Neurological Effects of Mercury Exposure

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Introduction

According to the U.S. governmental agencies, toxic metals, such as mercury, lead, and cadmium, have been documented to be neurotoxic, each year causing adverse health effects and learning disabilities to millions, especially children and the elderly. The health effects of toxic metals are synergistic with other toxic exposures, such as pesticides and endocrine disrupting substances, including organochlorine compounds and PCBs. A weakened immune system, often the effect of toxic exposure, may also be more susceptible to various types of parasites, bacteria, and viruses. Studies have found considerable genetic variability in susceptibility to toxic metals. While there is considerable commonality to the health effects commonly caused by these toxic metals and effects are cumulative and synergistic in many cases, this paper will concentrate on the health effects of elemental mercury from amalgam fillings.

Mercury amalgam dental fillings have been found to be the largest source of both inorganic and methylmercury in most who have several amalgam fillings. Those with several amalgam fillings have been found by thousands of medical lab tests to have mercury exposure levels approximately ten times the average level of those without amalgam; saliva and excretion levels decline 90% after amalgam replacement. Clinical experience has identified some of the factors that cause mercury to accumulate in various areas of the body. These include past physical trauma to an area, inflammation, food allergies, geopathic stress, scars, dental trauma, structural abnormalities, biochemical deficiencies, environmental toxicity, and unresolved psychological problems.

Neurological Effects of Mercury and Toxic Metals

Based on numerous studies, toxic metal exposure has the following effects on the human body:

  • kills or damages brain cells and nerve cells (neurotoxin),
  • generates high levels of reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress,
  • depletes glutathione and thiols, causing increased neurotoxicity from interactions of ROS, glutamate, and dopamine,
  • kills or inhibits production brain tubulin cells,
  • inhibits production of neurotransmitters by inhibiting calcium-dependent neurotransmitter release, dihydroteridine reductase, nitric oxide synthase
  • blocks neurotransmitter amino acids,
  • causes abnormal migration of neurons in the cerebral cortex, and
  • affects phenylalanine, serotonin, tyrosine and tryptophan transport to neurons.

In addition, mercury, lead, cadmium, etc. replace essential minerals such as zinc at their sites in enzymes, disabling the necessary enzymatic processes. While there have been large increases of most neurological and immune conditions among adults over the last two decades, the incidence of neurotoxic or immune reactive conditions in infants, such as autism, schizophrenia, ADD, dyslexia, and learning disabilities, have been increasing especially rapidly in recent years. A report by the National Research Council found that 50% of all pregnancies in the U.S. resulted in prenatal or postnatal mortality, significant birth defects, developmental neurological or immune conditions, or otherwise chronically unhealthy babies.

Exposure to toxic chemicals or environmental factors appear to be a factor in as much as 28% of the four million children born each year, with one in six having one of the neurological conditions previously listed. EPA estimates that over three million of these conditions are related to lead or mercury toxicity, with approximately 25% of U.S. infants receiving dangerous levels of mercury exposure. A study found that prenatal Hg exposure is correlated with lower scores in neurodevelopmental screening, but more so in the linguistic pathway. A study at the U.S. CDC found “statistically significant associations” between certain neurologic developmental disorders, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) and autism, and exposure to mercury from vaccines containing thimerosal before the age of six months. A follow-up on the study, using federal vaccine data bases, confirmed that autism, speaking disorders, and heart arrest have increased exponentially with increasing exposures to thimerosal-containing vaccines. Thimerosal has also been found to have hormonal effects. Prenatal exposure to mercury has also been found to predispose animals and infants to seizures and epilepsy. There is evidence supporting a link between the aluminum hydroxide used in vaccines and brain inflammation, symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and Alzheimer’s. Brain inflammation has also been found to be a factor in autism.

