Dear Friends and Family
In 2008 I was shocked to learn via a technical manual that my decades of mysterious, debilitating health problems could be entirely explained by mercury poisoning. A lab test specific for heavy metals, that my doctors had never suggested, came back positive for mercury. Though angry, I was relieved finally to have a plausible and comprehensive explanation for my symptoms and lab anomalies -- and more importantly, to have a recovery plan. By coincidence, at about the same time, my brother Erik was diagnosed with mixed-heavy-metal poisoning.
Below are a few details for anyone interested. The general information on chronic mercury poisoning has been culled from a variety of medically-accepted sources. The information on hair tests and on safe chelation is taken from books by Andrew Cutler.
Chronic mercury poisoning is difficult to diagnose since the symptoms are non-specific (they can be caused by many conditions). Many of mercury's symptoms are caused by high oxidative stress -- equivalent to premature aging. Patients look normal (or even youthful due to deficient stress hormones), but feel symptoms of illness that grow worse with the years. If symptoms occur in more than one of four organ systems -- nervous, endocrine, digestive, and immune -- this is an indicator of mercury poisoning.
Mercury blood tests
Blood tests reveal only recent or acute exposure, not chronic low-level exposure. There is a wide misunderstanding, even among physicians (including my neurologist), about the meaning of mercury blood tests. In fact, mercury resides only briefly in the blood before migrating quickly to fatty tissues like the brain, where it cannot be measured except on autopsy, and where its half-life is estimated in decades.
A little-known lab test for heavy metal poisoning -- called the porphyrins profile -- has high specificity but low sensitivity. Thus it only detects late-stage chronic mercury poisoning, but does so accurately. Porphyrins (byproducts of blocked enzymes) are described in the "Interpretive Guide" for the Porphyrins Profile at the Metametrix website: tinyurl.com/yzvjpnd
The porphyrins profile test is available over the Internet from Direct Labs. Alternatively, a physician can request the individual porphyrins through the usual labs, which would be covered by insurance. But porphyrins are easily destroyed by mishandling, and these laboratories may have little quality control at collection points.
Incidentally, my Metametrix porphyrins test was positive for mercury, showing clear, detailed results in which all the markers for mercury were elevated, yielding a classic mercury footprint. On the other hand, the five porphyrins ordered by my neurologist from the usual commercial lab were essentially negative due to several "failed to detect" readings. The lab collection clerk had not inspired my confidence, but I don’t know whether my sample was mishandled.
A trace mineral analysis of hair is worthwhile, but there are no standard guidelines for interpretation, thus counterintuitive results are easily misinterpreted. Specifically, mercury levels in hair may appear low when the body burden is high, since mercury blocks mineral transport. Thus, mercury poisoning is inferred from a hair test if the results suggest a mineral transport disorder. In other words, if the hair test results for “essential minerals” appear abnormal (e.g., most minerals appear very high or low, instead of average), this indicates a mineral transport disorder, the only known cause of which is mercury. Indeed, my hair test showed abnormal minerals -- a mineral transport disorder -- with very low hair mercury.
If the heavy metal poisoning is less severe, the hair test will show normal levels of essential minerals, but high levels of mercury and perhaps other toxins. This indicates that the body is excreting its burden of metals as it should.
Hair tests are not covered by health insurance. One Internet source for a hair test is Direct Labs, which offers a “Hair Elements” test ($93) from Doctor's Data. If abnormal levels of essential minerals are not obvious by visual inspection, the results can be analyzed statistically using the book, Hair Test Interpretation, by Andrew Cutler.
The organ systems most affected are the brain and the glands (particularly thyroid and adrenal), followed by the liver, immune system and digestive system. The symptoms and their progression vary with the individual and can be alleviated or masked somewhat with nutrition and supplements. Once the immune system is affected, one's ability to fight infections like Candida or Lyme is reduced. And once the liver is affected, one's ability to process other toxins is reduced, yielding multiple chemical sensitivities.
In the research literature, mercury appears to play a primary role in many chronic diseases, particularly Alzheimer's, MS, and autism. It appears to play a synergistic role with other toxins in Parkinson's and ALS. But no authority has yet synthesized the research literature to provide direction to physicians for diagnosis and treatment of chronic mercury poisoning -- even though it appears to be curable -- thus it's hard to find a helpful physician.
In addition to oxidation, the mechanism for mercury's broad toxicity is its affinity to bind sulfhydryl groups, which are ubiquitous in the body -- in enzymes, in membranes, in structural proteins, and in DNA. Mercury also binds selenium, an important but less ubiquitous cofactor in several key enzymes. At the cellular level, this binding of sulfhydryl and selenium means that many enzymes are blocked -- and enzymes are what drive every biochemical process. This is why outward symptoms appear non-specific and highly variable -- they depend on individual biochemical weaknesses.
Genes and other factors
It appears that several genetic polymorphisms -- including the ApoE4 allele implicated in Alzheimer's -- are associated with poor heavy-metal detox, resulting in susceptibility to mercury poisoning. Such a genetic component would explain why population studies have often found no association between mercury exposure and disease. (If a key variable is omitted from a statistical analysis, the results are invalid).
Dental issues like bruxism (teeth grinding), malocclusion (bad bite), and mixed metals (gold near amalgam) affect the release of mercury from dental amalgam. Improper removal of amalgams can result in severe exposure. Levels of mercury in fish have increased significantly in the last decade. Nutritional factors affect one's detox ability; for example, zinc is required for certain detox enzymes; and high vitamin D status induces detox enzymes by several-fold.
After exposure has ended (after amalgams are safely removed), safe chelation involves taking low-dose chelation agents at frequent intervals to keep blood levels constant. (Chelation can be dangerous when blood levels fall, causing redistribution of heavy metals). This means taking pills every three hours around the clock including at night, typically for three days per week, for several years. Without chelation, brain levels may remain high for decades after exposure has ended.