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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

In my work, 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.

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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!

Amy Nett

About 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. She works with patients through a Functional Medicine approach, working to identify and treat the root causes of illness.  She uses nutritional therapy, herbal medicine, supplements, stress management, detoxification and lifestyle changes to restore proper function and improve health.

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Join the conversation

  1. When is the webinar and how do we register for it? My doctor is pretty sure I have Mercury poison. I had amalgams removed several years ago without any knowledge of mercury poison or how to safely remove them. Last year I had to have a tooth extracted as a result of a root canal that had gone wrong and it was pretty traumatic….three and a half hours of pulling and drilling to get the tooth out because the root had broken from the tooth. Then the bone graph didn’t take and I had to have two of those. It was not two weeks after that I began to notice a head tremor that progressively become so bad I couldn’t turn my head or drive. I was diagnosed with Cervical Dystonia 5 months later….then MTHFR and now an autoimmune disease and my platelets keep dropping. My doctor/acupuncturist is afraid chelation will be too taxing on my body right now. Is there anything else right now I could do? I already follow a paleo/aip diet and avoid any chemicals/toxins in the home. Would love to know more about how to join the webinar and any advice you could give would be greatly appreciated!

    • The date has not been set for this webinar. Make sure you’re on the email list so you get an announcement when registration opens.

    • I have 3 root canals and think one of them is infected. I am waiting to see my holistic dentist to see what he says about pulling the tooth out. Do you regret getting your tooth extracted or feel like it helped? Thanks so much!

    • If you use oral chelation you can start with very low doses of alpha lipoic acid, say 2.5 mg, every 3 hours for 3 days, and then gradually increase the dose if side effects are minimal.
      You also need to take zinc, vitamin C and E and magnesium.

  2. Andy Cutler says not to take ALA because it can cause mercury to get into the brain.
    I decided to take 100Mg of R-ALA a day because of eye problems and not sure if it’s a good idea or not. I’ve never heard anyone but Cutler say to avoid ALA.
    I had a root canal and an apicoectomy with the nerve capped by 2 blobs of mercury (inside my gums!).
    The only way to get it out would be to get the tooth pulled.
    Not sure what to do

    • The reason Cutler says not to take ALA is that it can cross the blood brain barrier, taking mercury with it, so that you increase the amount of mercury in your brain.

      I took ALA for a few month and ended up with balance problems which didn’t go away until I chelated following Cutler’s protocol.

      • Guess I should stop taking it.
        Oh well, it’s good for many things.
        I can’t do the protocol because I still have mercury in my gums

            • I appreciate it’s a difficult decision. A few years ago – in a similar situation – I personally just decided to have the tooth pulled and left the gap. It still feels like the best clean, nontoxic, honoring-my-body decision for me. Just sharing…

                • I made the same decision as Tracy and I am as happy as she. Mine is also a large molar. luckily the upper tooth has a tiny bit of contact so it has not come down into the gap. So I didn’t bother with an implant or bridge or anything.

  3. I had my mercury fillings removed a year ago and half my Psoriasis cleared up within a month and I think the amount of candida in my body went down too. The Psoriasis has been clearing up some more since then (in spurts and then stays the same for a few months). I had tried all sorts of diets and detoxes to fix it. Paleo seemed to help a bit, but just made it less angry, it didn’t start clearing completely until the mercury was removed.

    • The date has not been set for this webinar. Make sure you’re on the email list so you get an announcement when registration opens.

  4. I had mercury fillings removed in the late 80s by an enlightened dentist, using a rubber dam and high suction. Though previously diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I remained symptom-free, athletic, and high-energy for over 20 years, giving birth to two children, except for needing a little extra sleep. I raised the two kids myself after their father died and worked at numerous jobs. However, recent international work and a stressful relationship “put me over the edge” according to my neurologist, who is head at John’s Hopkins hospital. I keep a low fructose, low histamine, high nutrient, no-grain, no alcohol diet. It’s not easy, but it beats being sick. I am currently on medical leave due to fatigue, sleep disorder, and the time it takes to follow a strict medical protocol. I am now trying IVIG at a low-dose, which will increase slowly to 60 g, when we hope it will renew my energy. After three years of detox, antibacterial, anti-parasite, high nutrition, low stress treatment, I sure hope this works. Chronic corporate stress and even verbally abusive relationships can be toxic, despite regular exercise, decent diet, and extra sleep. I am happy I had my mercury fillings removed when I did. Mercury is reportedly the reason for the Mad Hatter – they used to make hats, using liquid mercury, causing madness in manual laborers.

