Mercury is a seriously harmful substance; studies have shown that high exposure to it can result in a range of negative health effects, ranging from the poisoning of the nervous system to damage to the cardiovascular system.
So how are people exposed to mercury? Activities like coal burning and gold mining are currently amongst the major sources of mercury in our environment. The shiny, silvery-white liquid, that is elemental mercury, is commonly found in thermometers, barometers and fluorescent light bulbs. Thankfully, the concerns regarding its toxicity have been taken notice of, and mercury thermometers have slowly been phased out of most clinical facilities. However, the American Dental Association still allows dentists to put in mercury fillings even now in 2018. Amalgam fillings have been shown numerous time to release mercury vapor in the body, as seen in this video.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, consuming fish containing methylmercury (due to pollution) is the most the most common manner in which people are exposed to mercury in the U.S. It takes over a year after you have stopped eating seafood with mercury for it to entirely leave your system; the reason it takes so long, is that more than 95 percent of the mercury is absorbed into your bloodstream and circulated to your organs, where it can be stored for years.
One of the reasons mercury is incredibly toxic is because it can be easily consumed by the body through ingestion, absorption by the skin or inhalation. There are three major broad classifications of the heavy metal:
- Organic Mercury: Found mainly in seafood, organic mercury is also known as methylmercury. Our body mistakes this, inside our intestines, for a nutrient that would benefit the body due to molecular mimicry, and brings it into circulation.
- Inorganic Mercury: This is mercury that is a result of corrosion, and it attaches itself to another compound to form inorganic mercury.
- Elemental Mercury: This is the kind that is found in “silver” fillings, also known as dental amalgams, which eventually would be consumed by swallowing or inhaling and go on to attach itself to a compound in the stomach. These fillings are about 50% mercury, along with smaller amounts of tin, silver and copper. Since trace amounts are inhaled or exhaled, we effectively consume mercury vapor, or gas, and it is circulated from our lungs to all the tissues in our body.
Of course, there’s also the fact that mercury poisoning is hardly something that takes place overnight; it takes time for mercury levels in the blood to increase, and mercury leaves the body slowly, through urine, feces and breast milk.
It’s worth noting that ideally, there should be absolutely no mercury present in our bodies; due to a combination of factors including the specifics of our diets, environment, choice of fillings, to name a few, there are at least trace amounts of mercury in almost every person.
Since mercury serves absolutely no purpose in our bodies and is, in fact, poisonous, it is important to reduce our exposure to it to keep health hazards at bay. Studies have shown that as a result of high exposure to mercury, there are detrimental effects on the central nervous system, with symptoms including fatigue, mood swings, headaches, cognitive loss, and even hallucinations and death, in case of high concentrations. Mercury exposure can also cause high blood pressure in humans and animals.
The symptoms caused by exposure to mercury vary based on the form of mercury and degree of exposure.
- Acute Exposure: Seriously detrimental effects are seen on the nervous system including suicidal tendencies, delirium, psychotic reactions and hallucinations, due to acute exposure to mercury vapor.
- Continued Exposure: Since mercury is circulated all over the body after being ingested or inhaled, it ends up being stored in the brain, blood, liver, spleen, bones and tissues. Continued exposure to mercury can cause violent muscular spasms and even death. It’s especially toxic to pregnant or nursing women since breast milk can become contaminated and, due to a rise in neural tube defects, there’s also been an increase in in-utero exposure to mercury.
- Small Increases in Exposure: Studies show that these might affect the heart and circulatory system.
As for elemental mercury, it is found in glass thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs and electrical switches, besides “silver” dental fillings. Vomiting, nausea, breathing difficulties, a metallic taste in the mouth and swollen, bleeding gums are some of the harrowing chronic symptoms of elemental mercury exposure. Depending on the level of mercury exposure, permanent lung damage, long-term brain damage and death may also take place.
Other symptoms and signs of mercury poisoning include anxiety, depression, disrupted concentration levels, fatigue, headaches, sleep disturbance in children, allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, kidney dysfunction, autoimmune diseases, hair loss, dysregulation of hormones, movement disorders, including irregular menstrual cycles, infertility and cardiovascular diseases.