A large epidemiological study, NHANES III, by the National Institute for Health found a significant correlation between several chronic health conditions and having more than average number of dental amalgam surfaces. The study observed that patients who had several dental amalgam surfaces were more likely to have a chronic condition; the most commonly correlated diseases to toxic metal exposure includes MS, epilepsy, migraines, mental disorders, diseases of the nervous system, disorders of the thyroid gland, cancers, and infectious diseases. Other conditions where incidence was significantly correlated with having more than the average number of amalgam surfaces are diseases of the male and female genital tracts, disorders of the peripheral nervous system, diseases of the respiratory system, and diseases of the genitourinary system. There has been a huge increase in the incidence of degenerative neurological conditions in virtually all Western countries over the last 2 decades. The increase in Alzheimer’s has been over 300%, while the increase in Parkinson’s and other motor neuron disease has been over 50%. The primary cause appears to be increased exposures to toxic pollutants.

Oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species have been implicated as major factors in neurological disorders including stroke, PD, MS, Alzheimer’s, MND, FM, CFS, etc. Mercury-induced lipid peroxidation has been found to be a major factor in mercury’s neurotoxicity, along with leading to decreased levels of glutathione peroxidation and superoxide dismutase (SOD). Metalloprotein (MT) is involved in metals transport and detoxification. Mercury inhibits sulfur ligands in MT and in the case of intestinal cell membranes inactivates MT, which normally binds cuprous ions, thus allowing buildup of copper to toxic levels in many and malfunction of the Zn/Cu SOD function. Exposure to mercury results in changes in metalloprotein compounds that have genetic effects, having both structural and catalytic effects on gene expression. Some of the processes affected by such MT control of genes include cellular respiration, metabolism, enzymatic processes, metal-specific homeostasis, and adrenal stress response systems. Significant physiological changes occur when metal ion concentrations exceed threshold levels. Such MT formation also appears to have a relation to autoimmune reactions in significant numbers of people. In a population of over 3000 tested by the immune lymphocyte reactivity test (MELISA), 22% tested positive for inorganic mercury and 8% for methylmercury.

Programmed cell death (apoptosis) is documented to be a major factor in degenerative neurological conditions like ALS, Alzheimer’s, MS, Parkinson’s, etc. Some of the factors documented to be involved in apoptosis of neurons and immune cells include inducement of the inflammatory cytokine Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNFa), reactive oxygen species and oxidative stress, reduced glutathione levels, inhibition of protein kinase C, nitric oxide and peroxynitrite toxicity, excitotoxicity, excess free cysteine levels, excess glutamate toxicity, excess dopamine toxicity, beta-amyloid generation, increased calcium influx toxicity, DNA fragmentation, and mitochondrial membrane dysfunction. Mitochondrial DNA mutations or damage are important to aging and degenerative diseases, and mercury is common cause of mitochondrial DNA damage and degeneration. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PPQ), an essential micronutrient, has been found to improve such damage.

TNFa is a cytokine that controls a wide range of immune cell response in mammals, including apoptosis. This process is involved in inflammatory and degenerative neurological conditions like ALS, MS, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Cell signaling mechanisms like sphingolipids are part of the control mechanism for the TNFa apoptosis mechanism. Glutathione is an amino acid that is a normal cellular mechanism for controlling apoptosis. When glutathione is depleted in the brain, reactive oxidative species increased, and CNS and cell signaling mechanisms are disrupted by toxic exposures, resulting in neuronal cell apoptosis and neurological damage. Mercury has been shown to induce TNFa and deplete glutathione, causing inflammatory effects and cellular apoptosis in neuronal and immune cells.

Another neurological effect of mercury that occurs at very low levels is inhibition of nerve growth factors, for which deficiencies result in nerve degeneration. Mercury vapor is lipid soluble and has an affinity for red blood cells and CNS cells. Only a few micrograms of mercury are needed to severely disturb cellular function and inhibit nerve growth. Prenatal or neonatal exposures have been found to have life-long effects on nerve function and susceptibility to toxic effects. Prenatal mercury vapor exposure that results in levels of only four parts per billion in newborn rat brains was found to cause decreases in nerve growth factor and have other affects. This is a level that is common in the population with several amalgam fillings or other exposures. Insulin-like-growth factor I (IGF-I) is positively correlated with growth hormone levels and has been found to be the best easily measured marker for levels of growth hormone, but males have been found more responsive to this factor than women. IGF-I controls the survival of spinal motor neurons affected in ALS during development as well as later in life.

