MCLEAN, VIRGINIA – (April 21, 2011) – As the world celebrates Earth Day, environmental problems will be widely discussed. What many people are just beginning to realize is that some of these issues, like the increasing amounts of such heavy metals as mercury and lead in our environment, can have a direct and negative impact on human health.

“We are poisoning our air, food, and water with toxins that are impacting our health,” says Dr. Gary Kaplan, founder of The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine ( “Increasingly we see patients who are suffering serious health issues as a consequence of toxins we have released into our environment. It is essential to educate yourself about these dangers, so you can more readily identify and avoid risks and address problems when they do occur.”

Here are a few of the environmental toxins people need to be aware of because of the risk they pose to human health:

  • Mercury. While mercury occurs naturally in our environment, it is also a pollutant by-product of modern industrial life. The largest percentage of the mercury in our environment comes from coal-burning industries. The pollution goes up into the air and can travel distantly, but eventually it comes back to earth, polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. Once it has polluted the water, it makes its way into our food supply through many of the types of fish we eat. Consequently, when people consume fish, they risk taking in mercury. There also are other ways that mercury can enter the body, including absorbing it through dental fillings, consuming high fructose corn syrup and by using some skin-lightening cosmetics. Mercury can cause a host of medical problems, including neurological abnormalities in fetuses,and depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances and hair loss in adults.
  • Lead. If lead is inhaled or consumed, it can have a highly negative impact on human health. Although lead-based paint was banned in 1990, it is still found in old buildings, as well as in soil and dust, the water we drink, leaded gasoline and some imported, Ayurvedic medicines. Symptoms of lead toxicity can include high blood pressure, diffuse muscle weakness, memory loss, fatigue, loss of libido, depression, mental fog and muscle pain.
  • Mold toxicity. Black mold can occur in houses and commercial properties that have suffered water damage. Some people are genetically susceptible to the mold; in these people, it causes an inflammatory reaction in their bodies that can mimic many diseases, including chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, depression, weight gain and multiple sclerosis.

“If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk with your doctor,” explains Kaplan. “Of course, along with addressing symptoms on an individual basis, we all have a responsibility to work on a community and national level to eliminate these poisons from our environment. In the meantime, we can lower the risks of toxicity by educating ourselves about identifying, avoiding and seeking treatment for environmental toxins, such as heavy metals and black mold.”

Kaplan is board-certified in family medicine, pain medicine and medical acupuncture. He founded The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Virginia, more than 25 years ago. His team of physicians, physical therapists and other health-care providers combine the best of conventional medicine with the best alternative practices to address chronic pain and illness and to help individuals attain optimal health for life. A leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, Kaplan also is clinical associate professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine and has served as a consultant at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). To learn more about The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine, visit