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Mercury Exposure & the Nervous System

Five years ago, the European Union banned the placement of “silver” mercury amalgam fillings in children and pregnant and nursing women. While the US didn’t exactly follow suit, the FDA did later issue new guidance against amalgam for these same populations, as well as people with certain health issues that make them more vulnerable to mercury toxicity.

Now the European Commission has proposed a complete and total ban of amalgam. If approved by the European Parliament and Council, it would go into effect on January 1, 2025. The rule would ban the manufacture and export of amalgam, as well.

We dearly hope the US will follow suit sooner rather than later. Dental amalgam is actually 50% mercury by weight, and mercury is a very real hazard to human health.

“Silver” Fillings Are Mercury & Mercury Is Toxic
Mercury is a naturally occurring element that comes in different forms. Inorganic mercury is what comes from rocks and minerals, such as mercury salts and elemental mercury (the shiny metal form you may be visualizing as you read this). Combined with carbon, it becomes organic mercury.

Methylmercury is only the most familiar organic mercury compound. It’s the kind of mercury you get from eating fish such as tuna and King mackerel. Ethylmercury, on the other hand, is what’s used in the thimerosal that’s used in some vaccines, while phenylmercury is used in some pesticides and other products.

While all forms of mercury can be harmful, it’s particularly dangerous when inhaled as vapor or consumed as methylmercury. The latter is absorbed more readily and excreted more slowly than other forms of the heavy metal, while the former introduces mercury directly to your bloodstream from your lungs, nearly all of which is absorbed.

That mercury can hang around for a long time, as well. The more mercury that gets harbored in your body’s tissues, the harder it can become to excrete. The body simply becomes overwhelmed.

The Harm that Mercury Can Do
Long term exposure to mercury can cause a wide range of health problems. When it accumulates in the kidneys, for instance, it can impair their ability to filter waste from the blood. This can lead to a buildup of toxins and ultimately kidney failure. When it accumulates in the lungs, it can destroy lung tissues and impair lung function. At very high exposures, mercury inhalation can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome and even death.

Mercury also negatively impacts the cardiovascular system. It can raise blood pressure and heart rate. It can cause irregular heart rhythms. By damaging the inner lining of blood vessels, mercury also triggers inflammation in arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack.

But this heavy metal is most notoriously associated with neurological issues, for mercury is extraordinarily toxic to the human brain. Once it finds its way there, it damages neurons, which are cells that send messages between different parts of the brain and body. This damage can disrupt the signals neurons used to communicate. Broken communication paves the way for a lot of dysfunction – Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s, MS, Guillain-Barré, mental health problems, and more.

Even small amounts of mercury can lead to subtle effects on brain function, especially in babies and children. Mercury exposure harms the developing nervous system, which can lead to learning problems or other disabilities later in life.

Protecting Your Health by Reducing Your Exposure to Mercury
While many make a Very Big Deal about mercury exposure from fish – and not unreasonably so – “silver” mercury fillings are actually the most chronic exposure any human can have. So long as the fillings are in your mouth, there’s never a moment when you’re not exposed. With every bite and swallow, mercury vapor is released. At least some of that mercury gets inhaled.

The only way to put an end to that is to have the fillings safely removed and replaced with biocompatible restorations. A period of doctor-guided detox is also needed to support the body’s ability to excrete all the stored up mercury as safely and efficiently as possible.

If you’re not able to get them removed now, at a minimum, you should still see a biological dentist for your oral health needs. Procedures such as polishing can accelerate the release of mercury from amalgams. A biological dentist will opt for mercury-safe procedures as a rule.

Becoming more conscientious about your fish consumption can also help you reduce your exposure to mercury. Not all fish come loaded with mercury. Instead of tuna, orange roughy, swordfish, Chilean sea bass, and other high mercury fish, opt for the many great alternatives: salmon, sole, herring, flounder, all kinds of shellfish, and much more!

The Natural Resources Defense Council offers a wonderful guide to help you make wise choices when buying fish. You can download a copy here.

The last key to limiting exposure is to be knowledgeable about mercury in consumer products and avoid them as much as possible (or take extra precaution when using them). You’ll find a comprehensive list of these on the EPA’s website.