Several clinical trials have found that IGF-I treatment is effective at reducing the damage and slowing the progression of ALS and Alzheimer’s with no medically important adverse effects. It has also been found that in chronically ill patients the levels of pituitary and thyroid hormones that control many bodily processes are low, and that supplementing both the thyrotropin-releasing hormone and the growth control hormone is more effective at increasing all of these hormone levels in the patient.

Mercury can cause depression and mood disorders through increased neurological problems related to lowered levels of neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholinesterase. In such cases, mercury has been found to accumulate in and affect the function of the brain limbic system. The reduced neurotransmitter levels in those with amalgams appear to be a factor that encourages smoking because nicotine increases neurotransmitter levels, and a much higher percentage of those with amalgams smoke than those without amalgams.

Some of the effect on depression is related to mercury’s effect on reducing the level of posterior pituitary hormone (oxytocin). Low levels of pituitary function are associated with depression and suicidal thoughts and appear to be a major factor in suicide of teenagers and other vulnerable groups. The pituitary glands of a group of dentists had 800 times more mercury than controls. This may explain why dentists have much higher levels of emotional problems, depression, suicide, etc. Amalgam fillings as well as nickel and gold crowns are major factors in reducing pituitary function. Supplementary oxytocin extract has been found to alleviate many of these mood problems, along with replacement of metals in the mouth. The normalization of pituitary function often normalizes menstrual cycle problems, endometriosis, and increases fertility.

Animal studies of developmental effects of mercury on the brain have found significant effects at extremely low exposure levels—levels commonly seen in those with amalgam fillings or in dental staff working with amalgam. One study found prenatal mercury vapor exposure decreased NGF concentration in newborn rat’s forebrain at four parts per billion (ppb) tissue concentration.
Another study found general toxicity effects at one micromole (uM) level in immature cell cultures, increased immune-reactivity for glial fibrillary protein at 1 nanamole (0.2 ppb) concentration and microglial response at even lower levels. Other studies on rodents and monkeys found brain cellular migration disturbances, behavioral changes, along with reduced learning and adaption capacity after low levels of mercury vapor exposure. The exposure levels in these studies are seen in the fetus and newborn babies of mother’s with amalgam fillings or who had work involving amalgam during pregnancy. Mercury vapor has been found to primarily affect the central nervous system, while methylmercury primarily affects the peripheral nervous system.

Long-term occupational exposure to low levels of mercury can induce slight cognitive deficits, fatigue, decreased stress tolerance, etc. Higher levels have been found to cause more serious neurological problems. Other studies found that workers exposed at high levels at least 20 years previous had urine peak levels above 600 ug/L, demonstrated significantly decreased strength, decreased coordination, increased tremor, paresthesia, decreased sensation, polyneuropathy, etc. Significant correlations between increasing urine mercury concentrations and prolonged motor and sensory distal latencies were established. Elemental mercury can affect both motor and sensory peripheral nerve conduction, and the degree of involvement is related to time-integrated urine mercury concentrations. 30% of dentists with more than average exposure were found to have neuropathies and visio-graphic dysfunction, compared to none in the control group. Other studies have also found a connection between mercury with peripheral neuropathy and paresthesia.

Chronic mercury exposure has been found to be a significant factor in many neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, MS, etc. Neurological problems are among the most common and serious problems caused by mercury and include memory loss, moodiness, depression, anger and sudden burst of anger/rage/violence, self-effacement, suicidal thoughts, lack of strength to resolve doubts or resist obsessions or compulsions, etc.
Many studies of patients with major neurological diseases have found evidence amalgam fillings may play a major role in development of conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, memory problems, and other more serious neurological diseases, such as MS, ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. A large U.S. CDC study found that those with more amalgam fillings have significantly more chronic health problems, especially neurological problems and cancer.

