Mercury Toxicity - Is it The Cause For Your Symptoms | Chris Kresser
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Could Mercury Toxicity Be Causing Your Symptoms?

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Mercury levels can build up in your body, causing immune dysfunction, fatigue, anxiety, depression, cardiovascular disease, and many other complaints.

mercury in body symptoms
Dental fillings can be a source of mercury toxicity in the body. Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Thinkstock

At the California Center for Functional Medicine, we often see patients with complex medical histories and symptoms that don’t fit inside the usual diagnostic categories of the conventional medical world. As a result, they are often given a prescription for an antidepressant and assured that they are perfectly healthy, or they are otherwise left unaided after multiple physicians just don’t know the cause of their seemingly mysterious complaints. Fortunately, they persist and find their way to our clinic.

In searching for the underlying cause of chronic illness, I’m often surprised by how frequently we find high levels of toxic metals, especially mercury. Mercury is a common environmental contaminant, and many of us are unknowingly predisposed to mercury toxicity.

As this is a fascinating and complex topic that affects many of us, Chris and I will soon be offering a free webinar providing more details about how mercury wreaks havoc in our body, how to test for mercury toxicity, and how to support healthy detoxification. In this article, I want to provide an overview of mercury exposure, explain how we normally move it out of our bodies and why some of us develop toxicity, and provide some clues to see if you might be mercury-toxic.

Mercury 101: Three Forms of Mercury

There are three major types of mercury:

  1. Elemental mercury: this is the form in “silver” fillings, or dental amalgams. Such fillings are about 50 percent mercury with smaller amounts of silver, tin, and copper (1). Dental amalgams continuously lose trace amounts of mercury, primarily as mercury vapor, or gas, which we inhale. Just as we inhale oxygen and it’s transported from our lungs to all of the tissues in our body, so too is mercury inhaled and transported throughout our body.
  2. Inorganic mercury: you can think of this form of mercury as a result of corrosion. At some point, the elemental mercury in dental amalgams will be inhaled or swallowed, and then it attaches to another compound, forming inorganic mercury.
  3. Organic mercury: also called methylmercury, this is the type of mercury found in seafood. When we eat fish, the methylmercury is delivered directly to our intestines. Somewhat unfortunately, due to a process called molecular mimicry, which can be thought of as a case of mistaken identity, our body sees the organic mercury, thinks it’s a beneficial nutrient, and brings it out of the gut into circulation.

Different Individuals, Different Rates of Mercury Detox

Based on studies during an outbreak of mercury poisoning from eating mercury-contaminated seeds, the half-life of mercury (meaning the time it takes to decrease the blood level of mercury by half) for most people is 60 days (2). But the range is 40 to 120 days. In someone who only slowly detoxifies mercury, exposure to a constant source, even if small, such as with dental amalgams, leads to significantly greater accumulation and toxicity than would occur in someone who quickly moves it out of the body.

Chronic inflammation can lead to impaired detoxification and mercury accumulation. Are you at risk?

Mercury Detox Is Affected by Numerous Factors

Mercury is moved out of the body by the glutathione system. Glutathione can be thought of as the master antioxidant. One of its many roles is to attach to metals and other toxins to guide them out of the body.

Genetics and epigenetics clearly have some influence over our rate of detoxification (3). But the story is much more complex, and fortunately, there are a number of pieces of the detoxification process that we can support.

Most notably, there is a complex interplay between inflammation and detoxification, and one cannot be treated without addressing the other.

Chronic Inflammation = Impaired Detoxification. And, Mercury = Chronic Inflammation. A Vicious Cycle.

Detoxification is essentially an antioxidant system. Inflammation, in contrast, plays the role of “attack and repair.” For example, if you cut yourself, you’ll notice that the skin around that cut becomes red, warm, and a little swollen. This is because inflammatory cells move in to “attack” any potential pathogens (like bad bacteria) that may try to move into your body through the cut (since the skin provides a normal barrier of defense). Inflammation is often protective in the short term, but it is associated with increased oxidative stress, meaning there’s an increase in reactive compounds that can cause damage to our cells and our DNA (4). Chronic inflammation, which is essentially “pro-oxidant,” will decrease detoxification, which is “anti-oxidant.”

In one study looking at fish consumption in children, levels of mercury were compared with inflammatory markers (5). Even though the levels of mercury in these children were low, an association was seen between higher mercury (whether due to slow detoxification and associated accumulation, or due to high consumption) and several inflammatory markers.