    • You stopped the main source of mercury poisoning into your body by having the mercury removed, but it still remains in the body. Mercury is at the root of a host of ills. Google your condition and mercury poisoning and see what comes up. For example, many long term lyme disease sufferers appear to be mercury toxic. High thiol foods can move mercury around the body wreaking havoc. Eating cilantro or garlic can redistribute mercury. I like Cutler’s protocol for chelating mercury.

  5. How would I know if there are any residual, or other-wise, effects on my body, from working in a Mercury-Chlorine plant? Back in the ’60s/’70s, I worked as an operator, where mercury fumes were present. We only used a mouth-piece to breath through in contaminated air areas.

    • It is very difficult to determine the body’s full mercury load. A hair test that shows high mercury might mean the subject is good at expelling mercury. How can one actually test the load of mercury in the brain without doing a biopsy? There are dangerous challenge tests that would register high mercury levels if you took one, but the test could kill you or make you very sick at the least. I have a theory that mercury attracts mercury, that once the mercury is in the body, the body accumulates more exponentially. Mercury appears to be in any bleached product where the bleach is coming from a chloralkali plant. This means it can be toilet in toilet paper, paper towels, bleached flour. There are 3 chloralkali plants in the U.S., and they also make caustic soda that breaks down corn to make HFCS. Corn syrup is loaded with mercury http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2637263/

    • Quicksilver labs in Colorado is the best test. I had it done in 2010 when it was quite new. They test blood hair urine and can give and indication of the different kinds of mercury. I know that Chris’s team is also using this test.

  6. Chronic inflammation = impaired detoxification, increased susceptibility to mercury toxicity, and, mercury = chronic inflammation. Yet per Personal Paleo Code, I’m advised to add 10-20 servings of fish to my diet to fight chronic inflammation? This doesn’t make any sense.

    • Hi Vicki,

      While I would suggest avoiding seafood that is high in mercury (including swordfish, shark and tuna) there are many other options that are low in mercury such as salmon and sardines, which are also incredibly nutrient dense. Most people do benefit from including these low mercury fish as a regular part of their diet.

      • Dr. Amy,

        I hear this alot about eating “low level fish” but what about if the person already suspects high mercury levels, etc?

        Would it not be wise to simply avoid all fish, and just get the nutrients elsewhere, until the situation is resolved?? This is never clarified it seems.

  7. The article above mentioned a webinar, but I didn’t see a link for it. I’d love to attend your webinar on this topic, how do I sign up? Thank you so much for this important and helpful information. Blessings, Kelly

    • Hi Kelly – the date has not been set for this webinar. Make sure you’re on the email list so you get an announcement when registration opens.

    • The date has not been set for this webinar. Make sure you’re on the email list so you get an announcement when registration opens.

  8. I had all amalgam removed in 1985, one of the first in my city so I was told. I doubt if the dentist took all the precautions that we subsequently came to deem necessary, but after that AND a year on a rotation diet I came out of Epstein Barre which had rendered me an invalid. Later testing showed very little mercury in my system, but the EBV returned about 12 yrs later after a brown recluse bite. I still test very low mercury but veryvery high levels of lead, which is a mystery. The new gene tests reveal that I don’t methylate/detox and will always struggle. Now gluten free for six years, very strict, I can function okay for the most part (still working in my 60s)..just wish I knew how to permanently get rid of the lead. I do personally believe now that the people who benefit the most from amalgam removal are those with the methylation snps…very few other option to rid mercury if you have that snp.

