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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

Minimize Your Exposure to Mercury: While many obvious sources of mercury have been removed from our environment, many still remain and Alan Christianson, NMD, of Scottsdale, tells us what to avoid

Oct 01, 2012 07:59PM ● By By Alan Christianson, NMD

In the 19th century, experienced hat makers were famous for being erratic and delusional. These hatters spent the bulk of their workdays leaning over hot cauldrons of mercuric nitrate, which was used to process felt into hats. Of course, this was done without ventilation or respirators that would today be required. The mercury they breathed in built up in their brains and over time, they became rather odd.

Thank goodness we don’t have to worry about such things today, right? Many obvious sources of mercury have been removed from our environment, but unfortunately, many still remain. In fact, exposure to mercury is something we face every day. Even small amounts are not eliminated and over time, it can build up. Mercury overexposure often contributes to other illnesses or causes vague symptoms, including erratic mood changes, hypothyroidism, memory loss, painful feet or hands, irritability, muscle weakness, episodes of confusion or disorientation and skin rashes.

Those that should be most concerned about this include anyone that has more than six “silver” fillings; does or did eat fish most days, especially tuna; or works with paints, cleaners, jewelry or agricultural chemicals. Our most common sources of exposure are dental amalgams, seafood, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and medications.

Dental amalgams are silver-colored fillings, made of 40 to 50 percent mercury. Amalgams gradually degrade and constantly leach mercury into the body. Amalgams are so toxic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has written elaborate procedures that dental labs must follow when disposing of any unused material.

Seafood contains a type of mercury that is especially prone to end up in our brains. Even small amounts have been shown to impair the ability to select words, to process new information and to worsen hand/eye coordination. The EPA was alarmed enough about this to issue a report to Congress in 1997. In it they stated that at least eight percent of American women ages 16 to 49 carried dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies from seafood.

Types of seafood with the most mercury should simply be avoided. These include mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish. Although tuna is not the highest source of mercury, it is a type of fish that many of us eat on a regular basis. The Environmental Working Group advises no more than four ounces of tuna per week for most adults. Lower mercury types of seafood include herring, pollock, salmon, sardines, shrimp and tilapia.

HFCS is a sweetener widely used by food manufacturers. A 2009 study showed that mercury was present in half of the foods containing HFCS. Many factories that produce HFCS still use dated, low-cost mercury-cell technologies.

Many medications use mercury as a preservative. This is especially common in vaccines. The FDA has a list of more than 130 prescription and over-the-counter medications that contain mercury, including eye drops, nasal sprays, skin creams and hemorrhoid ointments. Mercury is readily absorbed into the body from any of these sources.

Even if you do not have symptoms from mercury, be aware of these sources and avoid those you can. This will both lower your risk of harm and will also lower the global burden of mercury by supporting greener manufacturers. Replace old or unstable dental amalgams with newer, non-mercury alternatives. Be aware of mercury in seafood and always have spinach and brown rice with it. This will cause you to absorb less mercury. Avoid HFCS in your diet, which will also help lower your body fat. Ask your doctor about mercury-free vaccines. They are now available. Ask your pharmacist about mercury in eye drops, nasal and topical products. Mercury-free alternatives exist.

Because it is so hard for our bodies to eliminate mercury, reducing intake alone is not always enough. If you may have had exposure, consider getting tested. Some tests can be done at home without a doctor’s order. These include hair tests and random urine tests. Hair tests are easy to do and non-invasive; just purchase a home kit from an online lab. Trim about one tablespoon of hair from the back of your scalp. This can be mailed into a lab and they can analyze it. If the tests show mercury as elevated, there is not a perfect correlation between how much is in the hair and how much is in the body, so it is smart to do further testing.

Doctors can test for mercury in two ways: with and without provocation. With provocation means a medicine that causes your body to eliminate mercury is given first, then urine is collected afterwards. This shows how much has built up in your body’s organs over the years. Unprovoked tests are done without any detox medicines. This shows your last one to three days of exposure.

If mercury does show up, doctors trained in detoxification can guide you through a process to get it out. Ideally, testing will be repeated to confirm that your levels truly have gone down.

Dr. Alan Christianson is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Thyroid Disease. His medical practice focuses on optimal diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease. For more information, visit

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