Modern-day medicine and technology have revolutionized our ability to “look within” – allowing us to quite literally get a glimpse of what’s going on inside of our bodies. And while these technological advances have drastically improved our ability to detect, diagnose, and treat countless conditions, these tools can also have a dark side.
In some cases, these procedures designed to support and enhance our well-being can have the opposite effect and even damage our health. One such tool, in particular, is the use of a highly-useful and highly-toxic compound known as gadolinium.
Today we’re going to explore exactly what gadolinium is, why it’s so valuable when it comes to diagnostic tests, it's potentially toxic side effects, how to detox if you’ve been exposed, and most importantly – the best way to approach the complicated question of whether this complex compound is more helpful or more harmful.
What Is Gadolinium and What Is Gadolinium Used for?
Gadolinium is a rare silvery-white earth metal that is most often used in medications known as gadolinium-based contrast agents or GBCAs. These GBCAs are used during specific diagnostic or imaging procedures known as magnetic resonance imaging or MRI. MRI is an important diagnostic tool used to examine internal organs and tissues.
Gadolinium-based contrast agents are utilized in MRIs in a process that goes like this:1,2
- MRI scanners are large tube-like, magnetic machines that create a pulsating electric current that is passed through coiled wires – creating a temporary magnetic field in your body
- This magnetic field temporarily realigns and reorganizes the subatomic particles known as protons contained within your body
- As this magnetic field pulsates, these realigned protons emit faint signals as they return back to their normal state of alignment
- These faint signals are transmitted to sensors within the MRI
- From there, these transmitted signals are translated into a digital image of your body – allowing for the creation of both 3D and cross-sectional images of tissues within your body
- Sometimes, gadolinium-based contrast agents will be used to further enhance these digital images
- GBCAs are able to enhance MRI images by altering the speed at which protons move as they are realigned with the pulsating electromagnetic field – with more rapid proton movement creating a brighter, clearer picture of certain tissues
So if these GBCAs alter how the protons in your body function, it begs the question – is gadolinium toxic?
Is Gadolinium Toxic to the Body?
The answer to this question is – it’s complicated. The heavy metal gadolinium in and of itself is quite toxic to the human body. But gadolinium used in gadolinium-based contrast agents is much much safer thanks to a process known as chelation – a process in which pure gadolinium is bound to other less-toxic molecules.
The chelation process can produce two different and distinct forms of GBCAs based on their chemical structure, which are:
- Linear: An elongated, flexible “chain” of molecules bound together
- Macrocyclic: A ring of molecules bound together that essentially creates a “cage” around the gadolinium molecule
While chelation certainly makes the administration of gadolinium significantly safer, that doesn’t mean that GBCAs don’t come with their own set of inherent risks. In some cases, gadolinium within GBCAs can trigger acute allergic reactions.3 But research is finding that gadolinium may have some much less obvious impacts on your health – with this toxic metal sometimes causing a condition known as gadolinium deposition disease.
Gadolinium Deposition Disease: What Is It?
Gadolinium deposition disease is also sometimes referred to as gadolinium storage condition or gadolinium retention. As these names imply, this condition is characterized by the retention and storage of gadolinium deposits within your body. You see, it was previously believed that the gadolinium administered in GBCAs remained in a chelated state and was quickly excreted by the body.
But research is unveiling a much different story – with new studies finding that, in some cases, traces of gadolinium can remain in the bone, brain, and other organs long after the initial introduction of GBCAs.4 In particular, research is finding that GBCAs with a linear structure are not nearly as stable or as well excreted as previously thought.
So what exactly happens when you retain gadolinium and what are the symptoms of gadolinium deposition disease?
What Are the Symptoms of Gadolinium Retention?
It’s been established for quite some time that gadolinium from GCBAs can be retained and accumulate in those with renal impairment – meaning their kidneys aren't functioning properly and are unable to effectively detox and eliminate gadolinium and other toxic compounds. But gadolinium deposition disease occurs in those with normal kidney function – meaning prior to recent findings, there was no reason to suspect that these individuals would have any issue clearing GBCAs.
Some of the symptoms associated with gadolinium retention and accumulation in both those with impaired kidney function and gadolinium deposition disease include:5,6,7,8
- Nephrogenic fibrosing dermopathy: The development of hard, thickened, and discolored plaques or lesions on the skin caused by increased connective tissues like collagen, fibroblasts, and elastic fibers
- Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis: The fibrosis, or thickening and hardening of fibrous connective tissues found in internal organs throughout the body
- Unexplained pain: Primarily presenting as bone pain in the limbs, pain in the central torso, or a general “burning sensation”
- Fatigue, headache, and cognitive changes: New onset of headaches, brain fog, vision and/or hearing changes, difficulty sleeping, and persistent fatigue
- Fasciculations: Involuntary twitches or small muscle contractions
- Gadolinium deposits: Deposits of accumulated gadolinium being stored in essential tissues and organs such as the brain, kidneys, heart, and bones
- Impaired mitochondrial function and increased inflammation: Disruption of the mitochondria or “powerhouse” of the cell and an increase in proinflammatory cytokines
The exact mechanism of action by which accumulated gadolinium exerts these toxic effects is still unclear, but it’s speculated that the toxic metal may trigger inflammation that leads to these concerning symptoms. So how exactly can we address any accumulated gadolinium and support the body in eliminating this complex compound?
