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Dangers of Mercury- from humans to environment

Posted by 
Ria Jain
on
July 22, 2020

Mercury is a chemical element denoted by the symbol ‘Hg’. Commonly known as quicksilver, it is one of the most toxic elements and a threat to wildlife as well as to us humans. The reason why mercury is dangerous is that once released into the environment it cannot be removed and it accumulates and magnifies to unsafe levels in aquatic food chains.

Because of such high levels of accumulation, mercury concentrations escalate up in the food chain. For example, predatory fish can have up to 106 times higher mercury concentrations than the ambient water (Joint FAO/WHO, 2006). 

Mercury is released by both nature and also as a result of human activities (anthropogenic). That said, the anthropogenic component of mercury deposition considerably exceeds the natural component. Activities like  increased mining, high rate of fossil-fuel burning, wide spread use of raw materials containing mercury are some important contributors of mercury to the environment.

Classified as heavy metal, there are 3 form of mercury, namely,

  • Elemental mercury
  • Organic mercury
  • In organic mercury

However, the form doesn’t seem to matter. Turns out mercury is hazardous for your health in any of these forms. 

This toxicant  that can cause or contribute to most chronic illnesses. It is also known as an ‘anti-nutrient because of its ability to promote nutritional depletion. Mercury can also lead to oxidative stress, hormonal disruption,  immune alteration,  and neurotransmitter disturbances, which in turn can cause poor digestion, leaky gut, food allergies, altered gut microflora and something as grave as autoimmunity.

Sources of exposure to mercury

Common exposures to mercury are from the following sources-

Dental amalgam: The material used  in  ‘silver  linings’ used to fill decayed tooth cavities is 50% mercury. The exposure could be 1-22 micrograms of mercury vapor per filing per day, as estimated by the WHO.

From the diet: Mercury  released  into  the atmosphere through natural and human activities is  deposited  in  soil  and  water where it enters the food chain. Here, it gets accumulated in the fish. Depending on species, a portion may contain roughly 1–100 micrograms of methylmercury, an amount which is capable of causing mercury poisoning.

Vaccines: One of the most controversial aspects surrounding vaccines is the mercury content in them. Certain vaccines are known to contain 12.5 to 25 micrograms of ethylmercury per shot. No regulatory safety standard exists for ethylmercury.

Mercury is also applied in the manufacture of several industrial goods including-

Batteries

Measuring and control equipment-medical and other thermometers, blood pressure gauges, manometers, pressure valves, gyroscopes,

Discharge lamps like fluorescent lamps, laboratory chemicals, electrodes and apparatus for analysis, color photograph paper,explosives, fireworks, color photograph paper, Pharmaceuticals- preservatives in vaccines and eye drops,

Skin lightening creams and soaps; herbal medicine, in eye cosmetics, arm and leg bands and

Disinfectants and pesticides 

Owing to its widespread use, the impacts of its exposure are seen throughout the body.

  • Nervous system

The nervous system is sensitive to all forms of mercury and mercury can be best considered as a ‘neurotoxin’. Metallic mercury vapours reach the brain and can result in its dysfunction. Symptoms can be manifested as irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. Damage to the nerves of the arms and legs, reduced sensation and strength in the arms and legs, muscle cramps and decreased nerve conduction have also been observed.

Due to its ability to cause oxidative stress, inflammation, mineral dysregulation and impaired sensory processing, many scientific studies suggest a connection between mercury and a number of neurological problems such as Autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple sclerosis, Schizophrenia, Narcolepsy, Bipolar disorders, so on and so forth.

  • Digestive system

Inorganic salts of mercury can damage the lining of your gastrointestinal tract, the symptoms of which are typically presented as abdominal pain, indigestion, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers and bloody diarrhea. By damaging the gut, mercury leads to leaky gut, which in turn can cause food allergies as well.

Kidney is a target organ in heavy metal toxicity for its capacity to filter them. Being a heavy metal, mercury can be fatal to the renal functional units (Nephrons). In chronic exposure mercury is stored in the kidneys and can steer a series of renal disorders which ultimately cause kidney failure. 

  • Endocrine system

Mercury is known to concentrate in glands, including the thyroid and pituitary, and to impair the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Further, it can suppress thyroid function by depletion  of selenium and zinc, which are cofactors for thyroid enzyme production. 

Additionally, mercury is also implicated in the cluster of  symptoms referred to as adrenal fatigue. It is because it can cause oxidative stress which can also result in HPA dysfunction.

  • Reproductive system

It is thought that mercury might impair endocrine function through its ability to reduce hormone-receptor binding. Hormones that appear to be the most affected by mercury are insulin, estrogen, testosterone, and adrenaline. As it can precipitate pathophysiological changes along the HPA axis, mercury may affect reproductive function by altering the circulating levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), inhibin, estrogen, progesterone, and the androgens. Some researchers have found mercury to be the cause of erectile dysfunction and also distrubed formation of sperms in males.

