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Phone: (714) 565-1032
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Jeremy E. Kaslow, MD, FACP, FACAAI Physician and Surgeon
Board Certified Internal Medicine

Medical Doctors are licensed and regulated by the Medical Board of California
(800) 633-2322

MERCURY: Influences on Body Chemistry

Mercury Sources (partial list): 

Natural Sources:  volcanoes, some stone

Deliberate Sources:  mining of silver, lead, and coal; curing of plastics; fireworks (pharoah’s serpents and bengal green lights); anatomical specimen preservatives; fungicides and pesticides (golf courses); laboratory tests in slide preparations and reagants; dental amalgams; thimerosol; certain drugs; thermometers; fluorescent lights; certain button-sized batteries; coal burning.

Reproductive effects:  infertility, miscarriage and prematurity. Mercury lowers progesterone levels, which is needed to allow the uterus to support pregnancy. Progesterone insufficiency can be associated with low libido (sex drive) and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).  Low progesterone levels can lead to infertility. In fact, PMS and infertility are common among many young female dental workers due at least in part to their mercury exposure.

Male dental workers also have a relatively high incidence of infertility. Mercury also leads to lower testosterone (male hormone) levels.  Both progesterone and testosterone production are zinc dependent.  Mercury interferes with zinc metabolism and thereby indirectly affects hormone production.

Mineral Displacement:  mercury (usually with a +2 charge) can grab the biological spaces that should be filled by another essential mineral. As a result, there may be plenty of the mineral found in the blood, urine, hair, etc. but due to the displacement at the active site, mercury interferes with the activity of the essential mineral.  Symptoms that can be caused by a deficiency of minerals displaced by mercury include:

  • Magnesium: irregular heartbeat, chocolate cravings, cramps, PMS, receding gums, elevated blood pressure, etc.
  • Iron: anemia, fatigue, etc.
  • Copper: anemia, thyroid dysfunction, impaired digestion, liver enzymes are all copper-dependent, easy bruising, etc.
  • Zinc: anorexia nervosa, loss of taste and smell, loss of appetite, low libido, PMS, impaired growth, acne and other skin disorders, etc.
  • Iodine: thyroid dysfunction, thickened bile, etc.

Digestive effects:  mercury acts as an antibacterial and has been used in some medicines (vaccines, eye drops, etc. as a preservative). Mercury could be an important cause of bowel yeast or parasite overgrowth due to killing off beneficial bacteria which normally repel parasites and aid in digestion. Yeast overgrowth with its attendant symptoms of fatigue, sweets cravings and vaginal infections is often traced to the antibiotic effect of dental mercury. Suspect this as a root cause when yeast is a continuing problem in spite of repeated treatment. The symptom (yeast overgrowth) will not likely go away until the root cause (mercury) is dealt with. The effect of dental mercury on normal gut flora is well documented.

Thyroid problems: such as low body temperature often improve when mercury-containing amalgams are removed.  Normal body temperature is about 98.6 F orally. Those with a temperature range of 96.2 to 97.6 degrees are often considered to have hypothyroid (low thyroid function).  It has been observed that their temperature can rise to 98.2 in as little as one day after amalgam removal and to 98.6 soon afterward. It is plausible that a low body temperature, which can be a sign of low thyroid function, is another symptom caused by mercury.  Of course it would be far better to correct the cause of the apparent thyroid malfunction by removing the fillings or other cause responsible for the low body temperature, rather than prescribing thyroid hormone.

Brain and Learning:  Birth defects involving the brain and learning ability can be caused by mercury, as the metal can passes through both the placental barrier into the fetus and the blood-brain barrier.  There is a sheep study documenting that the fetus actually accumulates and concentrates mercury from the mother!

Accumulation in the brain leads to mental and nervous system effects such as brain fog, depression, vision difficulties, and others as listed above. Mental effects are among the most common due to mercury's strong affinity for the brain. Mercury inhibits the effects of certain neurotransmitters:

  • Dopamine: controls pain, well-being
  • Serotonin: relaxation, sleep, well-being
  • Adrenaline: energy and stamina
  • Noradrenaline, melatonin: sleep cycles

Inhibition of these neurotransmitters by mercury can account in part for the feelings of depression and loss of motivation.

Other mental/neurological symptoms include:

  • General neurological symptoms
  • Mental illness
  • Demyelinization, which can lead to such diseases as multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Developmental problems
  • Cerebral palsy
  • ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease)
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Psychological problems, including loss of function and memory, anger and emotionality, and timidity

There is an excellent on-line movie clip that you can see right on your computer.  You may require a standard plug-in video program called QuickTime to run it but it is well worth viewing.  Go to www.commons.ucalgary.ca/mercury

Mercury effect on energy:  Mercury binds to nitrogen and sulfur in proteins, oxygen from the lungs, sulfur from the liver's detoxification systems, and selenium from the colon. Lower levels of body tissue oxygen due to mercury's binding it may lead to:

  • Fatigue caused by low blood sugar secondary to low blood oxygen
  • Parasite infestation by setting up an anaerobic (less oxygen) environment, and by lowering the level of the good bacteria which fight off parasites
  • An anaerobic environment also favors the development of yeast infections and cancer, since yeast is a fermenting spore and cancer is a fermenting cell rather than a normal respiratory (oxygen using) cell.