    • Cynthia,
      I also had my amalgams removed decades ago, with no improvement. It wasn’t until I started oral chelation a few years ago that my symptoms started to improve. If your body is not able to excrete mercury efficiently it remains sequestered in the brain, thyroid, liver kidney and other organs causing dysfunction.

    • Supplemental calcium and phospate reduce the uptake of lead from the digestive system. Oral DMSA every 3 hours is recommended for chelation of lead. You take the DMSA for three days once a month. This will cause the blood level to drop, but then it will rise again as lead is released from the bone into the blood. In adults over 90 percent of lead is stored in the bones. It can take years of monthly chelation to get rid of it.

    • I have 15 fillings thanks to my childhood dentist. I can’t afford to have all of them removed. I’m pretty much stuck. ?

  9. I eventually was diagnosed with hypothyroidism/MVP causes unknown. I had a large number of amalgam fillings some of which were carefully removed, I’m saving to have others done with a hormone suitable filler. I also had a metal band (metal unknown to me) around one tooth – for stability my old dentist said. Since it’s removal I quickly had to half my thyroid medication so I assume strong connection.

  10. Had these removed by one of the best Dentists over 20 years ago it did absolutely nothing to improve my health whatsoever now 25 years into being sick I am now finding out that 95% yes 95% of CFS/Fibro so called Lymies have ‘undiagnosed’ types of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome with its numerous complications…Some even have ‘partial incomplete’ Marfans Syndrome or do not have EDS but ‘full’ Marfans Syndrome…CFS/Fibro are just dumb labels put on people its EDS types a genetic Born mutation of Collagen deficiencies the bodies glue…

  11. Certainly if you are going to have fillings removed it needs to be done by someone who is specially trained but do you recommend removing them? I’ve seen arguments for removing them and arguments against.

    • Hi Matthew,
      That’s a great point. I don’t think everyone needs to have their amalgams removed. Specifically, if someone only has one or two small amalgams, excretes mercury efficiently, and has minimal other toxic exposures, then they should be able to adequately handle that mercury load without significant consequence. That said, in order to know testing has to be done.

  12. I’ve been told heavy metal testing is inaccurate/unreliable if you have leaky gut. Do you think this is true?

    • Hi Kelly,
      I think heavy metal testing is reliable, even in the setting of leaky gut. There are a number of different ways to test for heavy metals, and in the webinar we’ll talk more about which tests we recommend. But one of the reasons I often test for metals is with patients who aren’t healing their gut despite doing all the right things. This group certainly has leaky gut and I’ve found metals testing to be incredibly helpful in getting to the root cause (whether positive, leading us to start detox, or negative, confirming we need to look elsewhere).

  13. Because I live in Africa, making an appointment to see you is out of the question. Is there any remedial action that you could recommend for Mercury toxicity?

    • I’m currently doing the Andy Cutler chelation protocol. You can do this on your own. I’m part of their FB support group as well. In my opinion this is the safest method out there for removing mercury. For those who don’t have the assistance of a doctor to help them, this is the best way to go! And for those who do have a doctor, this is still a good protocol to look into to determine if your doctor is chelating you safely.

      I hope you look into it and are feeling better soon!

  14. In 1995, after an 18 month period of increasing fatigue and brain fog, I had all mercury amalgam fillings removed from my upper jaw. The removal was done with best practice precautions of the time. Four days after the amalgam removal, my fatigue and brain fog became much worse. I needed to lie down for at least sixteen hours a day. Three months later I found a doctor who did mercury chelation. I had monthly DMPS infusions for a year. After each infusion I collected urine for the next 24 hours. These samples were analysed by an independent laboratory. The first sample contained 132 nanomoles of Mg. Excretion steadily reduced until, after six months, it plateaued at 50 nanomoles. I then had the mercury amalgam fillings removed from my lower jaw. There was no subsequent increase in urine mercury. After removing amalgam from my lower jaw, I no longer had a metallic taste in my mouth.
    A year after my collapse I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and invalided out of work on full superannuation. I tried many things to get better. I did slowly improve, but could not attribute anything I did to my improvement. In 1999 I tried eliminating salicylates, amines, glutamates and food additives from my diet. This resulted in considerable improvement after ten days. In 2004 I suddenly became intolerant to starch. My current diet is now almost entirely beef tallow, lamb, chicken, white fish, celery, lettuce and lots of supplements. I am more fit and healthy than my age average.
    To me, it seems likely that mercury toxicity was at least part of the cause of my CFS and that removal of mercury amalgam contributed to my eventual recovery from CFS.

