Mercury Toxicity

(Note: You may wish to read about metal toxicity prior to reading this article.)

Mercury is both highly toxic and is also the toxic (and heavy) metal to which most people have the greatest exposure. It is rated as the most toxic naturally occurring substance and the third most toxic substance known. It is also rated as the second most lethal substance known (scored at 1,600) second only to plutonium (scored at 1,900) by the Toxicity Centre and the University of Tennessee.

Mercury can exist as a metal or vapour, as an inorganic salt (combined with sulphate or chlorine for instance) or as an organic compound (joined to carbon-containing biological molecules) and these many forms, in part, account for its toxicity and also complicate the picture. Whilst all these forms of mercury are toxic, they all possess differing toxicities and affinities for different tissues with organic mercury being approximately one hundred times more toxic than the other forms.

Whilst some environmental mercury is generated naturally by volcanoes a great deal is emitted rather less naturally by coal-fired power stations and other industries. This creates environmental inorganic mercury pollution which contaminates the water and which microbes and plankton then convert into the more toxic and persistent organic form.

It is this organic form that bio-accumulates and bio-concentrates up the food chain to appear in the fish that we eat and this represents the second biggest source of mercury exposure for most people.

Thimerasol, a mercury-based preservative which is used in many vaccinations, also contributes significantly to many individual’s total exposure to this metal. However, for most people their greatest exposure occurs through the use of mercury in dental amalgam fillings.

Dental amalgam fillings

Dental amalgam was introduced in the early part of the nineteenth century and has been, and continues to be, used extensively. It is a mixture of approximately half powdered silver (along with some other metals) and half liquid mercury. Dental amalgam was obviously introduced long before there was any kind of safety testing and replaced the second most toxic substance that was in use as a filling material at the time: lead!

Since there did not appear to be any immediately attributable health problems any health concerns were overlooked. This state of affairs probably persisted also due to lack of suitable alternative filling materials. However, perhaps not coincidentally the first cases of multiple sclerosis (MS) were documented a few decades after the introduction of dental amalgam followed by Alzheimer’s disease, motor neuron disease (MND) and many other devastating degenerative neurological conditions.

Dental amalgam has remained popular as a filling material because it is cheap, easy to handle, strong and long-lasting. Any concerns over implanting a material containing the third most toxic substance known to man in human mouths have been put to one side and governing bodies have reassured both the profession and the public that the mercury becomes bound to the other metals within the structure of the fillings – rendering it perfectly safe.

This means that it now falls to those who do not think that using mercury-containing fillings is a good idea to prove beyond all doubt that this one factor can be isolated and held responsible for adverse health outcomes. This is opposed to the authorities that endorse it having to prove that it is safe. Indeed, some of those authorities have conceded that there are health concerns and have banned its use in children and pregnant women and yet other countries have seen fit to ban its use altogether.

What the authorities do have to concede is that small amounts of mercury vapour are given off amalgam fillings throughout the lifetime of the filling. There is a massive amount of scientific evidence that has been documented in refereed scientific journals over the decades which strongly supports the idea that mercury amalgam is a serious health problem and you may wish to refer to some of these papers in the Research section of this website.

In one massive US government study involving tens of thousands of subjects there was, for instance, a significant correlation established between the incidence of many serious and degenerative disorders including cancer and multiple sclerosis (MS) and the number of amalgam fillings. In the estimation of many authorities, however, the benefits of using amalgam still outweigh the ‘costs’. This topic is also a legal minefield and any objections may have rather more to do with political expedience and rather less to do with scientific proof than they maintain.

What appears to happen is that, when the many different component metals of amalgam are mixed that they become electrically active within the wet environment of the mouth – with the resulting emission of mercury vapour. This is borne out by analysis of 20 year old amalgam fillings which have just 20% of their original mercury content still remaining. Amalgam fillings can also become more electrically active in the presence of other, dissimilar metals, acidic and hot foods and drinks, and electromagnetic radiation – all of which complicate the situation further.

The mercury from dental amalgam fillings can gain access to the rest of the body in a number of different ways, but most significant of these is that the vapour can enter the sinuses, the brain (through the roof of the nose) and is inhaled into the lungs. The lungs provide a huge surface area which intimately interfaces with the circulation intended as a means of exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. However, in this instance this permits the rapid absorption of mercury vapour into the circulation from where it is transported to the rest of the body.

There are other routes of entry including the abrasion and swallowing of dental amalgam corrosion products which may then be converted by the friendly bacteria of the bowel into the most toxic, organic form and enter the circulation and lymphatic system via the intestine. Another significant route is that mercury is driven into the tissues of the mouth by galvanic action between the gums (which act as the cathode) and amalgam fillings (which act as the anode).

We know that the body attempts to excrete the water soluble inorganic forms of mercury in the urine causing rapid and catastrophic kidney damage (50% loss of kidney function within one month of placement of the first amalgam filling according to one study). The fat soluble forms of mercury are excreted by the liver in the bile which empties into the intestine and are ultimately expelled in the faeces.

This was borne out by a study which placed amalgam fillings which contained radioactive mercury into the mouths of sheep. They were sacrificed a month later, and the radioactive mercury was demonstrated to have spread particularly to the kidneys, jaw and digestive system as shown below.

Scan of sheep showing radioactive mercury from dental amalgam

The placement and removal of amalgam fillings has been recognised to cause a measurable increase in blood mercury with a half-life of approximately 70 days. This means that half the original amount in circulation remains at 70 days, and a quarter at 140 days and so on. This used to be thought to represent the time the body took to excrete this substance, but probably represents the time taken to store the toxin in body compartments because it cannot be excreted.