There is also good evidence linking mercury with menstrual disorders including abnormal bleeding, short, long, irregular cycles and painful periods. 

  • Cardiovascular system

Mercury has the ability to oxidize cholesterol and lead to heart problems. Because of its effect on the pituitary, mercury is known to cause frequent urination as well as high blood pressure. 

  • Immune system

Mercury can alter the intestinal microbiota (commonly known as Dysbiosis) and can yield increased levels  of undesirable mercury-resistant bacteria, which may also develop resistance to antibiotics. This growth of undesirable bacteria can attack your immune system and your body can become a host for infectious pathogens.

Mercury and genetic predisposition

Genetic predisposition is an increased likelihood of developing a particular disease based on one’s genetic makeup. Recent research has identified a genetic predisposition to neurological impacts by mercury exposure from dental amalgam in children.

Regarding genetic susceptibilities to vaccine injury, some mitochondrial disorders have also caused certain children to suffer permanent neurological  damage. But genetic susceptibilities are a continuum, and the growing movement to mandate vaccines has so far failed to  recognize this complex reality.

Mercury and metabolic disorders

Mercury can impair HPA axis and thyroid functioning and balance, thereby leading to metabolic problems like obesity. Along with impairment of the working of enzymes, mercury also blocks  the insulin receptor, promoting  high insulin and thus fat storage in your body.

Mercury- as an anti-nutrient

Mercury is a potent anti nutrient due to its ability to interfere with the functioning of some of the essential nutrients. It binds strongly to selenium, a mineral important for several dozen enzymes involved in vital tasks such as thyroid function and brain  antioxidant  protection. Body’s most important antioxidant mechanism is the glutathione system. However, glutathione and its related enzymes are targets for mercury. 

By damaging  methylation enzymes, mercury impairs the detoxification of many toxicants, including mercury itself, leading to increased toxicity. More importantly, mercury impairs the ongoing synthesis and repair of collagen, bone, and cartilage, both by impairing the necessary enzymes and by depleting a required cofactor – vitamin C.Thus, mercury can be implicated in arthritis, osteoporosis, and connective tissue disorders. 

Mercury can also displace iron and copper, converting them to free radicals with the potential to cause oxidative stress.

Additionally, estrogen dominance may be amplified in mercury-affected people and this also causes copper retention. Because copper and zinc are antagonistic, the more copper is retained  by the body, the more zinc tends to be depleted. 

Mercury-induced problems in the transport of essential minerals such as magnesium and zinc, calls for extra provision of these minerals through your diet.

To make matters worse, mercury’s toxicity may be  amplified by exposure to other toxic  metals, including lead, cadmium, and aluminum.

Impacts on the environment

Mercury is a persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic pollutant. It is a contributor to the existing pollution levels as well.

Air pollution: Metallic, or elemental mercury, is a liquid at room temperature and like any other liquid, it evaporates into the air, where it can be inhaled. The longer people breathe the contaminated air, the greater the risk to their health. 

Water pollution: The concentration of freshwater with a wide range of pollutants has become a matter of concern over the last few decades. The natural aquatic systems may be extensively contaminated with mercury released from domestic, industrial, mining and other man-made activities.

These chronic effects of mercury exposure are underrecognized by both mainstream and alternative health authorities and, consequently, by the public. So watch out for this toxin and quintessential anti-nutrient which can be hidden in all those products of your daily use. Also look out for other sources too, through which you can expose yourself to this toxicant. 

If you need help detoxing from previous mercury exposure, then reach out to us and we’ll help you for sure.

References:

  1. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316450883_Mercury_The_Quintessential_Anti-Nutrient
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mercury-and-health
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5454951/
  4. https://www.spandidos-publications.com/10.3892/mmr.2017.6389
  5. https://sci-hub.tw/10.1080/08035250600886157
  6. http://idr.kab.ac.ug/bitstream/handle/20.500.12493/65/JEHS-18-RW-1906-1.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
  7. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316450883_Mercury_The_Quintessential_Anti-Nutrient
  8. https://sci-hub.tw/10.1007/978-3-319-25325-1_7
  9. https://aoemj.org/DOIx.php?id=10.35371/aoem.2020.32.e19
About the Author

Ria Jain
Ria has a Master’s in Nutrition and Dietetics and is in a permanent research mode and keeps the rest of us at ThriveFNC updated with her latest findings in the field of Nutrition. Her articles on ThriveFNC’s blog are an expression of her research findings. We really don’t know what we’d do without her support and her focus.
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