Mercury binds with hemoglobin, which is located inside the red blood cell and carries oxygen for transport to tissues. Mercury bound to hemoglobin results in less oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cell and therefore less oxygen will reach the tissues. The body senses the need for more oxygen and may attempt to compensate for this by increasing the production of hemoglobin.  A normal or increased hemoglobin level combined with symptoms of lack of oxygen (fatigue, weakness, appearing pale, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, etc) could indicate mercury toxicity. This can confuse the doctor since the patient seems like they are anemic but in fact the blood counts seem fine. 

Copper is also required to prevent anemia, and mercury can compete for copper's binding sites. In this case, a lowered hematocrit (red blood cell count) can be indicative of lowered blood copper levels.

The terms hematocrit and hemoglobin, found routinely on blood test printouts, can be confusing. If blood is compared to a train carrying oxygen to where it is needed, hematocrit is a measure of the number of boxcars on the train (red blood cells), while hemoglobin is a measure of the carrying capacity of each boxcar, or red blood cell.  When there is a low hematocrit (less boxcars), it is called anemia.

The activity of other minerals on metabolism and energy production can be reduced by mercury's tendency to fight for site.  A deficiency of the function of minerals can lead to fatigue and other symptoms:

  • Cobalt, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium are all required for energy.
  • Zinc is needed for the manufacture of adrenaline.
  • Cobalt, a component of vitamin B12 prevents pernicious anemia, which can cause fatigue.
  • Mercury blocks magnesium and manganese transport required for memory, resulting in lowered ability to concentrate.

These mineral deficiencies may be primarily due to dietary deficiencies. However, deficiencies may also be secondary. The mineral may be in the body but cannot get to where it is needed because mercury has blocked the way. This is like putting a too-large battery in a toy - it won't fit in the slot made for a smaller battery, both denying power to the toy and blocking the slot from receiving the correct size battery.  For this reason, knowing the mercury load is critical to understanding the mineral balance in the body.  Lab tests can only tell the levels available – they do not tell if the minerals are performing there function in the body.  Symptoms and physical signs can often be helpful in clarifying the illusion that the “labs are all normal…”

Increased toxicity:  the mercuric ion (Hg+2) binds to sulfhydryl groups (-SH) in proteins and disulfide groups (-SS) in amino acids. These sulfur containing groups have an important detoxification function in the body by binding to a variety of chemicals, toxins, minerals, etc.  Mercury binding to these sulfur groups may prevent them from detoxifying the chemicals.

Mercury binding the bile lowers the ability of the body to absorb fat, leading to increased absorption of toxic oil-soluble chemicals such as solvents and pesticides like a dry sponge.

Selenium is an antioxidant which binds in place of oxygen and which protects against free radical damage from chemicals which can lead to cancer. Mercury can bind to selenium, making it useless for this protective purpose.

What else can mercury do?

Mercurous ion (Hg+1) pushes out Na+1 (sodium), K+1 (potassium), and Li+1 (lithium). Sodium and potassium are part of the cellular sodium/potassium pump which causes muscle movement. Interference with sodium and potassium can lead to muscle weakness for this reason. Leg and muscle cramps may be due to potassium deficiency.

Lithium is sometimes given as lithium carbonate to patients suffering from bipolar depression (manic depressive illness) since lack of lithium is one of the causes of the disease. Lack of lithium may itself be caused by mercury preventing lithium from working as it should in the brain. Mercury is like the 200 pound bully attacking a 7 pound baby; the small baby doesn't have much of a chance. 200 and 7 are the molecular weights of mercury (the bully) and lithium (the baby) respectively. If you have been diagnosed with bipolar depression, maybe what you need is less mercury, not more lithium pills.

Mercury fights for binding sites in the kidney, another organ for which it has a special affinity. A mineral and electrolyte balance is needed in order for the kidney to perform its functions, and a poorly functioning kidney can lead to edema (fluid buildup in the body). These minerals are prevented from entering into their reactions when mercury is there to interfere. Suppression of potassium by mercury also affects the kidneys which takes you from making adrenaline to maintaining electrolyte balance, and the lowered adrenaline level can lead to lower energy.

Detoxification systems such as metallothionein, cytochrome P-450, and bile are adversely affected by mercury. Metallothionein binds toxic metals in the body to prepare them for excretion. Mercury ties up this material so it cannot clear out other metals such as lead, cadmium, and aluminum.

Mercury from amalgam binds to -SH (sulfhydryl) groups, which are used in almost every enzymatic process in the body. Mercury therefore has the potential to disturb all metabolic processes.

Some people appear to be allergic to whatever food they eat. No matter what they eat, at least one thing in common is ingested - mercury (or nickel). Mercury released from amalgam during chewing may be the cause of most of the symptoms which seem to be caused by the food. If a mercury vapor test, described later in this chapter, is done, it may show a low to moderate level of mercury initially, but a sharply increased level after chewing gum. This is also what happens when food is chewed. Such a test result combined with apparent allergy to most food points to mercury as a probable culprit. Nickel, which may also be contributing to the problem, is in stainless steel dental posts and braces.

(Paraphrased from the book "Surviving the Toxic Crisis" by William R. Kellas)

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