    • Chelation while still having amalgams in place worsens mercury poisoning! It’s no wonder your health tanked. Food sensitivities are also an indicator of mercury toxicity. You might want to try chelation again, this time following a safe protocol. Never do IV chelation as it also worsens symptoms!
      Please look into the Culter chelation protocol for how to chelate safely.
      Based on your food sensitivities, it sounds like mercury is still an issue for you.

  15. What criteria do you suggest to make sure that a dentist is knowledgeable enough to do safe amalgam removal? There seem to be many jumping on the bandwagon and it’s hard to know who to trust!

    • most dentists dont believe mercury is a problem. Thats why they continue to sell mercury amalgams. You should look for a “biological dentist”. Like most REAL healthcare, it wont be covered by insurance.

        • Yes, finding on who follows the IAOMT Protocol is a near-guarantee of safe removal.

          • have you found any biological or IOAMT dentists who accept insurance? Cross-referencing all the providers listed on these websites, I do not see any on my insurance….

            • I went to a Huggins protocol dentist. My total fees will be close to $10,000. On my initial visit I paid over $6000. My insurance picked up about $1700 of that.

      • The problem is even a lot of holistic dentists who also refer to themselves as biological dentists, will prescribe ALA for their patients to take before and after dental procedures while amalgams are still present. We recently wasted considerable money visiting such a dentist (who has even authored a book). Consequently my wife will be going to Tijuana, Mexico to have all her amalgams replaced in two days by a dentists who follows the Huggins protocol and who administers IV vitamin C during the procedure. Her appointment is for June 13, 2016.

      • My family and I have been going to a biological dentist for about a year now. She takes our insurance, and I recently had my old amalgams removed and replaced – a significant portion was covered by insurance. All in all, I had 4 fillings replaced and my total out if pocket was a little over $300. I believe thus is becoming more common, as when I looked into removal about 10 years ago, it was a completely different story

  16. currently having fillings removed, 6 gone 6 to go. Have rheumotoid arthritis, thyroid problems and MTHFR, live in constant pain and am concerned about detoxing. The biological dentist uses zeolite to detox once treatment is finished but am concerned about my ability to detox without being overloaded

  17. I’ve been receiving amalgam fillings since way back in the 1960s, and I have a lot of them. It seems I have more filling than tooth in some of my molars. I guess I’d need a major overhaul, but it doesn’t seem practical. I usually pay 20% with dental insurance.

    • I also had a mouth full of amalgam fillings since the 70’s with some molars mostly filling. I have just recently had all amalgams removed with the molars having to be capped because of lack of actual tooth. Unfortunately, this is more costly but I felt it was worth it.

      • What is the crown made of?
        I have more amalgam than tooth in most of my molars also. Every tooth has amalgam in it but my 8 top n 8 bottom front teeth. I am missing 4 teeth due to orthodontia in childhood, 3 teeth that were pulled in last 15 yrs and 1 more that needs to go.
        I ve even looked into implants but thats another metal in ur mouth so not going there.
        Removing the mouthful of mercury and detoxing it from me wud change my life, I am sure of that. But as usual, probably will never happen.
        Long live the American Way, at least in “healthcare”.

  18. Dr Nett,

    Should I be concerned about mercury toxicity if I have no dental fillings of any kind and just eat salmon (and no other seafood) twice a week?

    The symptoms you list correlate pretty strongly with those for poor methylation and also for dysbiosis. I was “content” assuming that those were my primary problems to deal with.