Mercury Toxicity

By Dr. Loretta Lanphier, ND, CN, HHP, CH

Mercury. You know, that stuff that used to be in thermometers that balled up when spilled on the ground. Most people are familiar with it, but few are aware of how dangerous it can be. Did you know that most of us have toxic levels of mercury in our mouths in the form of dental fillings? But that is only the beginning of potentially dangerous sources of mercury in our modern environment. Join me for a closer look at this critical issue.

What Is Mercury Toxicity?

Mercury toxicity is another term for mercury poisoning. Mercury is an extremely harmful substance that has been called the most toxic non-radioactive element on planet Earth. Unfortunately, it is also produced and used in mass quantities for many industrial and manufacturing purposes. All of this mercury eventually is put into the environment either through dumping in land fills, incineration, or being leached into our water. It has affected the food chain, particularly fish, and is considered by some researchers to be one of the largest environmental challenges that we face today and will face in the future. Mercury toxicity is especially dangerous for fetuses and young children. To make matters even worse, mercury exposure is proliferated through the “health care” industry via the use of mercury-laden dental fillings and the inclusion of mercury as a preservative in vaccines.

Some individuals and organizations have raised the alarm about the dangers of mercury, and certain steps have been taken to limit its production. In the early 1980’s, global production of mercury was at a record high of 7100 metric tons. In 2000, that had fallen to about 1800 metric tons. The world’s top 30 industrialized nations, including the United States, have agreed to “cease all further work on mercury,” which in theory means no more production of mercury. However, the United States now imports mercury from countries that have not agreed to cease production. Sound rather hypocritical? Well, it is. The US still uses vast amounts of imported mercury for its many applications, continuing the vicious cycle of poisoning the environment and the people of this planet.

In this article, I would like to discuss some of the ways that we are exposed to mercury, cover the effects of mercury toxicity, and learn a bit about how we can protect ourselves from the harmful consequences of mercury poisoning.

Just How Toxic is Mercury?

Here are a few facts that may put this in perspective for you:

  • The average silver-colored mercury amalgam dental filling contains about � gram of mercury.
  • The average adult in the Unites States has about 10 such fillings, totaling approximately 5 grams of mercury.
  • � gram of mercury (1 filling’s worth) would cause a fish advisory to be issued on a 10-acre lake.
  • Simply inhaling the gas and dust from one broken fluorescent light bulb can expose a person to enough mercury to cause life long side effects and damage.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Mercury Toxicity?

Many of the harmful effects of mercury go to work on the nervous system. The signs of mercury poisoning may vary from person to person, based on the level of exposure and the size of the individual. Many of them are also common to other illnesses, so diagnosis can be difficult. Mercury is much more dangerous for children because of their lower body weights and immature body systems. However, general symptoms of mercury exposure include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Hallucinations
  • Nervousness
  • Insomnia
  • Speech difficulties
  • Memory loss
  • Learning disabilities
  • Tremors
  • Weight loss
  • Kidney damage
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Skin rashes
  • Poor coordination
  • Emotional stress
  • Hearing loss

Many of these symptoms were observed in workers in the hat making industry of the 1800’s. A mercury solution was used to make felt out of fur, so consistent exposure to mercury resulted in what was termed “Mad Hatter’s” disease. This is where the term “mad as a hatter” came from, referring to the slurred speech, tremors, and other manifestations of mercury poisoning.

Studies have also shown that mercury is very toxic to many organs of the body including the brain, heart, thyroid gland, pituitary gland, adrenal gland, and is suppressive to the immune system as well. It is also thought that mercury may adversely affect the balance of flora in the intestinal tract, which disrupts normal digestion and may also intensify resistance to antibiotic drugs.

Unfortunately, exposure to mercury often begins before birth, when fetuses are subjected to mercury that may be in mother’s body. As with most exposure to heavy metals, the mercury accumulates over the years, and symptoms may not appear until later in life.

How Are We Likely to Be Exposed to Mercury?

There are many ways that one can be exposed to toxic levels of mercury. These include:

  • Laxatives
  • Automobile exhaust
  • Drinking water
  • Plumbing (pipes)
  • Pesticides
  • Fertilizers
  • Felt
  • Processed foods
  • Bleached flour
  • Batteries
  • Wood preservatives
  • Floor polishes
  • Floor wax
  • Paint (pigments and solvents)
  • Air conditioner filters
  • Foods (mainly fish)
  • Talcum powder
  • Calamine lotion
  • Fabric softeners
  • Adhesives
  • Cosmetics (especially mascara)
  • Cinnabar (a substance used in jewelry)

I would like to take a more in depth look at three major sources of mercury: Dental fillings, light bulbs, and vaccines.