High doses of or acute exposure to mercury can very well be fatal to humans, but even lower doses of mercury-containing compounds have been linked with serious effects on the developing nervous system, the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems.
The various compounds of mercury target the liver, kidneys and the central nervous system, and disrupt immunity levels. Exposure can also lead to impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, tremors, insomnia and emotional instability.
There are various factors that determine how exactly mercury affects the human body; prominent amongst them is the chemical form of mercury that people are exposed to, its sources as well as the level of exposure. So essentially, depending on whether it is exposure to organic mercury compounds, inorganic mercury compounds or elemental mercury, and to what degree the exposure has taken place, the symptoms and effects on the human body will vary.
- Effects of Organic Mercury: A major source of exposure to alkylmercury compounds, which include methylmercury, is a person’s diet, especially fish and seafood.
A large numbers of people are exposed to methylmercury and this spells disaster, as it is easily set into circulation throughout the body from the intestines, and is extremely toxic for the nervous system. Exposure during pregnancy could result in the damage to the brain of the unborn baby; mercury compounds cross the placental barrier and can interfere with fetus development, cause attention deficit disorder and result in developmental delays during childhood.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), methylmercury has been classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, its potential highlighted by a tragedy in Minamata, Japan, in the 1950s, when a chemical factory using mercury discharged waste into the local bay.
- Effects of Inorganic Mercury: As far as inorganic mercury compounds are concerned, it all comes back to the diet. Besides this, use of skin-lightening creams and soaps containing mercury and mercury used as a part of rituals, cultural purposes or in traditional medicine, can also result in considerable exposure to inorganic or elemental mercury.
- Effects of Elemental Mercury: Dental amalgams or “silver” fillings we get in our teeth when we have a cavity are the most prominent sources of elemental mercury vapor. However, it has been found that exposure to mercury at work may exceed this many folds, in some cases.
The most recent findings spanning the previous decade indicate that the effects of mercury are occurring at lower concentrations than understood previously, but that they are affecting larger parts of the global population.
The effects of mercury poisoning from fish containing methylmercury is a very important concern, because while the level of exposure may be lower than previously thought, the population affected might be greater; this is rather difficult to establish without a doubt because of the complex mechanisms involved. Methylmercury eventually accumulates in the food chain to reach high concentrations, the process of which is known as biomagnification.
With amalgam fillings, the fillings are made up of about 50% mercury, along with smaller amounts of tin, silver and copper. Since trace amounts are inhaled or exhaled, we effectively consume mercury vapor, or gas, and it is circulated from our lungs to all the tissues in our body. Over time, mercury levels begin to accumulate and rise, leading to the onset of the various debilitating symptoms and conditions we have mentioned above.
So if you have any of these “silver” fillings we’ve been talking about, you’re probably wondering how to find out the level of mercury you’ve been exposed to. It’s important to look at this as a valuable diagnostic tool only, because there is no test to determine how much mercury has been stored in your body and in which parts, or exactly how much damage it has already caused.
There are a number of tests in the medical profession including those for fecal metals, blood, urine and hair analysis that help find out if mercury is being stored in the body and whether it is being excreted from it. There’s a level of mercury that is considered “normal” or “safe”, which means that most people who have tested at these levels don’t exhibit mercury poisoning symptoms yet.
There are some issues with this, though; one being that a “majority” not exhibiting symptoms indicates that some considered at “safe” levels, still are exposed to it, which can be harmful. Besides, there really is no “safe” level of mercury, if we’re honest about it. Since mercury serves no purpose in the human body, if it is present at any level, it is poisoning you to some degree. There’s also the margin of error and differences amongst tests, and the possibility of being given misleading information and not finding out your toxicity level accurately.
For those who remain skeptical about the storage of mercury in the body, or the extent of damage it can cause, the fecal metals test should clarify things once and for all. 90% of mercury that is eliminated by the body’s natural detoxification process takes the detoxification pathway through the liver, common bile duct, intestine and finally, feces.
The fecal metals test, a simple, non-invasive procedure, has the potential to portray a direct correlation between fecal mercury levels and the number of amalgam fillings, reflects the level of mercury that the body has accumulated after filling removal and can accurately demonstrate the ability of the body to naturally detoxify and remove mercury, thus helping to gauge the strength of the immune system as well. This test is great for patients that are chemically sensitive and children since no chemical products are involved, and also for those suffering from kidney problems. The fecal metals test can also be used to test for the full range of toxic metals, besides mercury.