One study looking at how the immune system responds to mercury found an increase in the release of pro-inflammatory immune cells (6). This dysregulation in the immune system leads to an unopposed inflammatory response and increased risk for infectious or autoimmune diseases.

Inflammation Makes Us More Susceptible to Mercury Toxicity

In one study, inflammation due to different causes, including exposure to bacterial endotoxin, which occurs with food poisoning or other GI infection, significantly increased toxicity (7). Another study similarly found that small amounts of bacterial endotoxin exposure substantially increased susceptibility to damage from various toxins, including metals (8). And another study in mice demonstrated that mercury in the presence of bacterial endotoxin caused measurably more kidney damage than mercury alone (9). This means that the same amount of mercury or other toxins will cause more damage in the presence of inflammation.

Mercury Affects Every Cell and System in Our Body

Because of this, the effects and symptoms of mercury toxicity are different in each individual. While the variety of ways in which mercury affects each of us is too much to cover in this article, here’s a list of some signs and symptoms that mercury is affecting your health:

  • Anxiety (10)
  • Depression (11)
  • Brain fog or decreased concentration
  • Fatigue (12)
  • Frequent headaches
  • Ataxia (decreased control over muscular movements such as with walking or picking up objects)
  • Sleep disturbance in children (13)
  • Autoimmune disease (14, 15)
  • Allergies (16, 17)
  • Multiple chemical sensitivity (18)
  • Paresthesias or neuropathy
  • Hearing loss
  • Dysarthria (characterized by slurred or slow speech due to weakness or poor control over the muscles used for speech)
  • Muscle tremor
  • Movement disorders
  • Hair loss (19)
  • Hormonal dysregulation including abnormal menstrual cycles and infertility (20, 21, 22).
  • Cardiovascular disease including hypertension, coronary heart disease, transient ischemia attacks or stroke, or other vascular diseases (23)
  • Kidney dysfunction including proteinuria (or “spilling” proteins into the urine)

Our Nervous System Is Particularly Vulnerable to Mercury Toxicity

You can see from this list of symptoms that our brains are especially susceptible to the toxic effects of mercury. Many of these conditions also result from the underlying inflammation and immune dysfunction associated with a high burden of mercury. Fortunately, you can get the mercury out of your body safely!

It’s important to know that if you are considering having your dental amalgams removed, this MUST be done by a biologic or holistic dentist with experience in low emission removal techniques (24). When done incorrectly, removal of amalgams can expose you to a substantial amount of mercury.

In an upcoming webinar (exact date is TBA) Chris and I will talk more about how to test for metal toxicity, including why we don’t recommend provoked mercury tests, what additional tests need to be considered, and how we approach detoxification. The webinar will provide some time for questions and answers, so we’ll look forward to answering your specific questions there!

If you suspect you may be suffering from mercury toxicity, and want to start testing to recover your health, I am currently accepting new patientsTo learn more about how to get started, click here.

Now I’d like to hear from you … have you experienced any benefit after having your dental amalgams removed? Or have you otherwise found high mercury levels caused your symptoms?

Amy NettAbout Amy:  Amy Nett, MD, graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine in 2007.  She subsequently completed a year of internal medicine training at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, followed by five years of specialty training in radiology at Stanford University Hospital, with additional subspecialty training in pediatric radiology.

Along the course of her medical training and working through her own personal health issues, she found her passion for functional medicine, and began training with Chris in June of 2014.  She subsequently joined the California Center for Functional Medicine to work with patients through a functional medicine approach, working to identify and treat the root causes of illness.  Similar to Chris, she uses nutritional therapy, herbal medicine, supplements, stress management, detoxification and lifestyle changes to restore proper function and improve health.

229 Comments

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  1. I was informed that my mercury level was high. From all the tuna fish I was eating on a daily bases for years. So I have stopped eating all fish and my symptoms are really out of control. My anxiety is hard. I am having trouble dealing with it. I have been detoxing for 3 weeks. Do you know how long this takes and if these symptoms normal.
    thanks

  2. I also highly recommend Andy Cutler’s protocol. I was sick with chronic fatigue, mainly because of thyroid/adrenal issues, and improved dramatically doing his protocol.

    • Hey Julia, how many rounds did you do to improve?
      Does the improvement last after you’ve done chelating?

  3. A few ‘basics’ could do with addressing:

    1. Why not describe the detox protocol – tell us what it is – so we can research it & critique it? No-one coming here is much prone to leaps in the dark, or just trusting what the guy in the white coat says.

