system and it can stay in storage into the tissue and the bone for years. That's why when some women go through menopause, as the bone starts to break down, that's when the heavy metal also comes out as well.

Jennifer: Interesting.

Dr. Curtis: Then the minerals is what you need. You remember the-

Jennifer: Period.

Dr. Curtis: … periodic table.

Jennifer: Yeah. Periodic table.

Dr. Curtis: It's like, “Oh my God.” I was like, “Oh my God.” Some things are needed. Everything has its place, but when it becomes an overburden… And even lead in New York, they had a big thing because it was in the paint. Then the kids were having retardation and they were having skin issues and a plethora of things and it just kind of shows you that too much of anything… Some people want to take a whole bunch of supplements and a whole bunch of this, but too much of anything can be problematic. That can be endocrine disruptors. That's my-

Jennifer: With heavy metals, what are some common exposures that… I mean, you mentioned the paint and lead paint seems to be an issue, at least I know it is here in Pennsylvania. If you go to get windows changed, they ask if the paint is lead. I know in Maryland, there's a big thing about lead paint as well. I don't know about all states, but some states they make a big deal, we'll just say, about lead paint, but then we also have pipes, right? There could be-

Dr. Curtis: Lead pipes.

Jennifer: … exposure, and maybe through pesticides in the water table. I don't know. What are some common exposures that people might consider aside from mercury amalgams? I think that's the number one spot that people think about oftentimes. What are some other hotspots that might be… Like you said, playing with mercury? When I was a kid in the '80s, we still had those thermometers, but I never thought to open them. But a lot of people that I've spoken to have. They used to play with mercury. You are not alone in that experience.

Dr. Curtis: Well, they were so much fun. The bubbles open, and you can just play with it. Some of the other things is rice arsenic, that's in our food and arsenic in chicken. Also, mercury is very high where? In the ocean. The bigger the fish, the more the mercury. That's why I tell patients always sardines and herring, they haven't been infected as much with the mercury, but that's a big thing.

Dr. Curtis: For patients that eat a lot of tuna and sushi and those things, they have a higher degree of mercury than most people. You said it great with the lead was with the paint. Old houses. A lot of times people are renovating these old houses, but depending on what year the house was built, when they stop using lead paint, sometimes those lead paint and lead pipes are still there.

Dr. Curtis: Not even in the fillings, the mercury, you can have other cadmium where you actually… I mean, titanium where they're actually in plates. You can have it, like if you fracture your arm or fracture your leg and you have to put a plate there, sometimes people are allergic to those plates and they can cause issues as well. Nickel, also are in those artificial knees.

Dr. Curtis: I actually do a test prior to, for a patient going for surgery to see if they're sensitive to that and check their levels prior to, because you want to bring that down or let the surgeon know that they're allergic to that and they can't even take that. That can't have nickel in it because it's pretty profound.

Jennifer: Wow. I was actually asked by one client because she had a hip… I don't think it was a hip replacement, but she had a plate and I think screws put into her hip. She was asking me if it was possible that she could be sensitive and if there was a test for that. I was like, “Well, I don't really know because that's really outside of my scope of practice. I don't deal with metals and heavy metals in that regard.”

Jennifer: Is this an allergy test? What type of testing would this be for somebody who might be like, “Oh, I'm going to have a knee replacement, or I have to have my shoulder repaired and I know they're going to use screws and different things.” If someone wanted to do that, what type of testing would they be looking at?

Dr. Curtis: It is an IgG test and it's done overseas. I get the kit from the UK. It's the ELISA. It takes a while. You want to make sure if you're going to do this, you're going to do this way ahead of time, not two weeks before surgery. It's an IgE blood test and you send that off and they actually look to see the antibodies and where you measure if you're having a reaction to that through your blood.

Jennifer: Okay. This is just reactivity to particular metals, as opposed to say toxicity, correct?

Dr. Curtis: Yes. However, if you're reacting to that metal, that metal now has become toxic. Even dental implants, not even the mercury, the dental implants and what they make them out of. They make out of various different metals.

Jennifer: Wow.

Dr. Curtis: Yeah. It's pretty interesting. We're full of metals, even as we're talking in the EMFs and different things of that nature, if a person is very sensitive sometimes they can't even take that with metal because it has the negative attract… I mean, negative and positive. The two negatives repel. Sometimes even the conductivity in electronics can cause patients issues that can trigger, even intensify their heavy metals.

