Mercury exposure: some considerations for pregnancy

Mercury is an extremely toxic element with detrimental effects of every system in the body. Mercury easily enters the body, but it is quite difficult to remove it. Nobody is more vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury than developing fetuses and small babies. Even in amounts that may seem very small to us as adults, mercury affects babies during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Mercury in the mother or father can negatively impact the baby’s genetic expression. In addition, mercury in the mother’s body accumulates in the baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Studies show that levels of mercury in the placenta, breast milk and cord blood increase alongside increased amalgam fillings in the mother. See this article and this article on the topic.

Babies are very susceptible to the effects of mercury.

Babies are very susceptible to the effects of mercury.

Knowing the basic facts about fetal mercury exposure can help you take precautions during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you are not yet pregnant, you can time conception in such a way as to protect your baby from mercury.

We all have some level of mercury accumulation in our bodies, and developing fetuses are much more susceptible to the effects of mercury than the rest of the population. The purpose of this article is not to alarm you, but rather to empower you with information you can do to reduce your baby’s mercury exposure. Reach out if you have questions.

This is the third newsletter in my ongoing series on mercury, so make sure you check out the earlier posts here if you missed them!

I would like to thank Teo Potts, L.Ac., for providing clarifying information and resources on the use of cinnabar in traditional Chinese medicine.

Planning ahead – what you can do before conception

Before conceiving a baby, it is a good idea to ask yourself three basic questions regarding mercury exposure:

  1. What is our timeline for pregnancy? How flexible can we be?
  2. What can I do before conception to reduce mercury in my body and in my immediate environment?
  3. What can I do throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding to reduce mercury exposure?

How flexible is your timeline?

Some couples have more flexibility in their timeline than others. The more flexible your timeline, the more proactively you can work before conception. The work you and your partner do prior to conception to decrease your mercury load will also increase your fertility, reduce the chances of miscarriage and improve the health of the sperm and eggs.

Do you have a flexible timeline and have amalgam fillings in your mouth? Consider safely removing them prior to conception. Of course, you will have to wait at least a year after the amalgam removal before trying to conceive. I use a safe and gentle rebalancing protocol to prepare women for conception after amalgam removal.

If you do not have amalgam fillings in your mouth but have a history of significant mercury exposure (see below) and your timeline is flexible, you may likewise want to consider safely detoxifying prior to conception.

However, if your timeline is short, focus on preventing new mercury exposures. Conceiving a baby during or shortly after removing or detoxifying mercury actually increases the amount of mercury that crosses the placenta. Do not place or remove amalgam fillings during preconception, pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Surprising factors that increase mercury exposure and damage

Factors that increase mercury offgassing from amalgam fillings

Gum-chewing and tooth-grinding exponentially increases offgassing of mercury from amalgam fillings. So stop chewing gum and ask your health care practitioner and dentist for guidance if you grind your teeth. Along the same lines, the more metals you have in your mouth, the more volatile the mercury in any amalgam fillings you may have. So, for example, this is not a good time to wear metal braces on your teeth.

Research studies suggest that electromagnetic radiation, for example from cell phones and from MRI machines, may increase the release of mercury vapor from amalgam fillings. There are several articles on the topic, but this one by Mortazavi and Mortazavi is a good starting point for learning more. It is important for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers to limit radiation exposure from cell phones (and cordless phones, which are also a source of electromagnetic radiation) as much as possible for their own and their babies’ health. Limiting cell phone and cordless phone use as much as possible, using radiation shield designed for cell phones, and carrying cell phones in a purse or backpack rather than in a pocket or bra are good precautions.

Two supplements you must avoid

Two common supplement ingredients you must avoid during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding are alpha lipoic acid (also known as lipoic acid or thiotic acid) and chlorella. Alpha lipoic acid in particular is often used in anti-oxidant and blood-sugar regulation products, and even in the very popular immune-supporting product, Emergen-C®. Unfortunately, both alpha lipoic acid and chlorella can have the unwanted effect of stirring up stored mercury in the mom’s body and exposing the developing fetus to this highly toxic metal.

Don’t confuse alpha lipoic acid, which you should avoid, with alpha linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid present in many healthy foods, and which you can safely enjoy throughout all stages of life. Both can be abbreviated as ALA. If you are confused, please ask a knowledgeable practitioner to clarify this for you.

A note about cilantro

Cilantro leaf contains a substance that chelates heavy metals, including mercury. I don’t recommend eating it as anything other than an occasional garnish. Don’t make cilantro-heavy soups and smoothies, and definitely stay away from any cilantro-based supplements. Some sources contra-indicate cilantro during pregnancy altogether. Coriander seeds do not have the same effect as cilantro leaf, so you can use it in your normal cooking and eating routines.

Most common exposure sources

For most people, the most significant sources of mercury exposure are dental amalgam (silver-colored fillings), fish consumption and mercury-containing vaccines. Because mercury is passed on from mother to child, it accumulates from one generation to the next. So even if you’ve never had amalgam fillings, you may still have a significant mercury body burden from the fillings your mother and even your grandmother had before you were born. Remember that these fillings have been in use for about 150 years and have thus affected humans for several generations.

Avoid conceiving a baby if you have recently removed an amalgam filling. You should wait at least a year, and ideally a year and a half, after removing an amalgam filling before trying to conceive, because removing these fillings increases the levels of mercury in the body for months to come.

Other mercury exposure sources

Please note that the exposure sources listed below vary according to time and place. In other words, different countries regulate mercury differently at different times. Thus, not all the exposure sources listed here will apply to all products everywhere.

  • Household products: broken compact fluorescent lightbulbs, broken mercury thermometers
  • Health and beauty products: some nasal sprays, ear drops and hemorrhoid creams, some cosmetics (particularly mascara)
  • Occupational exposure. This applied particularly to anyone working in dental offices, the gold mining industry, or in workplaces with pressure gauges
  • Educational/hobby: elemental mercury present in chemistry sets
  • People living near coal-burning power plants and crematoria have an increased mercury exposure
  • The mineral cinnabar, also known as mercuric sulfide, has historically been used in jewelry, some red tattoo dyes and other applications. Cinnabar yields characteristic red pigments and is sometimes referred to as “vermillion.” Also, cinnabar (under the name of ‘zhu sha’ ) has been historically used in some traditional Chinese medicine formulas, which are illegal in the US and which many modern practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine consider obsolete.
  • Immunoglobulins
  • The Rhogam injection, often given to Rh-negative women with an Rh-positive baby during pregancy and/or post-partum
  • Some items that are now banned or exist only in mercury-free versions in the US include mercury thermometers, teething powders containing calomel, the antiseptic merbromin (sold as Mercurochrome®), and contact lens solution
  • Some religious and folk healing rituals use mercury

Because mercury is passed from mother to child and accumulates across generations, ask your parents and grandparents about mercury exposure sources in your early childhood and in previous generations of your family, even though some of the above exposure sources are obsolete.

Putting it all together

Are you ready to start a family? I recommend assessing your past mercury exposure and any current lifestyle and environmental factors that affect your mercury status. Take simple steps to reduce exposure have amalgam fillings. Limit cell phone and cordless phone use. If you would like support, get in touch for a complimentary 30-minute consultation.

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