I didn’t have access to regular dental care as a kid. When I was 18, I went to the dentist and got several mercury-containing amalgam fillings over a short span of time. I had no idea that there was mercury in them or that they might be dangerous. Over the next four years, I developed a host of health problems. I spent several years resigned to being chronically exhausted and in pain. Nobody knew what was causing my symptoms or how to make them go away. As often happens in such cases, I received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and was instructed to exercise at least 4 hours a day! I knew very little about mercury, certainly not enough to connect my health problems to it. Over the years, my old fillings broke down, and my new dentist started replacing them as they degraded. By the time I had just one filling left, my health was drastically improved. Over time, the migraines, chronic pain and many other symptoms went away. I learned only later how lucky I was not to suffer major health effects during and after the removal of my fillings, as many people do.
This is the first of a newsletter series on mercury, in order to discuss various aspects of a complex issue that has affected not only my health and that of several family members, but also that of numerous families in my nutritional therapy practice.
A lot of the families I work with have small children who struggle with health problems due to mercury exposure, often beginning in utero, as a result of the mother’s amalgam fillings and/or vaccines received by the mother during pregnancy. The effects of mercury on the brain and nervous system of developing fetuses, babies and small children is exponentially larger than that of adults.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that causes and contributes to numerous chronic illnesses. Furthermore, mercury accumulates over time. It passes from mother to developing baby. Thus mercury toxicity builds over our individual lifetimes and worsens from one generation to the next.
There are also a lot of “trendy” detoxification protocols out there that can make existing mercury problems worse. Reach out if you would like input and guidance, but don’t rush out and do anything impulsive!
Most doctors ignore mercury’s role in illness
Symptoms of mercury toxicity typically come on slowly and gradually after the initial exposure. Furthermore, because of the numerous nutrients it depletes, mercury’s health effects are numerous and differ from person to person. For this reason, most doctors don’t see any connection between chronic illness and mercury exposure.
Another reason why doctors underestimate mercury as a cause of illness and dysfunction is that much of our exposure is through health-care products. These include amalgam fillings and mercury-containing vaccines, among others.
Introduction to the mercury series
I have been studying the issue of mercury toxicity for a few years and would like to acknowledge Dev Rana for guiding my initial studies in the area, Andrew Hall Cutler, whose books have provided me with a lot of the scientific background, and Kristin Homme, whose collaboration on a common research project involving mercury exposed me to extensive scientific literature on the topic.
Here is a preview of some topics covered in this series:
- Mercury depletes nutrients
- Sources of mercury exposure, and how to limit them
- The implications of mercury exposure for conception, pregnancy and child development
- Mercury’s role in increasingly common childhood disorders, such as ADHD and autism spectrum disorder
This newsletter is a bit longer than average, partly because it contains an introduction to the series and partly because even by condensing information, there really is a lot to say about mercury’s depletion of nutrients. Some of the information may seem a little dense. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if anything confuses you!
Common sources of mercury
The most common sources of exposure include amalgam (“silver”) fillings, broken compact fluorescent lightbulbs, contaminated seafood, thimerosal from vaccines, emissions from coal-fired plants, some medical products, and even some types of make-up. Stay tuned for further discussion in future newsletters.
Symptoms of mercury toxicity
It is difficult to connect specific symptoms to mercury exposure, because the symptoms caused by mercury toxicity are very numerous. This is a result of mercury’s ability to deplete most nutrients in the body and dysregulate the entire mineral system, with huge implications for all areas of health. In fact, many people with migraines, osteoporosis, hypothyroidism, lupus, fibromyalgia, ADHD and other conditions have an issue with mercury. Because there are other factors that can affect the root causes of these conditions, they can of course have underlying causes other than mercury.
How does mercury cause these health problems?
Mercury depletes magnesium, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin E, many B vitamins, vitamin C and more. Each depleted nutrient, in turn, has implications for the status of other nutrients. As zinc is depleted, copper levels may rise, driving down vitamin A and potassium; as magnesium is lost from the body’s cells, soft tissue levels of calcium may build to excess. Many health conditions caused by mercury toxicity are aggravated by low magnesium and/or zinc, including cardiovascular problems, fibromyalgia, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficits, depression, and more.
Mercury depletes nutrients. In so doing, it interferes with enzyme systems and pathways, hormonal function, mitochondrial health, antioxidant defenses and the integrity of protective barriers in the body. As a result, mercury causes numerous health issues ranging from fatigue and inflammation to endocrine and immune dysregulation and mood problems.
Nutritional considerations to replenish nutrients depleted by mercury
Mercury creates a need for extra nutrition to restore health. Everyone affected by mercury has a unique profile of nutritional imbalances and needs, but here are some of the nutrient-dense foods I find useful for almost everyone.
Bone broth is essential for repairing the digestive lining and connective tissue, and for supplying easily assimilated amino acids and other nutrients. Daily intake of bone broth can help repair the excessive gut permeability that so often leads mercury-toxic individuals down the road to food allergies and auto-immunity. Very sensitive or very ill individuals may benefit from beginning with a broth simmered for 2-4 hours and gradually increasing the simmering time as tolerated.
Beet kvass can improve the flow of bile and by extension the excretion of mercury and other toxins. It is especially helpful to those who tend to be constipated. You can take it straight from a large spoon or small glass, but many people prefer to add it to warm soups. Other probiotic foods, such as sauerkraut, are also very helpful as part of a gut-healing program. It is a good idea to start with a small amount of probiotic foods and to use them as daily condiments.
Foods high in vitamins A, C and E confer important anti-oxidant and immune-modulating benefits. Cod liver oil, liver, extra-virgin organic olive oil, red palm oil and lard are important sources of fat-soluble vitamins, and it is important to eat a variety of healthy fats from both animal and plant sources. Foods rich in the anti-oxidant vitamin C are also important, and it is a good idea to obtain vitamin C from a variety of food sources as tolerated, taking care not to rely entirely on the sweeter fruits, which can be problematic for people with blood sugar regulation issues. Good sources of the vitamin include rose hips, acerola, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit, papaya, mango, pineapple, kiwi and strawberries.
Zinc-rich foods are critical. However, oysters, the richest source of zinc, also tend to be high in cadmium and other heavy metals. For this reason, I recommend very modest Oyster consumption. However, pasture-raised red meat and poultry, along with properly soaked sesame and pumpkin seeds and pine nuts, are safer sources of zinc. Keep in mind that we absorb zinc much more efficiently from animal foods than from plant sources.
Magnesium is a vital nutrient often depleted by mercury. Liver, leafy green vegetables, nettles, properly soaked lentils (if tolerated) and properly prepared almonds are good sources of magnesium. Nettles are a great source of numerous vitamins and minerals and can be added to soups or enjoyed as a tea.
Putting it all together
Everyone with a history of mercury exposure has a unique symptom picture and unique nutritional needs, so the general guidelines outlined above can be extensively individualized for best outcomes. I find that a hair tissue mineral analysis is an extremely cost-effective tool for assessing the presence of mercury as well as the status of the mineral system as a whole. A properly interpreted hair tissue mineral analysis provides insights into nutritional needs as well as the functional status of different systems across the body, providing a useful starting point for a nutrition and supplement plan to restore health.
I use a system of hair test interpretation that integrates Andrew Hall Cutler’s guidelines for finding hidden mercury, as described in his Hair Test Interpretation, and the teachings of Paul Eck and David Watts on the workings of the mineral system. My integrated approach allows me to investigate potential dysregulation by mercury while at the same working on restoring health by rebalancing the mineral system, which has vast implications for all of the body’s systems.
If you would like to learn more, you can schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation by contacting me.