Jennifer: Would that be kind of like a red flag if somebody said they seem to be really sensitive to EMFs that maybe you should look under the surface for heavy metals?

Dr. Curtis: I would. Personally, as a provider, that's what I do. I'll look if they're coming and they're like, “Oh, I can't stand it.” Or the fluorescent light bulbs that are in my office right now. They're emanating that energy that can actually… I mean, because you think about it, you took a metal and a magnet and so it attracts there. Yes.

Jennifer: Can we go back for a second because I thought the thing you were talking about in regards to menopause… And to be fair, men also can have bone loss as well. It's not just ladies. I think one important thing that I oftentimes have to educate clients on is that heavy metals are sequestered. Can you talk a little bit… Yes. Everyone. We're getting to that question about the bones. What does it mean? Why does your body sequester heavy metals?

Dr. Curtis: Well, now, heavy metals and toxicity they kind of store in the tissue and the bone. They store in that adipose tissue in the fat. They like that lipophilic… It kind of protects them. The bone protects them. Your tissues protects them. That's where they kind of go. Also when you lose weight, also that, because you're losing that adipose tissue, you release those toxins into and they just dump them off into the liver.

Dr. Curtis: That's when it becomes very problematic there because they don't just hang out. They like to hide. You don't see that, and when the bones starts to break down the minerals in the bones, and then you have the toxicity, the toxicity of the metal also breaks down in there and you just release that into your bloodstream, through the fat, either through your system, through your fat, or your bloodstream.

Dr. Curtis: That's when it's very problematic. I know you work a lot on skin. With skin disorders, I see a lot of heavy metal. I always check for that. If I've tried everything in the world, then it's like always in the back of my mind, you know? A heavy metal-

Jennifer: Is it possible?

Dr. Curtis: Yeah. Toxicity.

Jennifer: Yeah. Is it possible? That's interesting. That is really-

Dr. Curtis: Because how does toxins get into your body? Our skin is our largest organ.

Jennifer: That is true.

Dr. Curtis: It's the skin, what we breathe, what we eat, or what we insert.

Jennifer: Oh, so what about IUDs, which are copper?

Dr. Curtis: IUDs, the copper IUDs. Sometimes they can be problematic. Yes. You have the copper, you don't have the zinc. Sometimes people are toxic and too much copper with the copper IUDs and they don't have zinc. You always want to measure your micronutrients testing with that to see where you're going. The other thing is breast implants. There's metals in breast implants that are hidden in some of the walls. I've had a lot of women with breast implant illness.

Dr. Curtis: Have a patient right now. She's due to go get hers out, I think in two weeks. That's another one that the silicone, but there are some hidden metals that are stored in there as well.

Jennifer: Okay. We've definitely talked about breast implant illness here on the show. I'll make sure to put a link to that in the show notes for everybody to go check that out. I know I've been asked a few times about more questions on that. I know that people will appreciate your comments on that. I guess one of my questions here is there's different tests.

Jennifer: I've seen blood tests for heavy metals versus urine challenges for heavy metals using a chelating agent, hair analysis. Do you have a preference or what is your feeling based off of… I mean, you actually are a professor as well in addition to having your practice. What do you find to be a better way, or is there a best way to identify if there is a heavy metal exposure?

Dr. Curtis: I prefer the urine because a lot of women, when you have hair, what do they have? They already have dye in their hair, or they have products in their hair that they kind of store. When you have that in there, it's like, is it the product? Is it the dye or is it really a true hair analysis? I like the urine.

Dr. Curtis: The urine though can be complicated if a person has kidney issues because that's post-hepatic, but I want to see post-hepatic, what are you dumping out? There's two train of thoughts. Now, we used to do DSMA and EDTA and these are just chelating agents that what we do we give you the first urine test with nothing, because I want to see where your body is with nothing. Then you actually take the chelating agent and then you measure the urine again.

Dr. Curtis: You want to make sure that the first part and then the second part, and you want to see the difference in that. Now, sometimes providers will look at, “Oh, it's not in the red and it's not toxic.” But I look at if it was low normal here and it's high normal here, that means that chelating agent was releasing something that was stored in your body, okay? Many a times I've seen it do the opposite where the initial test is in the red.