Gadolinium Retention Treatment: How to Remove Gadolinium From the Body
While there are still more questions than answers when it comes to gadolinium deposition disease, it’s likely that it’s due to a genetic variation that disrupts your ability to properly excrete heavy metals like gadolinium. Therefore, one of the most effective ways to address symptoms and complications triggered by an accumulation of this toxic metal is by supporting and enhancing your body's ability to excrete it.
Some ways to enhance your ability to detox and eliminate gadolinium include:
- Try chelation therapy: This involves the use of compounds known as chelating agents (like those found in ZeoBind Plus) that bind to gadolinium and package it up to be eliminated via your detox pathways. There are several different ways to perform chelation therapy, but if you have an accumulation of gadolinium or other toxic heavy metals, it’s a good idea to complete chelation therapy under the guidance and supervision of an experienced professional.
- Optimize gut health: Your gut and the microbes that reside within your digestive tract (known as your microbiome) play a pivotal role in your ability to detox. Support a healthy, happy gut by eating a well-rounded diet high in nutrient-dense foods and by incorporating gut-supporting supplements. My favorites are Spore Probiotic plus IgG to promote a diverse and thriving population of gut microbes and Gut Immune to help enhance the integrity of your gut lining.
- Incorporate supplements that boost your natural detoxification pathways: Some of the most potent detox pathway-boosting supplements include N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), Glutathione Essentials, and Liver Essentials.
- Try complementary detoxification strategies: Incorporating things like dry brushing, infrared sauna, PEMF therapy, and lymphatic drainage can all help speed up and optimize the elimination of accumulated toxins.
- Minimize your overall toxic burden: Gadolinium certainly isn't the only toxin that can accumulate within your body. The more toxins that accumulate, the higher your toxic burden. Taking steps to lower your toxic burden can go a long way in keeping your detoxification pathways firing on all cylinders and keeping you feeling your best.
While these steps are a good place to start, if you’re at all concerned about an accumulation of gadolinium or any other toxic compounds, I cannot overemphasize the importance of working with an experienced Integrative and Functional Medicine Practitioner to help you properly and safely detox. Now that we’ve reviewed some ways to detox from gadolinium, you’re probably wondering, “can’t I just avoid using contrast with gadolinium in the first place?”
Can An MRI Be Done Without Gadolinium? Or Can I Refuse Gadolinium Contrast?
The answer to both of these questions is – yes, you certainly can. But that doesn’t mean it’s always the best option. You see, while gadolinium and GBCAs used in MRIs most definitely come with their own unique set of potential risks, that doesn’t mean that they should necessarily be avoided at all costs.
GBCAs can drastically improve the accuracy of MRIs – allowing us to more effectively diagnose a wide range of conditions. Early and accurate diagnosis of serious and life-threatening conditions gives us a far better chance at creating an effective treatment plan – meaning the benefits of proper and early diagnosis far outweigh the risks of using GBCAs.
With that being said, there are a couple of factors to take into consideration when using contrast agents containing gadolinium that can further mitigate the risk of toxicity, such as:
- Limit the number of MRIs performed with the use of GBCAs: Only utilize GBCAs when absolutely necessary for diagnostic purposes to minimize the risk of gadolinium accumulation
- Opt for macrocyclic GBCAs versus linear GBCAs: Studies have found macrocyclic GBCAs to be more stable – making them less likely to degrade and leave behind residual gadolinium in your tissues9
Following these guidelines and taking steps to support healthy balanced detoxification pathways can allow us to harness the incredible power of these diagnostic-enhancing compounds while minimizing the risk of toxic side effects.
The Verdict on Gadolinium: Is It More Helpful or Harmful?
While gadolinium may indeed have the potential to create some frightening and life-altering side effects, that doesn’t automatically make this rare metal a villain when it comes to your health. The truth is much more complicated than that. Gadolinium used in contrast agents can be extraordinarily helpful when it comes to our ability to detect and diagnose a wide range of health concerns and has no doubt saved countless lives.
But we must steward the power of this mighty metal responsibly to avoid potentially toxic consequences. When it comes to complex concerns like the use of gadolinium, the very best tool we have in defending and optimizing our health is knowledge. The more you know, the better choices you can make when it comes to what’s right for you.
That’s why I’m so passionate about empowering my patients and readers with science-backed and easy-to-understand information. If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more ways to stay informed and empowered, be sure to browse through my blog, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and sign up for my weekly newsletter (all you have to do is enter your name and email address in the form below).
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to hear about the potentially toxic side effects associated with the gadolinium used in contrast during MRIs? Have you ever experienced any negative side effects from gadolinium-based contrast agents? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- Information on Gadolinium-Based Contrast Agents | FDA
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) (nih.gov)
- Gadolinium Magnetic Resonance Imaging – StatPearls – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
- Gadolinium toxicity and treatment – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Gadolinium-Based Contrast Agent Use, Their Safety, and Practice Evolution – PMC (nih.gov)
- Gadolinium Deposition in the Brain and Body (jbsr.be)
- Physicians with self-diagnosed gadolinium deposition disease: a case series – PMC (nih.gov)
- Frontiers | Altered Functional Mitochondrial Protein Levels in Plasma Neuron-Derived Extracellular Vesicles of Patients With Gadolinium Deposition (frontiersin.org)
- Drug Saftey Communication: GBCAs (fda.gov)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.