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Metallothionein (MT) and Heavy Metal Detoxification

Metallothioneins are proteins whose purpose are to metabolise and regulate metals. There are at least ten known closely related metallothionein proteins expressed in the human body. In humans, large quantities are synthesized primarily in the liver and kidneys, however they have been found at a number of other sites as well. Its production is dependent on availability of the dietary minerals zinc and selenium, and the amino acids histidine and cysteine.

In a 2001 presentation to the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. William J. Walsh of the Pfeiffer Treatment Center suggested a potential link between metallotionein disorders and autism. Walsh concluded

"The absence of Cu and Zn homeostasis and severe Zn deficiency are suggestive of a metallothionein (MT) disorder. MT functions include neuronal development, detoxification of heavy metals, and immune response. Many classic symptoms of autism may be explained by a MT defect in infancy including G.I. tract problems, heightened sensitivity to toxic metals, and abnormal behaviors. These data suggest that an inborn error of MT functioning may be a fundamental cause of autism."

Mammals possess genes for four subfamilies of metallothionein, the ubiquitous MT-1 and MT-2, the brain specific MT-3 and the squamous epithelium specific MT-4.

MT kills Candida, and helps regulate bacterial levels in the mucosa.

A genetic metallothionein weakness is consistent with:

  1. Casein/gluten intolerance,

  2. Presence of dense, undeveloped brain cells evident in autopsy studies,

  3. Hypersensitivity to mercury & other toxic metals,

  4. High autism incidence after thalidomide,

  5. Hypersensitivity to vaccines,

  6. Poor immune function,

  7. Low stomach acid,

  8. Higher incidence in males,

  9. Taste/texture sensitivities,

  10. Tendency for yeast overgrowth,

  11. Leaky gut,

  12. Behaviour problems

Measurements of MT-levels, as well as zinc, have been used to indicate zinc deficiency. MT increases rapidly after zinc supplementation and decreases if the diet is deficient in zinc. The zinc from plasma proteins begins to be used up when the body stores are depleted. When plasma zinc levels are below 33 mcg/dL, skin-rash, abdominal pain, diarrhea, loss of appetite and a reduced sense of taste and smell can occur.

The Pfeiffer Treatment Center has developed a nutrient therapy to promote metallothionein in the gastrointestinal tract, brain and elsewhere. Aggressive zinc loading must precede any attempt to promote MT for best results. Each molecule of MT requires 7 atoms of zinc to function properly. Premature synthesis of MT at the intestinal mucosa can temporarily prevent zinc transport into the blood, which can result in severe irritability.

The Pfeiffer MT Promotion protocol is a 2 stage process:

  1. Preloading zinc and co-factors (Primer)

  2. Metallothionein promoting nutrients (Promoter)

More than 85% of the 41 families that achieved compliance (metallothionein promotion) report impressive gains in cognition, speech, and socialization. More than 20% report irritability and sleep problems, usually coincident with improved cognition or speech. Only 10% of compliant families report zero progress. 

For advice or to book a consultation call (03) 8802 7687 or email me. 




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Last modified: 07/24/12

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