Relative Sources of Mercury Exposure

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Mercury Natural Sources

FIGURE 3.1

AMALGAM

FIGURE 3.1

gious of its time, had no restrictions for use by pregnant women before their sixth month of pregnancy.

The use of mercurial medications to treat syphilis became so common throughout the industrialized world that millions of people already tormented by the debilitating effects of syphilis were also forced to endure acute mercury poisoning. It is interesting to note that one of the most common diagnoses for admission to mental hospitals during this period was neurosyphilis (called "general paresis of the insane"). One can only speculate as to how many of these unfortunate individuals were in truth suffering from neurological mercury toxicity, rather than syphilitic damage to the brain. The use of mercury to treat syphilis was one of the greatest medical disasters of all times, since it had little effect on syphilis itself.

While mercolint bibs may be a thing of the past, dentists have been using a special mixture or amalgam, consisting of mercury, tin, zinc, and other metals for filling teeth for over 150 years. This so-called "silver filling," composed of approximately 50 percent mercury, constantly releases vapor that is highly absorbed by the tissues of the mouth and nose. Today, Americans get over 180 million amalgam fillings every year.

So we see that mercury poisoning has been a problem throughout the history of industrialized nations. Unfortunately, the problem is not getting better, only worse. Our knowledge about the effects of long-term exposure is somewhat limited, but a significant number of recent studies have shed some light on the potentially serious effects of such exposure. One problem we have is our limited ability to directly measure mercury levels in living tissues.

Most studies involve measurements of hair, blood, and urine which do provide a reasonable measure of acute and subacute mercury exposure, but tell little about actual soft tissue accumulation (i.e., in the brain). We have autopsy studies that provide enough information to make reasonable conclusions concerning organ levels during the life of the individual, but we still do not know about the dynamic movement of mercury in a living system. For example, when mercury is absorbed, how does it move from the blood plasma into the central nervous system? Does it move from other tissues into the brain over time? How long does it take mercury to leave the body once it has been absorbed? The half-life in the brain has been calculated to be extremely long. We also know that exercise can cause mercury to move throughout the body, increasing the brain load of this toxic metal.

Another problem is our inability to measure the subtle effects of chronic low-level toxicity of virulent compounds. Acute poisoning with massive doses of mercury is clinically obvious, with such symptoms as abdominal cramping, kidney failure, tremor, hallucinations, muscular weakness, and numbness in the hands and feet. Lower mercury levels frequently cause unusual irritability, timidity, and suicidal tendencies. Even lower levels may produce symptoms that most physicians would not even connect to mercury toxicity. Symptoms such as frequent colds, joint pains, autoimmune disorders, and subtle neurological dysfunction, such as an inability to think clearly, poor memory, headaches, and emotional disorders, may never be linked to real but undiagnosed metal toxicity. We do know, as I will show, that even very low levels of mercury can interrupt numerous cellular functions, especially in brain cells (neurons). There is growing evidence that low-level chronic mercury exposure is associated with numerous disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's dementia, Parkinson's disease, and ALS.

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