The Analyst™

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  Mercury Toxicity / Amalgam Illness  
 
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Signs, symptoms and indicators | Conditions that suggest it | Contributing risk factors | It can lead to... | Recommendations

 

Acute mercury poisoning
Mercury poisoning differs from the other forms of metal poisoning in that it causes neurological symptoms rather than digestive disorders. 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 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.

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.

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.

Elemental and inorganic mercury exposure can come from amalgam fillings, burning of coal and medical wastes, and environmental and occupational exposures. While these forms of mercury are toxic, they pale in comparison to the toxicity of methylmercury. Methylmercury is formed through microbial action from inorganic mercury that has deposited in the oceans and lakes and bioaccumulates through the food chain in ever increasing concentrations through the large predatory fish. Seafood contamination is a significant source of organic mercury and a serious concern worldwide.

Two scientists completed a study that involved taking measurements of mercury in cicadas, particularly in areas where there were power plants. Their goal was to use their method as a type of indicator that the soil they were in would become polluted. Researchers cautioned people against eating any kind of insect like cicadas, which surprisingly were the carriers of heavy metals. Further investigations have been initiated to determine whether the mercury concentration in the cicadas came from man-made factors or occurred from natural sources such as soil. [Science Daily June 1, 2004]

There is a web site that you can access calledGotMercury.org. They have a simple, yet handy, calculator that you can use to estimate your mercury risk based upon your weight and current fish consumption.
 

 
 

Signs, symptoms & indicators of Mercury Toxicity / Amalgam Illness:
 
 
Symptoms - Aging  Poor balance

Symptoms - Bowel Movements

  Frequent/occasional/regular painful urge to defecate

Symptoms - Cardiovascular

  Heart racing/palpitations

Symptoms - Food - General

  Weak appetite

Symptoms - General

  Constant fatigue
  Poor bodily coordination
  Showers cause fatigue
  Fatigue on light exertion

Symptoms - Glandular

  (Frequent) cervical node swelling
 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.

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular

  Vision disturbances
 Intermittent blurred distance vision is a sign of mercury toxicity.

  Bulging eyes
 Marked proptosis (bug eyes), or eye changes typical of hyperthyroidism have been associated with mercury toxicity.

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

  Dark spots on gums
  A swollen tongue
  Metallic taste in mouth
  Coated tongue
  Cold sores
  Abnormal tastes in mouth
  Mouth soreness
  Gums that bleed easily

Symptoms - Metabolic

  Low body temperature

Symptoms - Mind - Emotional

  Impatient/hostile disposition
  Moodiness
  Irritability

Symptoms - Mind - General

  Short-term memory failure
  Periods of confusion/disorientation
  Being easily excitable
 Nervous excitability can be a symptom of mercury toxicity.

  Trouble concentrating
  Being an antisocial person

Symptoms - Muscular

  Tender muscles

Symptoms - Nails

  Moving white lines across nails
 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.

Symptoms - Reproductive - Female Cycle

  Unexplained missed periods

Symptoms - Skeletal

  Joint pain/swelling/stiffness

Symptoms - Skin - General

  Diminished perspiration
 
 

Conditions that suggest Mercury Toxicity / Amalgam Illness:
 
 
Allergy  Allergy / Intolerance to Foods (Hidden)

Circulation

  Cardiomyopathy
 Mercury levels in the heart tissue of individuals who died from Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy (IDCM) were found to be on average 22,000 times higher than in individuals who died of other forms of heart disease. [J Amer Coll Cardiology v33(6) pp.1578-1583,1999]

  Angina
 Mercury poisoning may be causing chest pain or angina, especially in anyone under age 45.

Digestion

  Sensitive Teeth
  Diarrhea
  Constipation
  Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Immunity

  Chronic Fatigue / Fibromyalgia Syndrome
  Weakened Immune System
 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]

  Canker Sores (Aphthous Ulcers)

Infections

  Yeast / Candida
  Pharyngitis

Lab Values

  Elevated Total Cholesterol
 Elevated total cholesterol greater than 270mg may be associated with mercury toxicity.

Mental

  Poor Memory
 Short term memory loss is initially the most common complaint associated with mercury toxicity.