Dr. Curtis: Then you did the chelating agent and now it's in the normal, because what you've done with that chelating agent, you remove the toxin out with the chelating agent, because that's what we use. We use the same chelating agents to remove it as we do to challenge it. At first, when I did this, I was like, “This doesn't make any sense.” I call the company. I'm like, “I don't understand this.”

Dr. Curtis: But when they broke it down and they explained it to me, I'm like, “That makes so much sense.” You can use glutathione, it depends on which test that you're using. There are tests that you can use glutathione. Sometimes I'll have the patients do a deep tissue massage, because if it's stored in the tissue and the glutathione, I mean, or either the DSMA or EDTA, but you have to have a prescription for the DSMA.

Dr. Curtis: You take that usually a couple of hours, and you also want to measure your creatinine because you want to make sure that it's not concentrated, so it's diluted enough so it pass that kidney. Your kidney function has to be optimal as well. If the creatinine is too low or too high, then you know that there was something wrong with the test itself.

Jennifer: Now, may I ask? I've seen clients who said that they were told they have high heavy metal toxicity because they have blood tests run. From my master's program… Again, I don't work in this field. This is just what I read in the text. What we learned was that blood is showing an immediate exposure.

Dr. Curtis: Correct.

Jennifer: It's not the stores. What's your feelings then if the blood test shows an elevation of heavy metals?

Dr. Curtis: You are truly toxic. If it's in the blood, you are truly toxic because that's really what's going on right now. I had a case with a young man and he had moved in from New York where they had lead pipes and lead paint and his vitamin D was five.

Jennifer: Oh my gosh.

Dr. Curtis: His eczema was off the chart. He was just bleeding and he came up positive for lead. I was like, “What do I do with this?” I sent him to a pediatrician and they did it because again, when you're detoxing someone, you really have to be careful and make sure you're with a skilled practitioner because when you're detoxing that heavy metal, you're detoxing all your minerals. There goes your iron, there goes your magnesium, all that stuff is gone.

Dr. Curtis: Then so you have to remove, replenish, remove, replenish, remove, replenish. You have to check their specific gravity to make sure that their kidneys are functioning. You got to make sure to liver test so the liver is functioning, because the liver is just like an oil filter.

Dr. Curtis: If you're dumping all this crap in there and it's not working properly, then it can't go through that lipophilic detoxification process to get rid of it and it stays there and now you're recirculating more and it becomes more problematic. You really have to work with a skilled functional medicine practitioner. I won't even say everybody is… Because they have doctor behind their name does not mean that they understand the whole detoxification process.

Jennifer: Yeah. I personally feel that after I read more about this… And I had actually asked my dad who was an MD just about it made me concerned because they said you really have to check kidney function and whatnot. I was like, “This is outside of my scope of practice. I don't feel that this is something that is appropriate for a health coach, for a nutritionist, for an RD.”

Jennifer: This is really, you do have to work with either a naturopathic doctor who has experience with this or an MD or a DO, somebody who can really monitor, as you're saying, the different levels of the minerals and whatnot within the body and make sure that there's no damage that occurs when you're dredging these toxic minerals and whatnot out of the system, metals essentially.

Jennifer: That being said, and I really appreciate you bringing that up because it's something that I see has become trendy where everybody's like, “I have a heavy metal detox. Throw some cilantro into your shake and you're going to detox metals.” I'm like, “Really? Are you going to detox metals just with some cilantro?” I mean, this is a really serious process. It's not something to undertake lightly.

Jennifer: I guess my question to you is, if someone is listening to this, if you suspect or you find out that you have heavy metal toxicity of some sort, do you start with the metals? Or, do you personally, if you see that someone has other issues, like say they've got liver detoxification challenges or they have gut issues or any number of nutrient deficiencies, where do you start in terms of, do you start at the heavy metals or you deal with some of the other more foundational things first?

Dr. Curtis: I always start with the foundational and one is the key organs for detoxification. The liver, the gut, the kidneys, you got to make sure that's functioning. Imagine you have a sink and you have a pipe. Well, you keep putting water in that pipe. If that pipe is clogged, it's not going anywhere. You keep detoxing and you just keeps going until it becomes an overflow and it becomes problematic.

Dr. Curtis: The issue is to make sure the liver, the gallbladder, the intestines and the kidneys and that you're pooping. That's another, because if you're not pooping on a regular basis, guess what you're doing with that toxins? You're recirculating that toxins and it's going to stay in there stronger. You have to make sure all the process of where you're detoxing is optimal before you start pushing things and trying to get it out, you know?