    2. None of these mercury articles have addressed where the mercury deposits itself, & where it does the most damage – i.e. in the organs. Autopsy studies find it there in quantity. Its half-life in the blood (discussed above) is of relatively minor interest.

    3. And the brain? Hg can cross the BBB: does Dr Shade have a plan for brining it back out? Can we hear about it?

    4. There’s also a whole ballgame where Hg build-up is the flipside of B12 deficiency: they cause each other. And both impair methylation. So mercury links into other major Chris Kresser themes.

    • Go join Andrew cutler chelation think tank On fb.
      15k members all know how to remove toxins mercury safely

      • Andrew Cutler’s technique almost destroyed my wife.

        She was lying in a hospital bed with severe delirium, sleeping much of the time and when she woke, she would cry out “help me, help me, help me” like a demented Alzheimer’s patient.

        She developed cogwheel rigidity of her arms and legs consistent with Parkinson’s disease.

        There was no way to get the mercury out of her brain using Cutler’s protocol. Each time I treated her, even with very small doses of lipoic acid, she would worsen.

        And I followed the protocol, even going to a 2 hour regimen.

        Her ANA levels are very high as are her double stranded DNA levels. Everyone kept telling me she had lupus and kept upping the steroids, wanting to add things like imuran, methotrexate and CellCept to her regimen which I refused. Finally a brilliant rheumatologist came in and said emphatically that Lupus did not cause the constellation of neurological symptoms my wife had.

        She backed down the steroids and in the course of my reading and research, I can’t across an article published by Nicholas Ralston of the university of North Dakota. Selenium mitigates mercury toxicity in every species of fish, bird and mammal tested. It seems that mercury leads to a selenium deficiency in the brain. It’s felt to be the major determinant for mercury induced CNS toxicity.

        I gave my wife high doses of selenium. Over a 72 to 96 hour time span, she went into make a full neurological and cognitive recovery.

        The hospital physicians were clueless and astounded at the same time, attributing her improvement to the use of steroids.

        My wife is now in the care of a very capable complementary medicine physician and making slow, progressive improvement. She is incredibly mercury toxic.

        She worked for six years as a dental technician and the dentist also put amalgam fillings into her mouth.

        The following links to videos demonstrating the dangers of using amalgam are pretty incriminating.

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=jni5WHsKDKE

        https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GXB2AzqCjTE

        It won’t be long before the ADA will be facing the tort lawyers in court.

        The other thing is that I would strongly recommend against the use of the Cutler protocol, especially for anyone that’s highly mercury toxic. It nearly killed my wife and that’s not being overstated.

        DMSA or DMPS along with the use of generously dosed selenium concomitantly is far safer. I would recommend yeast free selenomethionine.

        Of course, DMPS and DMSA should never be used while a person still has amalgam fillings either. Selenomethionine, however, is safe even with amalgams in place.

        Here’s the link on the publication discussing the link between mercury and selenium.

        http://pacificalbacore.com/wfoa/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/ralstonraymond.pdf

          • Lisa,

            While I can not argue with Jeff’s conclusion, I find that ACC is a useful protocol, but they ignore the effects of selenium on mercury A) it binds mercury into the non-reactive compound mercuric selenide and B) it increases the urinary excretion of mercury. My blood levels of selenium were so low that the lab checked them twice to ensure their equipment was working properly. After reading up on selenium I discovered the threshold that a typical person reaches selenium toxicity is around 1000 mcg and that selenium toxicity from doses 30 times greater are reversible by simply discontinuing supplementation. I began taking 2000 mcg per day for two weeks then dropped back to between 600 mcg to 1200 mcg. At 600 mcg daily my blood levels reached the lowest cusp of “normal”. I had dental amalgams for 40 years until they were removed in March of 2017. One other thing to keep in mind: selenium is transferred from the liver to all parts of the body as selenoprotein-P. B6 is a cofactor in the production of selenoprotein-P. A daily dose of between 15 and 40 mg should ensure faster production. Best of luck!

        • I would agree that ACC does not go far enough…I would at least add a binder like IMD or Metal Sweep by BioPure to help with elimination.

          It might be worth looking into getting Ereramide compassionate care use…look up Boyd Haley on YouTube. Ithonk this will be future of chelation therapy once approved by FDA due to superior half life and better bonding (does not let go of mercury) than DMSA or DMPS.

          Prayers and blessings!

