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Mercury Toxicity -- More Prevalent Than We Know?

Mercury ContaminationRecent years have seen an upsurge in awareness of mercury toxicity. Mercury is known to impair functioning of the thyroid, pituitary, kidneys and adrenal glands. Symptoms of mercury toxicity are wide and varied: loss of appetite, birth defects, depression, skin rash, dizziness, fatigue, hormone imbalances, hair loss, headaches, insomnia, memory loss, mood swings, numbness and tingling, excess salivation, anxiety, cardiovascular disturbances, immune suppression and muscle weakness. Multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, migraine headaches and other nervous system disorders have been identified as being caused or exacerbated by mercury toxicity.

Mercury is a naturally occurring element found in soil and rocks. It also exists in lakes, streams and oceans. In addition to natural sources, mercury is released into the environment by human activities such as pulp and paper processing, mining operations, and burning garbage and fossil fuels, especially coal. Forty tons of mercury is released into the air every year by coal-burning power plants, which eventually finds its way into the food chain.

There are many everyday products in the home that contribute to mercury toxicity. These include broken thermometers, cosmetics, fabric softeners, felt, film, seafood, fungicides, floor waxes, mercurochrome, merthiolate, paints, plastics, lens solutions and wood preservatives. It is also one of the main components in childhood vaccinations. Thus, mercury has also been implicated in neurological disorders of children such as autism and ADD/ADHD

In oceans, lakes and rivers, mercury is usually found as a chemical compound called methyl mercury, which binds tightly to the proteins in fish tissue. Most fish have trace amounts of methyl mercury, and when its level in the aquatic environment is high, its level in fish is high as well. Furthermore, mercury tends to accumulate in the food chain, so predatory fish species tend to have higher levels than non-predatory fish or species at lower levels in the food chain.

There has been a plethora of recent media articles about mercury levels in certain species of fish. High levels of mercury have been found in shark, swordfish, fresh and frozen tuna and oysters. Tests on whale meat on sale in Japan have also revealed astonishing levels of mercury. One article reported that women who eat a lot of fish during pregnancy, or even as little as a single serving of a highly contaminated fish, can expose their developing child to excessive levels of mercury. The toxic metal can cross the placenta to harm the rapidly developing nervous system, including the brain.

Although environmental sources of mercury do contribute to a toxic buildup in human tissues, scientific research has shown that "silver" dental fillings, most commonly called "amalgams," are the primary source of mercury in the human body. Amalgams are still used by most dentists in the United States.

For over 150 years the American Dental Association (ADA) has stated that mercury amalgams are "safe and effective," that they do not leach mercury into the body, and that there are no studies which indicate any health problems associated with having mercury in the mouth. This does not jive with current medical research.

Over ten years ago the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine published an editorial calling amalgam fillings the chief source of mercury exposure in the United States. This is not surprising, considering that American adults have an estimated 500 tons or so of toxic mercury poison stored in their dental fillings.

A typical filling contains an estimated 800 milligrams of amalgam, with a middle-aged adult having about 8 fillings. This works out to about 3.2 grams of potential mercury solids and vapor to go into the lungs, blood, and brain from dental fillings alone, an average of about three-millionths of a gram a day, not counting the amount of mercury we take in from vaccinations and from our food.

The metallic mercury used by dentists to manufacture dental amalgam is considered so toxic that it is shipped as a hazardous material to the dental office. When amalgams are removed, the residue is treated as hazardous waste and dental offices are required to dispose of it in accordance with federal regulations. Yet, the American Dental Association considers the human mouth to be a safe storage container for this toxic material.

If mercury is as safe as the American Dental Association says it is, why have European countries restricted its use?

In February of 1994, Sweden announced a total ban on the use of mercury fillings in young adults. Denmark, Germany and Austria followed suit. In Switzerland and Japan, the dental schools no longer teach amalgam use as the primary source of dental care. In the USA, only Maine has stepped forward in requiring dentists to instruct their patients in the potential hazards associated with mercury-based fillings.

The current use of mercury in dental fillings has been compared with the 1950's use in shoe stores of powerful x-ray machines called fluoroscopes, which exposed hundreds of thousands of adults and children to high doses of toxic x-rays. Every child who went into the shoe store to buy new shoes would put his feet into the fluoroscope so the bones could be seen. People who worked in the store were exposed to the radiation all day; children played games around the machine. We now realize it was a terrible thing to do, but then it seemed perfectly normal.

How to Lower Your Body Stores of Mercury

  • Consider removing your old silver amalgam fillings. The Holistic Dental Association (see URL below) can direct you to a dentist who is specially trained in mercury amalgam removal.
  • Don't chew gum. Chewing gum releases mercury solids and vapor from dental fillings. One recent study found that heavy gum chewers had twice the amount of mercury in their blood and three times the level in their urine and breath exhalation than did infrequent chewers.
  • Don't smoke. The heat generated by smoking release mercury vapor.
  • Stay away from fish with high mercury content.
  • Urine and hair analyses can give an indication of the amount of mercury stored in your body. If your stores are high, IV and oral chelation can help remove mercury from your body.
  • A number of supplements also help with mercury detox. Speak with a health practitioner who is knowledgeable in this field.

Resources:

The Foundation for Toxic-Free Dentistry, P.O. Box 608010, Orlando, 32860-8010
The International DAMS Newsletter, 6025 Osuna Boulevard, Suite B, Albuquerque, NM 87109, at 505 888-0111.
Holistic Dental Association, holisticdental.org

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