You might have heard of mercury poisoning, which is usually due to one big exposure to mercury, often resulting in serious health issues, including kidney and lung failure, and even death. Mercury overload, however, is less discussed and something we’re taking a deeper look at today.
Let’s start with what mercury is: It’s a naturally occurring element that can be found in air, water and soil. It’s often present in seafood we eat (tuna, sushi), dental fillings, old paint, and industrial off-gasses from coal-burning.
Because our bodies take a while to excrete mercury (up to four months!), repeated mercury exposure can instigate a build up.
Add to that the fact that every person detoxifies at a different rate due to genetic variations, and some of us are more prone to mercury overload than others.
So what does it look like when you’ve got a build-up of mercury? Let’s take a closer look.
Mercury Overload Symptoms
Mercury can impact nearly all your organs, including your brain, heart, kidney, and gut. Mercury particularly loves the nervous system. Studies have shown that high exposures to mercury can induce changes to that system, which can contribute to:
- behavioral changes,
- hearing loss,
- cognitive loss,
- autoimmune diseases,
- and more.
Causes of Mercury Overload
It’s pretty normal to have a bit of mercury build up in your system. But those levels become more concerning when we’re repeatedly exposed to:
- mercury vapors in ambient air,
- living in an area (or traveling extensively in an area) with a high number of coal-burning facilities,
- ingesting it via drinking water, fish, or dental amalgams,
- occupational exposures,
- home exposures including fluorescent light bulbs, thermostats, and batteries,
- red tattoo dye,
- skin-lightening creams,
- over-the-counter products such as contact lens fluid and neosynephrine,
- and more.
How to Get Tested for Mercury Overload
You can get tested for mercury overload via blood, hair or urine.
Methylmercury (one type of mercury often found in humans) is predominately in red blood cells, and can show up on a blood test for mercury. But it might now register your total body load of mercury, unless you’ve been eating a LOT of fish with mercury recently.
Hair tests also only give you a partial snapshot: These tests don’t register mercury you may have been exposed to from something like fillings, so your body’s final mercury levels are incomplete.
Urine testing is considered gold standard, so this is often the test of choice.
Treatment for High Levels of Mercury
If you are found to have mercury overload, it is important to first avoid any additional mercury exposure. Stop eating seafood, and consider having your environment (home, work, etc.) tested for mercury levels.
Another treatment option is to increase your body’s production of glutathione, a powerful detoxifier and antioxidant. Your body excretes mercury only when it’s bound to glutathione—infusions of this antioxidant can be supportive in helping your body detox.
If you’re considering mercury overload as a root cause of your symptoms and need support, book an appointment with one of our practitioners to help you on your health journey.
Jenikka Tomashek is a Certified Nurse Practitioner with a doctorate degree in Nursing and 10 years of experience. Jenikka is a diagnostic magician—she understands disease process really well, which gives her a leg up to be able to apply functional medicine principles to her knowledge base. Working in internal medicine, she’s experienced many patients who didn’t heal with conventional treatments. She found functional medicine to be a complement to traditional medicine, and she’s found the combination to be the best way to serve patients.
Nursing, which Jenikka’s experience is grounded in, is founded on compassionate, dedicated patient care that also cares deeply about the individual and their story. She believes in the philosophy of finding and treating the root cause of symptoms, educating patients, and focusing on the prevention of future disease.