  Depression
  Anxiety
  Panic Attacks

Metabolic

  Hypoglycemia
 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.

  Headaches
  Tinnitus
  Insomnia

Musculo-Skeletal

  Muscle Cramps / Twitching
 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.

Nervous System

  Neuritis/Neuropathy
  Tremors

Organ Health

  Diverticular Disease
  Vertigo
  Kidney Weakness / Disease
 Kidney disease, including kidney failure, is a possible symptom of mercury toxicity. A yearly or more frequent mercury detox program is advised as long as this is a suspected or confirmed problem.

Pain

  Low Back Pain / Problems
 Mercury toxicity can cause low back pain when it is stored in the sensory ganglia near the low back.

Risks

  Increased Risk of Alzheimer's / Dementia
 Part of the increase in the incidence of Alzheimer's disease may be due to mercury exposure from mercury amalgam fillings, especially those high in copper content. [Environ Contam Toxicol 2001;67. pp.800 806]

Skin-Hair-Nails

  Night Sweats
 This symptom may be one of many associated with mercury toxicity.

  Dry skin
 Exceptionally dry skin has been associated with mercury toxicity.

  Cold Hands and Feet
  Male Hair Loss
 Mercury toxicity can cause hair loss.

  Female Hair Loss
 Mercury toxicity can cause hair loss.

Symptoms - Environment

Counter-indicators:
  Being free of mercury toxicity

Symptoms - Head - Eyes/Ocular

  Bulging eyes from hyperthyroidism
 Marked proptosis (bug eyes), or eye changes typical of hyperthyroidism have been associated with mercury toxicity.

Symptoms - Head - Nose

  Nasal congestion
 Mild nasal congestion / stuffy nose can be a sign of mercury toxicity.

Uro-Genital

  Female Infertility
 Researchers in Hong Kong compared mercury levels in fertile and infertile couples. The results were as follows:

Fertile men 15% with high mercury, Infertile men 35% with high mercury
Fertile women 3.8% with high mercury, Infertile women 23% with high mercury

So for infertile men, the chance of mercury toxicity over fertile men was 2.3 times higher and for women, 6 times higher.
They recorded how much seafood the couples consumed and found that those eating more seafood tended to have higher blood mercury levels. [Fertility and Sterility, 78: 2, August 2002, pp. 426-428]

  Nocturia
 
 

Risk factors for Mercury Toxicity / Amalgam Illness:
 
 
Childhood  Early/delayed/late puberty onset
  Late/delayed/early puberty onset

Metabolic

  Bruxism (Clenching/Grinding Teeth)
 People with mercury amalgam fillings who grind their teeth or chew gum can suffer additional mercury release.

Supplements and Medications

Counter-indicators:
  Heavy metal detoxification use

Symptoms - Food - Intake

  Eating/little mercury contaminated fish

Counter-indicators:
  Not eating mercury containing fish

Symptoms - Head - Mouth/Oral

  (Much) past amalgam filling removal
  Having amalgam fillings
  Poorly-removed amalgams

Counter-indicators:
  Carefully-removed amalgams
  Not having any/having amalgam fillings

Symptoms - Mind - General

Counter-indicators:
  Absence of short-term memory loss

Symptoms - Muscular

  History of tender muscles
 
 

Mercury Toxicity / Amalgam Illness can lead to:
 
 
Circulation  Cardiomyopathy
 Mercury levels in the heart tissue of individuals who died from Idiopathic Dilated Cardiomyopathy (IDCM) were found to be on average 22,000 times higher than in individuals who died of other forms of heart disease. [J Amer Coll Cardiology v33(6) pp.1578-1583,1999]

Mental

  Schizophrenia
 Mercury toxicity can cause mental symptoms like shyness, irritability, apathy and depression, psychosis, mental deterioration, and anorexia.
 
 

Recommendations for Mercury Toxicity / Amalgam Illness:
 
 
Amino Acid / Protein  Cysteine / N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)
 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 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, cystiene containing products like protein powders should be avoided.

