One of the most widespread consequences of modern pollution involves mercury, a heavy metal that can threaten your health. Also called quicksilver, mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature.
While the element has its uses (in thermometers, for example), it’s also a major industrial pollutant, coming primarily from coal-fired power plants. The soot from these plants is carried far away, descending on crops or the ocean, where it enters the food chain and may wind up on your dinner plate.
Mercury poisoning is a serious condition. The manic Mad Hatter who carouses in Alice in Wonderland suffered from mercury exposure. At the time, many hatters used mercury in their craft and often suffered mercury-induced tremors. In addition to being a neurotoxin, the element affects the heart, kidneys, liver and other organs, as well as inhibiting the immune system. Pregnant women and children are most at risk.
Mercury poisoning symptoms include headaches, insomnia and tingling in extremities as well as problems with speech, hearing, vision, balance and other neurological symptoms. A study conducted in New Zealand found that people with high mercury exposure experienced fatigue, memory loss, depression and hair loss. If these sound like difficulties you suffer, talk to an integrative physician about testing for mercury body burden.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to impose stricter rules on mercury emissions, but so far has not chosen to do so. Coal is a big deal in many States where it is either mined or burned for energy. As a result, we’re now seeing the short-term benefits of abundant energy at the expense of long-term health protection benefits. In other words, we cannot rely on industry and the government to protect our families from toxic mercury. That responsibility belongs to us.
While there are a variety of mercury sources, the greatest danger comes from fish. Aquatic organisms convert the mercury in water into an extremely toxic form known as methylmercury. From there, the toxin creeps up the food chain in a process called bioaccumulation. Mercury is often concentrated in shellfish, as well as tuna, swordfish, shark and other large fish. European regulators have advised pregnant women not to eat more than 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of game fish in a week. It’s probably not bad advice for the rest of us as well.
This doesn’t mean you should omit fish entirely. Smaller fish have much lower concentrations and are not a significant source of mercury. One very interesting study showed that cognition in infants had an inverse relationship with their mothers’ mercury levels. The lower the mercury levels, the better the cognition. It’s important to note that women with low mercury levels who ate a lot of seafood had better-performing children. They simply avoided the large, mercury-dense fish.
Though the majority of mercury comes from consuming fish, we often encounter other sources. Polluted air, drinking water and some cosmetics also convey mercury. We can also be exposed through dental fillings.
You can also get mercury from compact fluorescent bulbs. Be very careful when changing them. If one breaks, never sweep or vacuum the fragments or you may disperse mercury into the air.
High fructose corn syrup seems to have relatively high levels of mercury: another reason to avoid processed foods that contain this ingredient.
Risks Of Conventional Chelation
There are a variety of chelation therapies that can remove heavy metals and other toxins from the body. Some work better than others and there can be side effects. One of the more common compounds is EDTA, a synthetic amino acid that’s used to treat lead poisoning. Unfortunately, it has a long list of side effects: reduced blood sugar, headaches, nausea, low blood pressure, organ damage and others.
Another compound is DMSA, which is used to chelate lead, arsenic and mercury. Again, it has pretty bad side effects, including fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and rashes.
Another problem with these chemicals is that they can also remove minerals from the body, taking both the bad and the good. Obviously, we need to be careful selecting a detoxification agent. The cure can sometimes be worse than the condition we’re treating.
One of the best compounds to safely remove toxins is modified citrus pectin (MCP).
In the bloodstream, MCP can bind to heavy metals and other toxins to help the body remove them. This ability first came to light after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Children in the vicinity who were given pectin had fewer cases of thyroid cancer.
Alginates are another natural detoxifier. Extracted from brown kelp, these compounds bind to mercury, arsenic and other heavy metals, as well as dangerous chemicals like pesticides. In addition, they are also effective at removing low-level radioactivity. Kelp contains high levels of iodine which can block the absorption of radioactive iodine.
MCP and alginates can be a powerful combination for removing dangerous toxins from the bloodstream and digestive tract. In one pilot study, the paired compounds removed an average 74 percent of the heavy metal burden. Most importantly, this was accomplished with zero side effects.
The Problem Of Reabsorption
It’s important to remember that detoxification is finished only when the substances are completely removed from the body. A problem that plagues many detox treatments is the fact that heavy metals can be taken from one organ only to be reabsorbed by another (often the intestines). We should always work to avoid this game of physiological musical chairs. Once the toxins are removed, they need to be completely flushed from the body.
This highlights another advantage of MCP, and particularly alginates: Once they bind with toxins, they keep them from being reabsorbed. This puts us in a better position to remove them completely.
We also recommend sulfured amino acids nutrients and antioxidant botanicals, such as cilantro, garlic, milk thistle and dandelion, to further the detoxification process. A nutrient-dense diet emphasizing detoxifying foods, along with plenty of filtered water and regular exercise are also critical for removing mercury and other heavy metals from the body.
In its natural state, mercury is actually quite beautiful. But when it gets inside the human body, it’s a completely different matter. The good news is that there are ways to limit mercury toxicity. It’s simply a matter of being mindful. Keeping mercury out of your system is just one more way to promote good health — and it becomes more important every day.