Mercury poisoning differs from the other forms of metal poisoning in that it causes neurological symptoms rather than digestive disorders.
Mercury is usually targeted because it is the most common toxicity that most people have – for example, amalgams in teeth contain over 50% mercury. The remainder is made up of silver and sometimes tin, aluminum and other metals. The mercury escapes the amalgam as a vapor and is breathed into the body of the person carrying the amalgam.
In cases of Acute Mercury Poisoning, the source of mercury poisoning is primarily contamination of food by polluted water containing mercuric compounds from industrial waste or organic mercury contained in some fungicides. Food or feed grains treated with mercury-containing fungicides are a potential source for transmission of the metal through both animal and cereal foods.
The onset time for Acute Mercury Poisoning is one week or more, at which time the symptoms of numbness, weakness of the legs, spastic paralysis and impaired vision are noted. Blindness and coma are extreme symptoms of the poisoning.
In cases of Chronic Mercury Poisoning, the symptoms of low-level, chronic mercury exposure and toxicity can be very general and difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone. In addition, individuals show varying levels of sensitivity to the presence of mercury: amalgam removal may be very important in the recovery process of one person, while for another it may be best to leave the amalgams in place.
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck have been associated with known mercury toxicity. Other sites reported include in front of the ear, under the jaw, and on the back of the neck.
Swollen lymph nodes in front of the ear, under the jaw, and back of the neck are a possible symptom of mercury toxicity.
Marked proptosis (bug eyes), or eye changes typical of hyperthyroidism have been associated with mercury toxicity.
Intermittent blurred distance vision is a sign of mercury toxicity.
Mild nasal congestion / stuffy nose can be a sign of mercury toxicity.
Nervous excitability can be a symptom of mercury toxicity.
All heavy metals cause Mees' lines on the nails. These usually begin a few months after significant exposure starts and may be useful in identifying the source of exposure – dental amalgams or some unrecognized source – if you remember when they started.
Because Alzheimer's patients often exhibit increased concentration of heavy metals such as mercury in their blood and brain, toxic exposure is believed to play an important role. The areas of the brain that mercury favors are those involved with memory (amygdala and hippocampus). It is not just aluminum that is implicated in Alzheimer's.
A 1987 study showed that the levels of mercury in the spinal fluid of MS patients was 8 times higher than normal. [Silberod, R: A comparison of mental health of multiple sclerosis patients with silver/mercury dental fillings; Psychological Reports 70: pp.1139-51, 1992]. Mercury has long been linked to autoimmune diseases such as MS because of its affinity to attach to collagen tissue, which is the most common protein in the body. Polluted by mercury infiltration, the collagen is seen by the immune system as 'not self.'
In vitro studies suggest that even low, environmentally relevant exposure levels of mercury, which are not toxic, still contribute to immune dysfunction by interfering with proper lymphocyte functioning. [Scand J Immunol 50(3): pp.233-241]
Elevated total cholesterol greater than 270mg may be associated with mercury toxicity.
Short term memory loss is initially the most common complaint associated with mercury toxicity.
Heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead and thallium poison the glucose metabolizing catalysts, thus reducing the flow of energy throughout the body. It is interesting to note that the symptoms of heavy metal poisoning are similar to symptoms associated with hypoglycemia i.e. hyperactivity, mood swings, manic depressive behavior, poor concentration and impulsive and unpredictable behavior.
Unusual tics or twitching of facial muscles have been associated with mercury toxicity, as well as with muscle cramps in cases of high occupational exposure to mercury.
This symptom may be one of many associated with mercury toxicity.
Exceptionally dry skin has been associated with mercury toxicity.
Mercury toxicity can cause hair loss.
Mercury toxicity can cause hair loss.
People with mercury amalgam fillings who grind their teeth or chew gum can suffer additional mercury release.
Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, of bigger concern is the mercury that is released into the air through industrial pollution. When mercury falls from the air into water, it is converted into "methylmercury" by bacteria in the water. Methylmercury accumulates in streams and oceans where it is absorbed by fish as they feed in these waters. Mercury levels are highest in older, larger predatory fish. Larger predatory fish accumulate high levels of mercury by eating smaller fish (that contain mercury) who have eaten even smaller fish (that contain mercury).
