Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

This is Your Brain on Mercury: Mercury can be found in many sources, warns Dr. Alan Christianson

Mar 31, 2014 10:22AM ● By Dr. Alan Christianson

Exposure to mercury is something we face every day. Even though we may only be exposed to small amounts at a time, the threat is real because they accumulate over time in the body. Ill effects come from the toxic burden of a lifetime of exposure.

For those that suffer from hypothyroidism, memory loss, fibromyalgia, painful feet or hands, irritability, muscle weakness, episodes of confusion or disorientation, food intolerances, frequent infections or skin rashes, mercury poisoning could be the source of symptoms. If untreated, mercury raises long-term risks of Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks, diabetes and several types of cancer.

The main sources of exposure are dental amalgam, seafood, high fructose corn syrup and medications. Dental amalgams are silver-colored fillings. They are made of 40 to 50 percent mercury. Amalgams gradually degrade and continually 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 our ability to select words or process new information and worsen hand/eye coordination. The EPA was alarmed enough about this to issue a report to Congress in 1997 in which they stated that at least 8 percent of American women ages 16 to 49 carried dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies derived from seafood.

Types of seafood with the most mercury 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 consuming 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.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener widely used by food manufacturers. Many have argued that it is more dangerous than sugar. The increased use of HFCS over the last few decades has paralleled the rise in obesity over the same timeframe. It is now so common in our foods that the average American eats a quarter-to-half-cup of it every day. A 2009 study showed that mercury was present in half of the foods containing HFCS. Many factories that produce HFCS do still use outdated, low-cost, mercury-cell technologies.

Many medications use mercury as a preservative, especially in vaccines. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of more than 130 prescription and over-the-counter medications that contain mercury that includes eye drops, nasal sprays, skin creams and hemorrhoid ointments. Mercury is readily absorbed into the body from any of these sources.

Now that it is apparent that we are all exposed daily, what can we do about it? Even if we do not have symptoms of mercury poisoning, be aware of the sources and avoid as many as possible. This lowers the risk of harm and also lowers the global burden of mercury, by supporting greener manufacturers. 

Other steps to take include replacing any old or unstable dental amalgams with newer, non-mercury alternatives; avoiding intake of high-mercury seafood and focusing on low-mercury types for regular use; and avoiding HFCS in our diet (this will also help lower body fat).

Ask a doctor about the mercury-free vaccines that are now available and check with a pharmacist about mercury content in eye drops, nasal and topical products, because mercury-free alternatives do exist.

If there have been past exposures to mercury sources or symptoms that may be related, consider getting tested. Mercury can be tested via blood, urine, hair and stool. Some tests show only recent exposure, while others can show our total body burden. Talk to a doctor trained in environmental medicine to determine the best options.

If it is present, mercury can safely be removed from our brain and the rest of our body. Improvements after detoxification include better mental focus, weight loss, easier word selection and healthier-looking skin.

Alan Christianson, NMD, focuses on optimal diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease. For more information, visit

Upcoming Events Near You