Dental Fillings

The history of mercury in dental fillings is quite interesting. In the early 19th century, the French discovered that mixing mercury with silver would allow fillings to adhere to teeth at room temperature. The idea was introduced to American dentists in the 1830’s, and was widely criticized and rejected because of the known dangers of mercury. However, the use of mercury was a subject of great debate, until the American Dental Association (ADA) was formed in 1859, and they were mute on the subject. Today the ADA claims “amalgam” fillings, as they are called, are harmless. But apparently some officials disagree, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officially declared amalgams to be a hazardous substance in 1989.

In the last several years, there are more and more dentists who are admitting the dangers of amalgam fillings, and are offering safer, mercury-free alternatives. However, this does not solve the problem of the millions of fillings that are already in the mouths of America. But do not make an appointment to have all your fillings pulled! It is, unfortunately not that simple. Removal of amalgam fillings may release more mercury into your system than leaving them in place. If you determine that you wish to have them removed, you must work with a dentist who specializes in the safe removal of amalgam fillings.

Light Bulbs

Another major way that you can be exposed to mercury is through the use certain types of light bulbs. Fluorescent light bulbs have long been a source of mercury contamination, but there is a new breed of compact fluorescent bulbs that are designed to replace standard incandescent bulbs, and these contain even more mercury. Another reason they are becoming so popular is that they are much more energy efficient than incandescent lights, and even use less energy than traditional fluorescent lamps.

Disposal of fluorescent light bulbs of all types is becoming quite a problem. Many states have now passed laws prohibiting the inclusion of them in general waste. They must be taken to designated sites and a fee is charged for disposal. It is about time that we wake up to the dangers of putting mercury into the environment and into our bodies as well.

A very good alternative now exists to both fluorescent and incandescent lights that is both mercury free and more energy efficient than any other type of bulb. They are called LED bulbs, and they last much longer than traditional bulbs, and use 300% less energy than fluorescents and a whopping 1000% less energy than incandescents.


Vaccines such as those for the flu, hepatitis, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and countless others are dangerous enough in their own right. But to make matters even worse, manufacturers include a substance made of mercury that has no other purpose than to act as a preservative and to increase the profits of the drug companies that produce the vaccines. Because of this toxic ingredient, larger quantities of vaccines can be delivered to health care agencies, instead of more expensive individual doses. The technician can fill a syringe from the container, and then refill from the same container again. It breaks the sterility of the vaccine, but the mercury will supposedly prevent contamination. The only drawback is that we are now injecting toxic levels of mercury directly into the bodies of individuals, many of whom are children and the elderly.

The preservative substance is called Thimerosal, and it is almost 50% mercury by weight. It was first invented by the Eli Lily company, one of the big Pharmaceutical firms, in the 1940’s. Mercury is classified as a hazardous material by various government agencies, including the Department of Defense, but yet we are allowed to infect it into our children. Something is very wrong with this picture.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Mercury Toxicity?

Your best bet is to investigate the use of chelation therapy. This is one of the most effective ways to rid the body of heavy metals such as mercury. It was first used by the US navy in the 1940’s to treat servicemen who were exposed to excessive amounts of lead. It has not gained favor in the mainstream medical community, but is very popular in many alternative medical circles. Chelation involves the introduction of an amino acid called EDTA into the body, either take orally or injected. EDTA acts as a “magnet” of sorts to attract and bond with heavy metals such as mercury and others in the body. They are then transported to the kidneys and excreted through the urine.

Another therapy I would suggest is to undergo a thorough cleansing of the intestinal tract. Many toxins such as mercury accumulate in the intestines, and unless your gut is cleansed, they may accumulate there. This will also stimulate more regular bowel movements, which is also a great way to eliminate toxins from the body.

Use common sense when it comes to avoiding mercury as much as possible. Do what you can to minimize your exposure, such as eliminating mercury-laden light bulbs from your home and finding a natural dentist that does not use mercury in fillings. And by all means avoid vaccines like the plague. Perhaps if more of us begin to make such choices, the establishment will get the message and fewer products and services involving mercury will be available.

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