  4. Awaiting root canal, & must know more about metal crown, as I only have white crowns in my mouth so far, due to being a singer. I’m in Scotland now, so will be needing to find out what is available here in Orkney. In Maui, the insurance would only allow me to pull the tooth, so I waited to come to Scotland to see what options were here. It is $150. for a metal crown or $750., or more, for a white crown, so now I am not sure what I will do. I have just recently been on antibiotics, which I refused even when I healed pneumonia naturally in 2014, but the dental pain was so severe and constant, I took pain killer ibuprofen, and accepted taking these antibiotics as well: Amoxicillan caps 500mg. x 15 (3/day x 5 days). Can anyone suggest what to ask for from dentist here and what to do to bring my beneficial flora back after these antibiotics? I have plain organic yogurt daily, and will find a good probiotic as soon as I take the ferry to Kirkwall again from tiny island of Rousay! It is interesting being away from my usual big fancy dental worlds of Los Angeles, NYC, & Maui, Hawaii. Any help welcome. Blessings to all who contributed to this awesome helpful thread, Claire

    • Sorry to hear about your dental pain and your dilemma. I was recommended by my good friend to try the following. I myself did not have to do it, so I cannot tell you how effective it is, but it worked for my friend:

      Kyolic – garlic and mushroom pills. Take double or triple the daily dosage as a supplement. My friend told me that this really got rid of the pain by boosting her immunity.

      Fermented Cod Liver Oil and Butter Oil mix by Peaceful Pastures

      Things that are recommended in remineralizing your tooth – google it.

      Hope it helps.

    • Hi Clair,
      Sometimes, it’s hard to avoid antibiotics (I’m going on over 4 years), but you are right to work on your gut flora after a round since a health flora is your best protection against getting sick and numerous other things. For bringing back healthy flora, Beet Kvass is excellent and nourishing as well. Easy to make and inexpensive. Here’s a link on how to make it: http://thenourishingcook.com/how-to-make-fermented-beet-kvass/

      Hope this helps.
      Wendy

      • Forgot to add, one of the ingredients for making the beet kvass is whey…not the powdered kind you can buy in the health food stores though. This is easy to make from the same yogurt you said you eat. You basically strain your organic WHOLE MILK yogurt through cheese cloth (I actually use a stainless still thin mesh strainer) and the liquid that separates is whey. The rest is delicious cream cheese. If you click on “whey” in the article, you will also find instructions. Enjoy!

        Wendy

  5. Please share what replacement dental materials you have used or recommend, when getting amalgam filling removed.

    Thank you!!!

    • I do not know the exact name of the filling but it was a white composite. I think they call it “white cure” or something like that. Just make sure you get it taken it out properly by a biologic dentist. Good luck!

      On a personal note, I had a complete transformation after taking out fillings. It has been about one year and I am having sensations that I never had before (nerve regrowth). I found that using EDTA suppository helped me a lot by Kelamin.

      Good luck everyone fighting this beast!

      • I just wanted to add one more thing to this board for whomever it may help. There is a supplement called Nitric Oxide, https://goo.gl/MraroY, that I would highly recommend for those suffering from nerve pain as a result of their mercury toxicity. I think this was the worst part of it for me as I went through it.

        Note, that this is not a chelator, but it does have an effect on reducing pain associated with nerve issues, although this is not the intended outcome, it’s really more of an energy supplement.

        Scholarly articles will tell you that mercury toxicity inhibits the production of nitric oxide. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12175822
        By taking this pill you are taking an amino acid that triggers a reaction in your body to produce this gas that’s responsible for proper immune functioning.

        I do not think that this is a usual course for treating symptoms of mercury toxicity but it has been effective for me, and I think others as well if they were to give it a try.

        It does not have caffeine either. However, it will maybe make you feel more energetic and a little on edge for the first few weeks that you take it. For me, the benefits far outweighed the negatives.

        Read the reviews, do your research, and decide for yourself, especially if you have severe nerve pain as I did.

        Blessings to all!

    • I have been detoxing from Mercury for over a year, under the care of a functional medicine Dr in Roanoke, VA. Also have just completed removal and replacement of 7 amalgams plus one mixed semi precious metal crown placed over an amalgam. Under the care of a great biological dentist in Lynchburg, VA
      She only does the replacement with blood tests beforehand to determine what materials your system will tolerate. Since my last quadrant, I have experienced heightened symptoms, including new skin rashes. This recovery is a very long road, but I can tell you that I am 80%
      better with all symptoms, after detoxing slowly for a year. You do not want to have the amalgams removed with out the care of functional medicine Dr and biological dentist. Sypmtoms of detox are almost as scary as the poisoning itself.