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Bismuth is a heavy metal similar to lead and arsenic, but not nearly as toxic. It is a mineral, with the atomic number 83, that is found naturally in very small amounts in some foods and can be of help with gastrointestinal disorders. As a metal, bismuth was known in ancient times, but often confused with lead, tin and antimony. Bismuth is derived from the German language and means "white mass." It is a naturally occurring and stable heavy metal and about 86 percent as dense as lead, but much less toxic, which is why alloys of bismuth are now used as replacements for products that have traditionally been made from lead, such as buckshot.

As a natural part of the diet it may help absorb toxins within the intestines and reduce stomach acidity. It also has an effect on the phosphorus and zinc balance in the body.

Bismuth compounds were once used to treat syphilis, but are now better known as a gastrointestinal remedy. Bismuth is absorbent and alkalising meaning it reduces acidity, which is why it is used to treat the following health disorders :

  • Diarrhoea

  • Gastrointestinal and digestive disorders

  • Heartburn

  • Infections of the eye

  • Peptic ulcers

Bismuth deficiency

Bismuth deficiency can cause low stomach acid (upper part of stomach), heartburn, bloating, calcification, warts, diarrhoea, gastric ulcers. Bismuth and lithium frequently test low in patients who suffer from low stomach acid levels corresponding to upper (bismuth) and lower (lithium) parts of the stomach and they are always low in those with an active infection of the Helicobacter pylori bacterium, which is responsible for some gastric ulcers and a number of other medical conditions. Bismuth, through its antimicrobial action, is more appropriate for peptic involvement to inhibit H. Pylori activity, where it supports an increase in upper stomach acid levels, while lithium is more indicated for lower gastric duodenal involvement, where it supports an increase in lower stomach acid levels.


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CAUTION: Supplements of lithium and bismuth are not advised though as excessive amounts can cause serious health issues.

Overdose of bismuth or lithium

Bismuth can accumulate in the kidneys and liver with long-term use, causing toxicity symptoms and reduced function. Too much bismuth leads to a dark coloured tongue, black deposits within the gums and black stools, which are similar symptoms to lead poisoning. Skin and respiratory irritation can also occur. Excess lithium has similar effects.

Bismuth or lithium overdose symptoms

  • Colitis

  • Diarrhoea

  • Encephalopathy

  • Frequent urination

  • Goitre (swelling of the thyroid gland)

  • Hallucinations

  • Hearing disturbances

  • Hypo-adrenalism

  • Hypothyroidism

  • Lethargy

  • Memory problems

  • Mental confusion

  • Muscle twitching

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Oedema

  • Slurred speech

  • Staggering gait

  • Tremors

  • Visual disturbances

  • Weight gain

Serious complications of bismuth overdose

  • Kidney failure

  • Liver damage

If untreated an overdose of bismuth can lead to brain damage, coma and death. Calcium can be used to treat bismuth overdose

Highest natural sources of bismuth

Associated articles

"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC

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