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Mercury Poisoning: Are You Exposed?


As time and technology evolve so does knowledge and information regarding our health. We can decipher what is best for us and what is harmful. More and more studies are finding that our air, water, food and anything we put in or on our body has real effects on our overall health. Once we discover a new harmful source, oftentimes, we can identify it as the root of something that historically was unexplainable. The new harmful substance or practice becomes an official diagnosis. What is the latest harmful discovery knocking at our door? Mercury.

No, I’m not talking about the smallest planet in the solar system, but an extremely toxic, heavy metal element found in the earth’s crust. It can also be found in the air, water and soil. Mercury can enter the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. It occurs naturally in the environment in many different forms and is found within compounds and inorganic salts.

Elemental mercury – seen as shiny, silver-white, metal that is a liquid at room temperature – qualifies as a fair conductor of electricity and is used in thermometers, barometers, and other scientific instruments. If not properly enclosed, some of the metallic mercury will evaporate and release mercury vapors starting at room temperature and releasing more as the temperatures rise. The vapor is colorless and odorless, but some may end up with metallic taste in their mouths. These vapors are also used in neon lights and fluorescent lamps.

History of Mercury Poisoning

The discovery of mercury’s poisoning dates back centuries and was the inspiration behind the creation of Alice in Wonderland’s character, The Mad Hatter. Haven’t you ever wondered what caused him to go mad? In the 18th and 19th century, mercury-based compounds were used in the manufacture of felt hats. The phrase “mad as a hatter” is a reference to mercury poisoning among hat makers who had prolonged exposure to mercury vapors. The neurotoxic effects included tremors along with pathological shyness and irritability. By the mid-1930s, about 80% of America felt hat makers had mercurial tremors. Unfortunately, these harmful results are not what stopped the use of mercury in felt hat making, but the need for mercury during wartime.

Top Culprits

If you are a sushi or seafood lover, you may need to cut back on your consumption. If you’re pregnant your doctor should have told you that eating either food is strictly prohibited. The reasoning is because seafood forms Methylmercury (elemental mercury) due to bacteria reacting with the mercury in the water it lives in, and plants it may consume. Smaller and short-lived fish like sardines hold less exposure while larger, older fish such as bigeye tuna; yellowfin tuna, swordfish and king mackerel have higher amounts. This doesn’t mean you must give up your love of seafood; eating fish does have health benefits. If you’re eating seafood about once or a month or less, it’s more likely to benefit you than harm you. However, if you are one to consume seafood more than once a week you need to make sure you choose fish with low mercury levels to avoid mercury poisoning.

Another top mercury source is causing a big debate in the dental world in relation to the mercury used in dental amalgam fillings. Some are concerned that the shiny silver used to fill cavities may be releasing mercury vapor in your mouth. These fillings are used because they are durable, providing strong chewing surfaces, they can be inserted quickly, and are, less expensive, lasting longer than the alternatives. Mercury is still used is the dental industry. The FDA considers dental amalgam fillings safe for adults and children ages 6 and above. The amount of risk is directly related to the number and age of the fillings, consuming acidic food and drinks, and grinding the teeth. In addition, if you have a broken or chipped filling that could lead to bacteria seeping in causing the mercury to grow. The highest exposure occurs when the fillings are placed and when they are removed. This doesn’t mean you need to make an emergency run to the dentist, but you should talk with your dentist about removing them safely and replacing them with a safer substance.

Today we continue to consume mercury as pollution in our air, water, food and shockingly enough through our own medical establishments. Now that it’s been discovered that mercury is making us sick, warnings have been widely publicized in the media. Before that, anyone that suggested this would have been considered mad.


Lower your exposure to mercury poisoing with these few tips.

Use clean energy sources that do not use coal. Coal contains mercury and emits hazardous air pollutants when it’s burned.

Tuna has the highest levels of mercury and consumption should be limited - cooking the fish will not reduce the mercury levels.

Eat your greens. Increasing your intake of Vitamin C rich foods, green leafy vegetables, and milk thistle, helps the body detoxify heavy metals like mercury.

Safely dispose of all your fluorescent lightbulbs by taking them to places like Home Depot where they offer free recycling. If the bulb is intact the mercury is safely contained, once it breaks, make sure to air out the room for 15 minutes and follow the EPA cleanup guidelines for safety.

Written by Dr. Scott Mindel. View published article in the Ville Magazine 2017 Spring People & Pet issue.

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