The original formulation of amalgam was replaced almost universally in the 1970s with a ‘high-copper’ amalgam in order to combat problems of expansion of the fillings causing teeth to crack. Unfortunately this type of amalgam which has now been used routinely for 30 years emits up to 50 times the mercury vapour of the previous formulation. This may be one of – if not the most significant reason – for the recent rise in fatigue related disorders.

The surface of ‘high copper’ amalgam showing the formation of droplets of liquid mercury

The toxic effects of mercury

Mercury also acts synergistically and as a potent amplifier in concert with other toxins and both creates and perpetuates symptoms in any and all organs and systems. Mercury in circulation rapidly undermines the efficacy of the immune system which becomes unable to adequately tackle viruses and control normally benign yeasts such as Candida albicans.

These yeasts begin to grow and morph into their fungal forms perforating first the intestinal lining and then the barriers to other body compartments so that no tissue or system is protected. It is this overgrowth of Candida albicans that is often responsible for many of the distressing symptoms of mercury toxicity.

The mercury also has specific adverse effects upon the functioning of the immune system and these may ultimately be responsible for the development of allergies. The mercury also binds to cell membranes changing the coding so that the immune system mistakes body cells for foreign invaders and attacks them as in the autoimmune diseases of diabetes, multiple sclerosis (MS), Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, for instance.

Mercury is highly attracted to nerve tissue (neurotoxic) which means that wherever in the body it is stored it will be absorbed into the nerves that serve that area tracking up the nerves into the central nervous system over time. This means that the brain is progressively adversely affected over time as is the autonomic (automatic) regulation of all organs and systems.

Mercury has profound effects on cognitive and motor function, causes tremors and tingling and psychological and mood disturbances. It is also known to disrupt nerve formation (tubulin) and also to cause destruction of the insulating layer of myelin around nerves as seen in multiple sclerosis (MS) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Refer to the video Mercury and Neuron Degeneration and the articles The Brain and Mercury, and Mercury, Memory and Alzheimer’s.

The endocrine system too is particularly vulnerable to metal toxicity, probably because these organs have many mineral receptors for the high quantities of trace minerals these organs require and these selectively attract and bind mercury and other toxic metals. See Endocrine Gland Disorders.

In addition to the above, mercury binds to digestive enzymes preventing proper digestion of foodstuffs and also prevents the automatic propulsion of food along the intestinal tract which causes all sorts of digestive disorders and discomfort. The mercury is also stored in bones, muscles and joints which become painful and stiff.

Finally and probably most significantly it causes infertility, miscarriages and still births and for those foetuses that do survive the maternal transfer of this deadly metal it may cause physical, cognitive and behavioural defects.

Treatment of mercury toxicity

Fortunately, provided that the problem of metal toxicity is recognised as the cause of symptoms effective treatment is possible. Indeed, treatment of the symptoms of mercury toxicity will never be wholly successful until the underlying cause is addressed. However, treatment is definitely not quick, cheap, easy or pleasant and needs to be tackled in a systematic and sustained way.

Detoxifying the body involves intentionally drawing toxins out of ‘safe’ storage and then providing the nutrients the body requires to effectively detoxify and excrete these substances. This needs to be tackled in a particular way by depleting all the readily accessible toxic metals first before attempting to draw metals from safe storage. Unfortunately, whilst providing a lasting and effective solution this process is quite lengthy and not terribly pleasant.

When detoxifying it is thought to be better to attempt to detoxify primarily via the bile and intestines as this route is more robust and the cells of the intestine are replenished constantly. The kidney is more vulnerable to damage, which may be permanent since the kidney either cannot repair damage or repairs very slowly. Refer to the video Amalgam/Mercury Detox: Top 3 Tips.

Finally, when all your efforts to detoxify start to work – expect to feel at least a little bit rough from time to time and also expect to have detoxification reactions such as rashes, loose stools, nasal symptoms, flu-like symptoms, etc.

Some specialists focus on chelation therapy where a chelator is a substance which can ‘wrap around’ the toxic metal molecule and escort it from the body mostly in the urine. These substances include DMSA, DMPS or EDTA and are usually administered intravenously by a physician. See the articles about Zeolites and Synthetic Chelating Agents.

It is also possible to treat mercury toxicity effectively yourself, however, recruiting a natural health practitioner or someone with specialist knowledge of this field is highly recommended to both guide you most effectively and to provide the support that you will most probably require.

Advice about treating mercury toxicity

The subject of treating metal toxicity using easily obtainable supplements is dealt with at length in Chronic Fatigue, ME and Fibromyalgia: The Natural Recovery Plan.

Below are listed some of the more important components of the plan:

  • Eat fibrous and whole foods to ensure that toxic metals excreted in the bile are expelled rather than reabsorbed into the body. You may wish to supplement a source of fibre such as psyllium husks also.
  • Ensure that you are eating sufficient quantities of high quality animal protein (ideally at every meal) in order to detoxify the metals in the liver.
  • Drink plenty of water to constantly flush metals out of the fluid compartment of the body and to aid and protect kidney function.
  • Finally, supplementing 2-3 grams of vitamin C daily along with a metal binding agent such as Chlorella pyrenoidosa is also a good place to start. Details of suggested products are available in the Supplements hub section of The Natural Recovery Plan website. Or by clicking the relevant links here and/or here for UK customers or here and/or here for US customers.

Relevant links:

blue-bulletMercury poisoning from dental amalgam: Special request

blue-bulletMercury toxicity questionnaire

blue-bulletVideo: Symptoms of mercury poisoning

blue-bulletAudio: Dr Adams’ CMN interview



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