Mercury is a heavy metal found primarily in the crust of the earth in the form of Cinnabar or Vermillion. It is not a normal part of the human body. It is, in fact, known to be toxic to the nerves. So much so, that it is associated with degenerative nervous conditions such as multiple sclerosis. It is what was responsible for the madness of the “Mad Hatter” of Alice in Wonderland. Hatters of the era used a good deal of mercury in their craft. General symptoms of mercury toxicity include chronic irritability, chronic depression, tingling and numbness of the extremities, chronic fatigue, memory loss, unexplained anger and even suicidal thoughts.
The two principle ways that we get exposed to mercury is through consumption of fish and from “silver fillings” in our mouths. It is interesting that fish also contain a large amount of selenium that counteracts the ill effects of mercury. It is a lesson that nature takes steps to protect its own. It is also interesting that a new problematic source of mercury is the smoke from crematoriums due to the large numbers of people with “silver fillings”, which actually contain more than 50 percent mercury.
Though it has been known for years that mercury is poisonous, it wasn’t until recently that the government took steps to protect citizens by banning its use in public schools. An interesting aside is that over a hundred years ago it was common knowledge that mercury was toxic. In fact, mercury was also known as quicksilver. And, the Germans pronounced it quack-silver, which is the origin of the term “Quack” as applied to someone who practices bad medicine.
It has been determined that the amount of mercury in the average dental filling (about a half gram on average) would exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s limits for a 10 acre lake. Each and every time a person bites with an amalgam filling mercury is released in the form of gas. As always, each person is an individual with unique chemistry. Therefore, each person will be affected uniquely from the same amount of mercury. I had a lady come into the clinic in a wheel chair after having her mercury amalgam fillings removed improperly and getting a large dose of gas from the procedure. It took a year of periodic chelation (a chemical method of removing heavy metals from the body) to get her able to wear high heels again. Coincidentally, her daughter also had her amalgams removed and went from being a straight “A” student to a “D” and “F” student. After chelation she went back to making A’s. These two similar responses illustrate that there may be a genetic component to how an individual reacts to a toxin like mercury. Most people seem to have less dramatic effects. Some commonly used agents for chelating mercury are DMPS, DMSA and even EDTA (used a great deal for arteriosclerosis, hardening of the arteries). In addition to these agents, cilantro will pull out mercury as will N-acetyl-cysteine, a sulfur containing amino acid.
Ways of determining the amount of mercury, as well as other heavy metals, that might be in your body include hair analysis and urine analysis. Looking for cracked fillings and discoloration of the gums from leeching mercury may also help to raise a red flag of suspicion. Your dentist may help you choose less toxic substitutes.
Dr. Miles is a naturopathic doctor practicing at the Catalina Clinic of Integrative Medicine in Catalina, Arizona.