In this type of mercury testing, two types of urine tests are generally used; one would be the unprovoked mercury urine test, which demonstrated the amount of mercury removed by the body through urine, without using a pharmaceutical mercury chelator, and the other, the urine mercury challenge (or provoked) test, which makes use of a pharmaceutical chelator, with DMPS being the most commonly-used one.
Less than 10% of the mercury that the body eliminates is passed out through the urine, while 90% is removed through feces. So this test clearly has limitations and cannot accurately reflect the total amount of mercury the body eliminates.
Other limitations include the fact that the urine mercury challenge test provides little information about the specifics of which body part the mercury came from, how much is stored, where exactly and whether there is mercury present in the brain and central nervous system and the details of the health problems the build-up of mercury is causing.
The pharmaceutical chelators used in the urine mercury challenge test make all the difference. When done correctly, especially amongst those with amalgam fillings, the pharmaceutical chelators used to remove the mercury through the kidneys/urine pathway, are much more powerful than the body’s natural chelators.
In case the kidneys are not normally functioning, though, the results of this test, too, can be misinterpreted. The ideal way to do this is to take the test multiple times, with the first as a reference and compare the results accordingly.
Limitations of this test include the fact that the pharmaceutical chelators cannot be used to demonstrate brain and central nervous system mercury levels. Thus, it is advised that one does a fecals metals test in addition to this one, for results that are as accurate as possible.
With a pretty self-explanatory name, this test detects mercury levels in the blood. The blood mercury test is capable of indicating exposure to elemental, inorganic as well as organic mercury. There are some factors that can botch up the results and give you an inaccurate reading, though.
Mercury vapor passes quickly through the lungs and is circulated within the body through the bloodstream, so any sort of exposure to elemental mercury vapor from different sources can drastically affect the results. For instance, if you have been grinding your teeth, chewing gum, eating, drinking hot liquids or in any way stimulating or heating up the amalgam fillings before the blood test, the results will show a high level of mercury in the blood.
If you are careful to not stimulate your fillings up to two hours before the blood test, though, “safe” levels of blood mercury will be found. Your medical professional might advise you to do the blood mercury test, great for acute mercury exposure in combination with the fecal metals one, for results which are much more conclusive and accurate.
When this test is conducted just by itself, though, it can help figure out the exact build-up of mercury in your body, or your “body burden” of mercury, at the time the blood test was done. Details such as its specific health effects and their extent, and the amount that is stored in your brain and other body parts won’t be included in the results, however.
By this point, in this comprehensive piece, we know that “safe” levels can be variable at different times, but when it comes to the mercury levels in our bodies, between zero to nine nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) is considered a normal blood mercury level. For those of whom mild mercury exposure is an occupational hazard, such as dentists, whole blood mercury levels may regularly demonstrate up to 15 ng/mL.
September 2016 saw the release of a landmark study published by researchers that showed amalgam fillings play a part in prolonged mercury levels in the body. The results show that those with more than eight “silver” fillings had approximately 150% more mercury in their blood than those without any. With the average American having at least three dental fillings by adulthood, a quarter of the population has 11 fillings or more.
Another factor that comes into play is the other variables involved that might contribute to build-up of mercury levels; for example, those with many dental fillings who are also exposed to other mercury sources, such as fish, seafood or through their work environments, are definitely more likely to have a higher level of mercury in their blood.
Given the extent of the effects of mercury poisoning, and the large population that it is affecting, it is imperative that we minimize exposure to mercury so as to be able to live a healthy life. If that is not possible, and you have just gotten back the rather alarming results of your mercury toxicity test, don’t fret! The results are not irreversible.