  Glutathione
 One of the body's normal mechanisms for dealing with heavy metals involves glutathione and normal levels of this protein should thus be ensured. The rate-limiting precursors are the amino acids cysteine (or N-acetyl-cysteine) and glutamine.

Botanical

  Chlorella / Algae Products
 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.

In one study, when mice fed methylmercury were given chlorella, they excreted approximately twice the amount of mercury in their urine and feces as mice not treated with chlorella. The majority of mercury is removed through your stool.

  Garlic

Dental

  Dental Metal Removal
 Dental amalgam removal is an important first step in reducing your ongoing exposure to mercury.

Detoxification

  Heavy Metal Detoxification / Avoidance

Diet

  High/Increased Fiber Diet
 Sodium alginate as well as other gel-forming fibers have been shown to inhibit heavy metal uptake in the gut.

  High/Increased Protein Diet
 See the link between Heavy Metal Toxicity and Increased / High Protein Diet. A low carbohydrate diet is recommended.

  Grain-free / Low Starch Diet
 See the link between Heavy Metal Toxicity and Increased / High Protein Diet.

  Cilantro
 Cilantro may help mobilize heavy metals from the brain and central nervous system.


Not recommended:
  Increased Fish Consumption
 There is increasing concern over fish which are being found to contain significant levels of mercury. These potentially dangerous levels are coming from fish eating smaller fish - methyl mercury bio-accumulates 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.

Mercury enters the environment naturally and through industrial pollution. Cutting back on seafood is a way of cutting down on blood mercury levels, but the benefits of seafood, including omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, should be balanced against the mercury risk.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended reference dose, or level below which exposures are considered harmless, of mercury in the blood is 5.8 micrograms per liter. The average level of mercury in the women's blood in this particular study, was about one microgram per liter, well below the reference dose.

However, about 8% of the women had levels that above the reference dose. Further, women who ate at least three servings of fish during the 30 days prior to the study had mercury levels of close to two micrograms per liter - four times higher than those of women who did not eat fish.

Adult women had three times higher blood mercury levels than children, partly because adults tend to eat more fish than children, according to researchers.

Fish such as haddock, tilapia, salmon, cod, pollock and sole, as well as most shellfish tend to be relatively low in methylmercury, according to researchers. [JAMA April 2, 2003;289: pp.1667-1674]

Lab Tests/Rule-Outs

  Test Hair Analysis
 Hair analysis is a reasonable and inexpensive first step toward diagnosing heavy metal toxicity.

  Test for Heavy Metals

Mineral

  Selenium
 Selenium is able to combine with metals such as cadmium and mercury to reduce their toxicity.

  Molybdenum
 Molybdenum may be useful in the treatment of certain cardiovascular conditions, asthma, allergies and mercury toxicity.

  Sulfur
 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.

Nutrient

  Alpha Lipoic Acid
 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.
 
 


KEY
Weak or unproven link
Strong or generally accepted link
Proven definite or direct link
Strongly counter-indicative
Very strongly or absolutely counter-indicative
May do some good
Likely to help
Highly recommended
May have adverse consequences







GLOSSARY

Acute:  An illness or symptom of sudden onset, which generally has a short duration.

Alzheimer's Disease:  A progressive disease of the middle-aged and elderly, characterized by loss of function and death of nerve cells in several areas of the brain, leading to loss of mental functions such as memory and learning. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia.

Angina:  Angina pectoris. Severe, restricting chest pain with sensations of suffocation caused by temporary reduction of oxygen to the heart muscle through narrowed diseased coronary arteries.

Anorexia Nervosa:  An eating disorder characterized by excess control - a morbid fear of obesity leads the sufferer to try and limit or reduce their weight by excessive dieting, exercising, vomiting, purging and use of diuretics. Sufferers are typically more than 15% below the average weight for their height/sex/age and typically have amenorrhea (if female) or low libido (if male). 1-2% of female teenagers are anorexic.

Cholesterol:  A waxy, fat-like substance manufactured in the liver and found in all tissues, it facilitates the transport and absorption of fatty acids. In foods, only animal products contain cholesterol. An excess of cholesterol in the bloodstream can contribute to the development of atherosclerosis.

Chronic:  Usually Chronic illness: Illness extending over a long period of time.