Some factors that have been documented in depression are low serotonin levels, abnormal glucose tolerance (hypoglycemia), and low folate levels, which mercury has also been found to be a cause of. Occupational exposure to mercury has been documented to cause depression and anxiety. One mechanism by which mercury has been found to be a factor in aggressiveness and violence is its documented inhibition of the brain neurotransmitter acetylcholinesterase. Low serotonin levels and/or hypoglycemia have also been found in the majority of those with impulsive and violent behavior.

Numerous studies have found long-term chronic low doses of mercury cause neurological, memory, behavioral, sleep, hearing, and mood problems. There is also evidence that fetal or infant exposure causes delayed neurotoxicity evidenced in serious effect at middle age. Organic tin compounds formed from amalgam are even more neurotoxic than mercury. Studies of groups of patients with amalgam fillings found significantly more neurological, memory, mood, and behavioral problems than the control groups.

Other studies found that mercury at levels below the current occupational safety limit causes adverse effects on memory at very low exposure levels. More studies found that long-term exposure causes increased micro nuclei in lymphocytes and significantly increased IgE levels at exposures below current safety levels, as well as linked maternal exposure to cognitive delays. Very high levels of mercury are often found in brain/memory areas (e.g., the cerebral cortex and hippocampus) of patients with diseases with memory-related symptoms. Mercury has been found to cause memory loss by inactivating enzymes necessary for brain cell energy production and proper assembly of the protein tubulin into microtubules. DMSO has been found to have some capability to repair such damage.

Treatment of Toxic Related Neurological Conditions

The mechanisms by which mercury causes neurological conditions have been documented, but researchers have also found that people with such conditions commonly recover or have significant improvement after amalgam replacement from conditions including:

  • memory disorders;
  • schizophrenia and bipolar disorder;
  • depression;
  • insomnia;
  • anger;
  • anxiety;
  • mental confusion;
  • neuropathy/paresthesia;
  • MS;
  • ALS;
  • Parkinson’s and muscle tremors;
  • Alzheimer’s;
  • headaches and migraines;
  • epilepsy; and
  • ataxia and balance problems.

Lipoic acid has been found to have protective effects against cerebral ischemic-reperfusion, excitotoxic amino acid (glutamate) brain injury, mitochondrial dysfunction, and diabetic neuropathy. Other antioxidants such as carnosine, Coenzyme Q10, vitamins C and E, ginkgo biloba, pycnogenol, and selenium have also been found protective against degenerative neurological conditions. Several doctors have found thiamin, vitamin B6, inositol, and folic acid supplementation to alleviate peripheral neuropathies, pain, tinnitus, and other neurological conditions. Several studies have documented that lipoic acid (an antioxidant and chelator) resulted in improvement in the majority of diabetes cases it was used for, by improving glucose metabolism, increasing insulin sensitivity, and reducing nerve damage, including in diabetic neuropathy. Properly formulated nutritional treatments have been found to be effective in treating ADHD and depression. Hormonal imbalances, such as from taking birth control pills, can be a factor in causing vitamin B; B6 and riboflavin deficiencies can be factors in migraine headaches. Supplementation has been found to be helpful in such circumstances.

One chelation expert suggests, when chelating with DMPS, one should also supplement with a good multivitamin/multimineral plus vitamin E(400 IU), selenium (200-400 ug), and vitamin C (2 grams or Vit C IV). The expert also finds chlorella beneficial for most and has found other factors that reduce detoxification include:

  • low sodium, calcium, potassium, or selenium levels;
  • low protein in diet or low stomach acid;
  • hormonal problems;
  • low serum cholesterol (carrier);
  • low glutathione or other detox enzymes;
  • kidney problems or damage from mother’s amalgams;
  • constipation or “leaky gut”; and
  • electromagnetic influences (scars, geopathic stress, EMF, and RF waves).

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