There are a number of natural ways in which you can detoxify your body from this toxic heavy metal, and start paving the road back to good health. Chelating agents essentially “grab” the heavy metals in the bloodstream and bind with them, eventually sending them to the kidneys for excretion through urine. There are several natural chelating agents, such as foods with these properties, like onions, garlic and cilantro, which help in toxic metal elimination. Other natural treatments include chlorella, activated charcoal, bentonite clay and maintaining a healthy diet with minimal amounts of wheat, sugar or gluten of any kind, taking antioxidant supplements or eating antioxidant-rich foods, appropriate intake of proteins and healthy fats. Breaking a sweat through exercise, such as running, is also a great way to remove toxins, as we know, and it is no different for mercury toxicity.
Let’s take you through some other detoxification processes:
Chelation therapy is one of the mainstays of a heavy metal detox, and it might be an alternative option for you if you’re looking to lower mercury levels in your body. The first uses of synthetic chelation therapy, though, date back to the 1950s, when it was used to treat heavy metal poisoning, and the process involves using EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), a chemical solution, to remove common heavy metals, including lead, iron, mercury, aluminum, copper, arsenic and calcium.
EDTA is administered into the body, generally injected straight into the bloodstream, so that it can “grab” and bind with excess minerals and heavy metals. Once bound, the solution removes them from the bloodstream through detoxification before the onset of illnesses that the accumulation of mercury at high levels cause.
Just as with exercise, sweating the bad stuff out through a sauna is a good therapeutic option. The metals are excreted through the pores of your skin, and studies have shown that saunas can be an effective tool in the removal of toxins as the skin is actually such a large part of our body. Besides steam saunas, there are also infrared saunas, which can cause more sweating at much lower temperatures, and create a more comfortable mobilization and detoxification process while being more effective.
Toxic element detoxification is imperative to maintain a healthy life and stave off the range of illnesses that mercury poisoning brings with it, and a sauna can help you reduce your toxicity levels considerably, especially if done in small sessions consistently, over a long period of time.
Also known as the “healing clay detox”, bentonite clay has a ton of properties that help in the removal of different kinds of toxins from the body. Besides helping in the alleviation of heavy metals and mercury toxicity, bentonite clay also detoxifies the digestive tract by binding with and eventually removing contaminants, getting rid of bacterial, organic and non-organic toxicity as well as elimination of internal parasites to support the immune system by stimulating the elimination system of the body and supporting organ function.
Acting as an alkalizing agent in the body, bentonite clay is a fantastic alternative source of a natural detox from mercury toxicity that is safe and natural.
This microalgae whole-food supplement swoops in like a savior — another safe, reliable option that can help you detox from heavy metals and mercury levels which have built up in different parts of the body. Brimming with vitamin B and protein, this has many kinds of benefits for the human body and can help you meet your protein intake easily, especially in the case of vegans and vegetarians.
Once consumed, chlorella binds through natural action traces of heavy metals, chemicals and pesticides in your digestive system, through which toxins like these are transported to all your different cells. Besides eliminating unwanted metals and toxins, it is an agent which can differentiate toxins from minerals such as magnesium or calcium which are actually beneficial to your body. More than enough reason to call it a superfood, we think.
Rich in chlorophyll, which gives it a rich, green color, chlorella can be consumed through supplements like Chlorella Vulgaris and Chlorella Pyrenoidosa to excrete mercury from the body.
This might just be the world’s oldest remedy for detoxification; no doubt, one of the strangest, as well. Alternative medicines from various parts of the world, including Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, have been active proponents of activated charcoal for the mobilization and elimination of toxins in the body, for thousands of years.
Activated charcoal can be made by burning a carbon source like wood or coconut shells, with the high temperature eliminating oxygen and activating it with gases such as steam. The adsorbent substance that is then produced is a highly “adsorbent”, which means to “to bind to” instead of absorbing, material that is extremely heavy, and this has countless pores that grab onto and bind to toxins and remove them. Truly a “toxin magnet”.
Today, the rightful place of activated charcoal as a detoxification agent and antidote for a range of issues from digestion issues and gas to aging, has been accepted all over the world.
The most inscrutable part about mercury poisoning is probably the fact that the range of debilitating conditions and illnesses that it can manifest as is so wide and varied, it’s often hard to diagnose it for what it is. The time of diagnosis also is often long and uncertain, as people rarely look at the condition as a symptom of a larger malaise.
This just underscores the need for a deeper knowledge of heavy metal toxicity, so we can take tangible steps towards detoxification and maintain good health.