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Heavy Metals - Mercury

Mercury is one of the most common heavy metals in nature and its effects on human health have been known for centuries. That being said, there are still many sources of exposure that we need to be aware of.

Where Do They Come From?

Methylmercury is the most common type of mercury exposure which occurs through eating fish and shellfish.  Elemental Metallic Mercury is another form of mercury and exposure can occur when products containing metallic mercury break.


  • Fish (freshwater bass and trout, saltwater tuna, swordfish) is the primary source of methyl mercury

  • Tap and well water



  • “silver” amalgams contain 50% inorganic mercury, 35% silver, 6% copper, and 9% tin, along with trace amounts of zinc.



  • Naturally occurs in air and soil

  • Pesticides and fungicides

  • Agricultural chemicals



  • Manufacturing of thermometers, light bulbs, batteries 

  • Other sources include fireworks, asphalt, photography, electrical equipment, textiles, interior paint before 1990, waste incineration and paper industry


  • The pharmaceutical form of mercury is often ethyl and phenyl mercury

  • Vaccines (in the form of thimerosal)

  • Antiseptic creams, ophthalmological solutions, laxatives, hemorrhoidal preparations and skin lightening creams



  • Chinese patents and Ayurvedic medications may contain mercury.

How They Affect You

Mercury is a neurotoxin and its effect on health depends on the form of mercury and the amount of mercury being exposed to.  The effects of mercury range from very subtle to very severe.  Mercury in all forms poisons cellular function by altering the structure of proteins and by binding with sulfhydryl and selenohydryl groups.  Through this mechanism, mercury can potentially impair the function of any organ or subcellular structure.  The main organ mercury targets is the brain, but it can also affect the kidneys as well as immune and endocrine functions.

Symptoms of Methyl Mercury: According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, signs of methylmercury poisoning can include loss of peripheral vision, feelings of pins and needles, lack of coordinated movement,  impairment of speech, hearing, walking and muscle weakness.

Symptoms of Elemental Metallic Mercury: Symptoms of prolonged exposure can include fatigue, tremors, irritability, emotional change, insomnia, headaches, paresthesia and excessive salivation.  One form of mercury, mercuric mercury, although unable to cross the blood brain barrier, tends to accumulate in the placenta, fetal tissue and amniotic fluid.

How To Protect Yourself

The following are ways to limit your exposure to mercury: 

  • Avoid mercury-containing fish (bass, trout, tuna, swordfish, shark).  

  • Avoid mercury (silver) amalgams.  If you have mercury (silver) amalgams, have them removed by a dentist trained in their safe removal.

  • Avoid using skin lightening creams and other pharmaceuticals that contain mercy.

  • Drink filtered water, if concerned about the water source.

  • Use air filters if living in polluted city.

3 Essentials

  1. Avoid fish that contains high levels of mercury

  2. Avoid mercury (silver) amalgams

  3. Avoid skin lightening creams

Additional Key Recommendations

  1. Drink filtered water, if concerned about the water source

  2. Use air filters, if living in a polluted city

  3. If you have mercury (silver) amalgams that are leaking mercury, have them removed by a dentist trained in their safe removal


  1. Vimy, M.J., and Lorscheider, F.L (1990) Dental amalgam mercury daily dose estimated from intra-oral vapor measurements: A predictor of mercury accumulation in human tissues.]. Trace Elem. Exp. Med 3, 111-123

  2. ApostoliP, ICortesiI, MangiliA, et al. Assessment of reference values for mercury in urine: the results of an Italian polycentric study. The Science of the Total Environment 289 (2002)13-24

  3. PacynaEG, et al. Global anthropogenic mercury emission inventory for 2000. AtmosEnv2006;40:4048-63

  4. PalkovicovaL, et aI. Maternal amalgam dental fillings as the source of mercury exposure in developing fetus and newborn. J Expo SciEnviron Epidemiol. 2008 May;18(3):326-31

  5. BjörnbergKA, et al. Transport of methylmercuryand inorganic mercury to the fetus and breast-fed infant. Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Oct;113(10):1381-5

  6. LorscheiderFL, VimyMJ, Summer O. Mercury exposure from “silver” tooth fillings: emerging evidence questions a traditional dental paradigm. FASEBJ. 9,504-508(1995)

  7. ApostoliP, ICortesiI, MangiliA, et al. Assessment of reference values for mercury in urine: the results of an Italian polycentric study. The Science of the Total Environment 289 (2002)13-24

  8. GuzziG, et al. Dental amalgam and mercury levels in autopsy tissues. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2006 Mar;27(1):42-5

  9. BarregardL, et al. Cadmium, mercury, and lead in kidney cortex of living kidney donors: Impact of different exposure sources. Environ Res. 2010 Jan;110(1):47-54


Work with a naturopathic doctor / naturopath to help you assess for environmental pollutants and to understand how they may be affecting your health. The information on this website is a guide for ways to protect you and your family from environmental pollutants.  It is not meant to replace advice from a healthcare professional.

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