Chronic Renal Failure:  (CRF) Irreversible, progressive impaired kidney function. The early stage, when the kidneys no longer function properly but do not yet require dialysis, is known as Chronic Renal Insufficiency (CRI). CRI can be difficult to diagnose, as symptoms are not usually apparent until kidney disease has progressed significantly. Common symptoms include a frequent need to urinate and swelling, as well as possible anemia, fatigue, weakness, headaches and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bad breath and itchy skin may develop as toxic metabolites, normally filtered out of the blood by the kidneys, build up to harmful levels. Over time (up to 10 or 20 years), CRF generally progresses from CRI to End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD, also known as Kidney Failure). Patients with ESRD no longer have kidney function adequate to sustain life and require dialysis or kidney transplantation. Without proper treatment, ESRD is fatal.

Copper:  An essential mineral that is a component of several important enzymes in the body and is essential to good health. Copper is found in all body tissues. Copper deficiency leads to a variety of abnormalities, including anemia, skeletal defects, degeneration of the nervous system, reproductive failure, pronounced cardiovascular lesions, elevated blood cholesterol, impaired immunity and defects in the pigmentation and structure of hair. Copper is involved in iron incorporation into hemoglobin. It is also involved with vitamin C in the formation of collagen and the proper functioning in central nervous system. More than a dozen enzymes have been found to contain copper. The best studied are superoxide dismutase (SOD), cytochrome C oxidase, catalase, dopamine hydroxylase, uricase, tryptophan dioxygenase, lecithinase and other monoamine and diamine oxidases.

Ganglion:  A group of nerve cell bodies clustered together in a uniform mass outside of but often close to the brain or spinal chord. Nerves run to or from the ganglia in passage to or from the brain to specific sites on the body.

Glucose:  A sugar that is the simplest form of carbohydrate. It is commonly referred to as blood sugar. The body breaks down carbohydrates in foods into glucose, which serves as the primary fuel for the muscles and the brain.

Hyperthyroidism:  An abnormal condition of the thyroid gland resulting in excessive secretion of thyroid hormones characterized by an increased metabolism and weight loss.

Hypoglycemia:  A condition characterized by an abnormally low blood glucose level. Severe hypoglycemia is rare and dangerous. It can be caused by medications such as insulin (diabetics are prone to hypoglycemia), severe physical exhaustion, and some illnesses.

Idiopathic:  Arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause.

Lymph Nodes:  Small, bean-shaped nodes at various points throughout the body that function to filter the lymph fluid and attempt to destroy the microorganisms and abnormal cells which collect there. The most common locations are the neck (both sides and front), armpit and groin, but also under the jaw and behind the ears. Swollen or painful lymph nodes generally result from localized or systemic infection, abscess formation, or malignancy. Other causes of enlarged lymph nodes are extremely rare. Physical examination for lymph nodes includes pressing on them to check for size, texture, warmth, tenderness and mobility. Most lymph nodes can not be felt until they become swollen, and then will only be tender when pressed or massaged. A lymph node that is painful even without touching indicates greater swelling. Lymph nodes can usually be distinguished from other growths because they generally feel small, smooth, round or oval-shaped and somewhat mobile when attempts are made to push them sideways. Because less fat covers the lymph nodes in children, they are easier to feel, even when they are not busy filtering germs or making antibodies. Children’s nodes enlarge faster, get bigger in response to an infection and stay swollen longer than an adult's.

Lymphocyte:  A type of white blood cell found in lymph, blood, and other specialized tissue such as bone marrow and tonsils, constituting between 22 and 28 percent of all white blood cells in the blood of a normal adult human being. B- and T-lymphocytes are crucial components of the immune system. The B-lymphocytes are primarily responsible for antibody production. The T-lymphocytes are involved in the direct attack against living organisms. The helper T-lymphocyte, a subtype, is the main cell infected and destroyed by the AIDS virus.

Metabolism:  The chemical processes of living cells in which energy is produced in order to replace and repair tissues and maintain a healthy body. Responsible for the production of energy, biosynthesis of important substances, and degradation of various compounds.

Milligram:  (mg): 1/1,000 of a gram by weight.