Nearly all fish and shellfish contain trace amounts, but some fish contain much more, depending on how big they are, how long they live, what they eat, and where they were caught. According to an FDA survey, the fish with the highest average levels of mercury are, in order:
(Highest levels of mercury – at least 1 part per million): tilefish (golden bass or golden snapper), shark, swordfish, king mackerel; ("Mid-levels" of mercury – around 1/2 part per million): grouper, orange roughy, marlin, Spanish mackerel, tuna.
It has been erroneously taught in dental school that amalgam is a stable alloy which does not release mercury in the mouth. A person with 8 fillings releases 120mcg of mercury into the mouth every day. As much as 17mcg of that gets absorbed into the body. In its vapor form the mercury is fat-soluble, and favors lungs and mucous membranes at first. Then it crosses tissue barriers, including the blood-brain barrier and also the placenta. Mercury then accumulates in the brain, the gut, and the liver.
The largest study of amalgam toxicity ever done took place at the University of Tübingen in Germany in 1995. With over 20,000 subjects, this study showed conclusively that mercury from amalgams is continually released in quantities large enough to be identified in the saliva. The designer of the study, Dr. Peter Krauss, noted that in some patients the amount of mercury in saliva could be as high as 100 times the WHO 'safe' level.
The ability of NAC to enhance methylmercury excretion when given orally, its relatively low toxicity, and its wide availability in the clinical setting indicate that it may be an ideal therapeutic agent for use in cases of methylmercury poisoning. [Environ Health Perspectives, 1998, 106(5): pp.267-71]
Earlier concerns over NAC causing mercury to accumulate in the brain and kidneys, as can occur with L-cysteine, now appear to be unfounded. The initial concerns were opinions only, based on L-cysteine research, not NAC research. Still, some clinicians feel that symptom worsening occurs with the use of large doses of NAC (over 300mg per day), especially if they already have elevated levels of L-cysteine. If L-cysteine levels are elevated, cysteine-containing products such as protein powders should be avoided.
Glutathione can cross the blood-brain barrier; it can remove mercury, cadmium and other toxic metals from the brain.
Using large doses of chlorella facilitates fecal mercury excretion. After the intestinal mercury burden is lowered by other means, mercury will more readily migrate into the intestine from other body tissues where chlorella will aid in its removal.
Garlic chelates heavy metals such as cadmium, gold, lead and mercury, and acts as a detoxifier.
Dental amalgam removal is an important first step in reducing your ongoing exposure to mercury.
EDTA is so effective at removing unwanted minerals and metals from the blood, it has been the standard-FDA-approved-treatment for lead, mercury, aluminum and cadmium poisoning for more than 50 years.
Activated Attapulgite (clay) chelates (bonds) with heavy metals throughout the intestinal tract.
Sodium alginate as well as other gel-forming fibers have been shown to inhibit heavy metal uptake in the gut.
Cilantro may help mobilize heavy metals from the brain and central nervous system.
There is increasing concern over fish, which are being found to contain significant levels of mercury. These levels are coming from eating smaller fish which have been bio-accumulating mercury over time. The large predator fish, such as swordfish/marlin, ahi (yellow fin tuna), king mackerel, shark (often sold as imitation crab), and tilefish have the highest accumulations because they are at the top of the food chain (well, almost!) Many people who consume significant amounts of these fish are showing very elevated levels of mercury in their hair. The FDA is currently recommending most other fish as safe for consumption at amounts of 1kg per week or less.
Hair analysis is a reasonable and inexpensive first step toward diagnosing heavy metal toxicity.
Mobilization AND excretion are required for mercury detoxification. Consuming foods high in sulfur such as garlic, onions, beans, and eggs or supplemental sulfur in the form of MSM can help move mercury around but it is only bound loosely and caution is advised. There have been reported cases of reversible cataract development from individuals mobilizing mercury without excreting it. Consult a qualified doctor for a detoxification protocol appropriate for you.
Sources of sulfur such as alpha lipoic acid, MSM and garlic are helpful for protection against heavy metals in general and specifically useful in mercury toxicity. Alpha lipoic acid should not be used alone, as it only mobilizes mercury with a weak bond. Without additional chelators present, such as DMPS or DMSA, the mercury may just redistribute elsewhere in the body instead of being removed.
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