What’s gotten into your body may shock you!
In the last 12 years since I developed Parkinson’s disease, I’ve had a vested interest in how heavy metals cause the chronic diseases of our time.
To be honest, I was always interested in the topic—for most of my almost 40 years of practicing medicine — but then I discovered that the mercury levels in my body were MANY times the normal range.
That may seem odd to you, until you consider how widespread mercury is—and how easily you can be exposed to it.
It’s used in the manufacture of batteries and fluorescent light bulbs (including those “CFL” bulbs you were practically forced to switch to from your old incandescent bulbs). It’s even been found in some face creams!
And while not everybody will develop a neurological disorder like I did as a result of their mercury exposure, this neurotoxin can be behind lots of other common problems like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and depression.1
But that’s not all that mercury can do.
In fact, there’s something that so many people struggle with — especially as they get older — and yet have no idea that it could be caused by mercury.
And that, my friend, is high blood pressure — one of the top risk factors for cardiovascular disease.2
I’ll share with you how this heavy metal affects your cardiovascular system — and what you can do about it — in a minute. But first: a bit more about this sneaky source of so many of our health woes.
How this sneaky toxin gets into your body
There are three main forms of mercury: elemental, organic, and inorganic.
Organic mercury comes from a variety of sources in our environment, though it’s mainly produced by the coal burning industry. Over 40 tons of mercury are expelled into the air every year.
However, there’s another source of mercury that you might be exposed to right this minute, as you’re reading this.
Think about your teeth. Do you have any fillings?
Dental amalgams (those so-called “silver” fillings) and other dental materials are about half mercury — the rest being a mixture of other metals like silver, tin, copper, and nickel. Chewing can cause mercury in the mouth to vaporize into another form called elemental mercury, which you’re likely to inhale. Just one amalgam releases up to 17 µg of mercury vapor per day.3
Recent studies have also found that mercury can also get directly into your bloodstream from those dental fillings, as well.4 Elevated levels of mercury have even been found in the urine of CHILDREN with fillings.5
Of course, it’s possible that what you’re chewing in your mouth ALSO contains mercury.
Organic mercury, mostly in the form of methyl mercury, is present in our water supply. And that means that creatures swimming around in that water may be carrying it, too. Large fish that are high in the food chain—such as swordfish, king mackerel, and shark — are said to contain about 1 µg of methylmercury per gram of fish.6 Smaller fish like trout, bass, and tuna can contain up to one half that concentration.7
However, the type of mercury that’s most difficult to clear from the body is called inorganic mercury, which is created in the body by chemical conversion from organic stores of mercury.
And that’s the stuff that can wreak havoc on your health.
This heavy metal turns the volume WAY up on your BP
Dozens of papers linking mercury in the body to elevated blood pressure have been published.
In one population study of 833 patients, people with high chronic methylmercury in the hair test were 1.4 to 1.6 times at risk of high blood pressure.8
In another, large study of women (NHANES study), there was a significant increase in systolic BP in women with increased blood mercury.9
Miners of mercury, unsurprisingly, were almost 50 percent more likely to have blood pressure problems,10 while Inuit adults showed a highly significant correlation between mercury levels and blood pressure (both systolic and diastolic).11
Many studies implicate eating seafood as the source of mercury.
In one study using 24-hour blood pressure monitoring, Greenlanders eating substantially more fish than Danes had higher levels of blood pressure AND significantly higher blood mercury levels.12
While there’s no evidence strong enough to suggest you should give up eating seafood altogether, it is important to limit your exposure to mercury—particularly because your body has no natural mechanism to eliminate it on its own.
So, once it’s in there, it’s pretty tough to get it out.
Mercury goes right for your body’s defenses
To understand the toxic effects of mercury on the cardiovascular system (and on the whole body, in fact), it’s necessary to understand how the body protects itself.
Chemical groups that contain sulfur act as scavengers to protect the brain and the body against oxidative stress. These sulfur-containing, antioxidant compounds include glutathione, metallothionein (a promoter of glutathione production), alpha lipoic-acid, and N-acetylcysteine (see last month’s issue of Nutrition & Healing for my article on using NAC in Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases).
It is for these sulfur-containing antioxidants that mercury has an especially strong affinity. When it binds to them, the toxic effects include a depletion of existing glutathione, and the stimulation of something called the Fenton Reaction, which leads to the production of even more dangerous Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS).
In addition, mercury interferes with the action of coenzymes such as zinc, copper, and selenium. Selenium in particular is perhaps the most important antioxidant enzyme in the body—but when mercury forms insoluble complexes with selenium, it prevents the enzyme from performing its critical function.
Without these antioxidants working at their full capacity, any increase in oxidative stress to the body cells causes oxidative damage to the fat-rich portion of cells (a process called “lipid peroxidation”).
While the brain and nervous system, with their high fat content, are particularly susceptible, all tissues are affected.
And while the underlying mechanism by which mercury can raise your blood pressure isn’t yet fully understood, it very likely has something to do with that oxidative stress.13
Such mercury-initiated actions can be devastating on the cardiovascular system, resulting in:
- damage to endothelial linings of the vessels
- lipid abnormalities
- clotting abnormalities and thrombosis
- overgrowth of vascular smooth muscle cells, leading to risk of heart attacks, and
- various dangerous results of inflammation.14
In addition, mercury reduces the availability of nitric oxide (NO), the vasodilating substance so critical in blood pressure and in erectile function.15
What’s your toxic load?
Testing for mercury in the body is a challenging proposition.
Hair testing, which is the easiest way to have mercury tested at home, is very hard to interpret and can be obscured by hair dye, concurrent illnesses, or the time of exposure.
Also, according to Dr. Christopher Shade of Quicksilver Scientific, hair testing tests specifically for methylmercury, which is a reflection of seafood and other oral intake—but it’s not useful for testing dental exposure.16
Blood testing, on the other hand, is a measure of what mercury is circulating in the bloodstream at the time of the testing, but isn’t showing the mercury that is in the cells, or behind the blood-brain barrier.
In my office, I prefer a six-hour urine “chelation challenge” test.
We have the patient empty their bladder then take a dose of DMSA (Meso-2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid), which attaches to mercury and other heavy metals. We then analyze all urine that the patient has collected for the following six hours.
This way of testing gives us a better picture of mercury in the cells themselves.
However, this isn’t something you can do at home on your own. Work with a doctor who’s well-versed in integrative medicine.
Your body needs help getting rid of it
Once you have a handle on what your toxic load is, work out a potential detoxification process with an integrative doctor.
I’ve found chelation therapy to be a critical part not only of the testing for mercury, but for the removal of it as well.
Glutathione has been shown to be an effective chelating agent for the removal of toxic minerals — particularly mercury — but once mercury has depleted your reserves of it, it isn’t easy to build those stores back up.
Instead, I’m a fan of oral detoxification supplements such as chlorella or PectaSol to flush everything you don’t want out of your system.
Also, don’t underestimate the power of sweating toxins out right through the skin. You can either work up a sweat with vigorous exercise… or January is a great time to come in from the cold and decompress in the sauna.
Now that you’ve made it through the holidays, who knows what you’ll sweat out?Wishing you the best of health,
Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld
Nutrition & Healing
Vol. 11, Issue 1 • January 2017
Full references and citations for this article are available in the downloadable PDF version of the monthly Nutrition and Healing issue in which this article appears.