Jennifer: Yeah.

Dr. Curtis: That's what I always tell patients. Sometimes if a person has a lot of skin issues, you got to correct the underlining before you start pushing that out. Another way people want to detox is saunas. Oh, sauna, it's going to come out. Sauna is great in its place, but you just can't push that out because you got to make sure, like I said, everything else is good there.

Jennifer: Yeah. I can imagine. I would think too, like, is there a place when you are detoxing from heavy metals for like binders and things or do you have to be careful with binders in terms of heavy metals? Are they just not appropriate at all?

Dr. Curtis: No. I use binders all the time because you want to bind because the poop may not get it all. You want to bind it in there. It will come out through that. A lot of times I'll use G-PUR, sometimes cholestyramine, people don't tolerate that very well. But the binders, soluble fibers, those are all good to use.

Dr. Curtis: You brought up a very good point, Jennifer, with the celery and the cilantro and all of that. Yeah, it might get rid of a little bit, but if your body's really burdened down with it, it's really not going to do too much. The way I always tell my patients or when I'm teaching, it's like our bodies are designed to heal itself. Right? If we get a little bit of stuff coming in, we can take it out.

Dr. Curtis: I mean, it's not that big of an issue, but the problem is like you're trying to hold this 365 barbell and you're like 120 pounds and you haven't been working out for a while then you're like, “Oh my God.” It becomes overloading and a burden to you. What we're doing with detox, you're trying to release that. You're taking the weights off. Now the weight is not 365 pounds.

Dr. Curtis: Now you're releasing it to 200 then into 100. It's tolerable so your body can do what it needs to do. I think that's where we get so in the weeds, even in natural medicine, our body has a capability of doing it. We just have to give it the proper tools.

Jennifer: Yeah. We definitely do. Like you said, food is important, but at a certain point it may be beyond what food can actually do. We want to get it back to that place where maybe adding the cilantro would be helpful. But if you're really swimming in toxicity, cilantro in your shake is not going to be all that helpful.

Dr. Curtis: It may keep things moving a little bit, flow better. But if you find out, “Oh, I took this heavy metal test and I'm so toxic. I'm going to drink these smoothies with seven-day detox and I'm going to be fine.” Because even if it is removing stuff in your kidney and all those things are problematic, then you can have the same issue.

Jennifer: Yeah. Those-

Dr. Curtis: It doesn't take much.

Jennifer: The metals on the way out, at least from my understanding, can also damage tissue, can damage cells in the process. That's why this is something where I like to say, “Hey, let's be really cautious here because while it sounds good, we want to be careful. We want to take a really mindful approach because while the journey ahead will be helpful overall, there are definitely some twists and turns and some potholes along the way that you need somebody who can really help you navigate down that path so that you don't come out sicker than you did when you started.”

Jennifer: I just want to thank you so much for being here today and sharing all of this. I also wanted to have you on the show because you do work with clients who have eczema and psoriasis and a lot of these skin issues and you're located… It's outside of Atlanta, correct?

Dr. Curtis: That is correct. North.

Jennifer: Yes. If you guys are looking for somebody to go see in person, Dr. Sonza has a great practice. It's Three D Wellness and threedwellness.com is her website. We'll put all of the links to everything in the show notes. She's also on Instagram. You should go follow her there because she's always sharing really great bits of wisdom that I loved. I learn from her all the time. So please, please, please connect with her.

Jennifer: I hope Dr. Sonza we can have you come back sometime and talk about some other topics. I'm just so glad that we were able to make this happen finally.

Dr. Curtis: Yes. Thank you for having me on your show. I learn from you. You put all kind of good tidbits and talking to you has been a breath of fresh air because everything is not about what we're being taught out there. It's really, we have to really just as practitioners in healing people, we have to really use the person and the science and common sense.

Dr. Curtis: Well, I'd say sometimes common sense isn't so common these days, especially when it comes to medicine. I just love your approach. I love your show and I know your listeners love you. I followed you on Clubhouse. That's how I first met you. Then we connected on Instagram. I thank you for having me and I appreciate it.

We're full of metals, even as we're talking in the EMFs and different things of that nature, if a person is very sensitive sometimes they can't even take that... The two negatives repel. Sometimes even the conductivity in electronics can cause patients issues that can trigger, even intensify their heavy metals.