Could your chronic fatigue and other strange symptoms be caused by old dental fillings made from mercury amalgam?
In conventional medical settings, mercury toxicity is underdiagnosed and rarely (if ever) treated. In alternative medicine circles, mercury toxicity is diagnosed for just about every strange cluster of symptoms. The truth about mercury toxicity and fatigue lies somewhere between these two extremes.
The symptoms of mercury toxicity are non-specific and incredibly vast. Meaning the symptoms of mercury toxicity don’t point towards any specific disease/illness. Which is why both alternative and conventional medicine get their diagnosis mixed up.
In cases where conventional medical practitioners are stumped, generic diagnoses are handed out – chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and irritable bowel syndrome are some of the more common ones. Note how each of these syndromes describes a general array of symptoms. The diagnosis does nothing to help you with recovery.
In alternative medical settings, mercury toxicity is diagnosed using pseudoscientific means. Testing methods like blood cell analysis, electrodermal screening (EAV), intuition, et al are not reliable nor accurate ways to test for mercury toxicity.
To further complicate the diagnostic picture, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and IBS tend to occur together. Meaning the majority of patients will have some symptoms found in each of these syndromes. Once you’ve been diagnosed with one (or two) of these syndromes, the diagnostic inquiry stops. And this is where I take issue with the current state of managing chronic fatigue syndrome (and other poorly understood syndromes). The lack of diagnostic inquiry can be debilitating to the patient. You, dear reader, could be carrying on with mercury toxicity and never know it.
Mercury toxicity could be the underlying cause of your fatigue. Yet your family doctor only offers an antidepressant. You and I both know that antidepressants don’t remove mercury. Let’s discover just how mercury causes symptoms in the human body!
Everything you need to know about mercury
After reading this section, you’ll know more about mercury than most practitioners. The first thing you need to know about mercury is that it comes in three different forms:
- Elemental mercury
- Organic mercury
- Inorganic mercury
Elemental mercury is the form of mercury you’re acutely aware of. It comes from those silver dental fillings. These fillings consist of approximately 50% mercury with a smaller amount of other metals like silver, tin, and copper. (1)
The majority of dental fillings these days are ceramic. But mercury fillings are still licensed for use in Canada. (2) In fact, the Canadian Dental Association still maintains the point of view that mercury is as safe as ceramic fillings. (3)
I respectfully disagree with the Canadian Dental Association. Whenever you chew food, small amounts of mercury vapor is released into your tissues. As you’ll soon learn, if you have specific genetics, you’re at an increased risk for mercury toxicity when exposed to these vapors.
As your mercury amalgam fillings slowly degrade, they will release mercury that is inhaled or swallowed. Once the mercury enters your body, it attaches to other compounds. This forms inorganic mercury.
Organic mercury has nothing to do with dental fillings. Organic mercury comes from seafood. You may also know organic mercury as methylmercury.
When you eat seafood, the mercury is brought into your digestive tract. The mercury can then be absorbed from your GI tract and into circulation – not good!
Ok, that’s enough chemistry for today. You now know the basics behind mercury and how each can affect your body. Now, let’s jump into who’s at risk for mercury toxicity.
Do you have the genes for mercury toxicity?
If you and I were both exposed to the same amount of mercury, it’s entirely probable that one of us would get sick and the other would be fine. This is due to genetics. There are certain genes that can predispose you to be at risk for mercury toxicity.
One genetic mutation that strongly influences mercury levels in your body is the GSH genes. The GSH genes code for your body’s production of glutathione. (4) Glutathione is an antioxidant that protects cells against damage resulting from exposure to many external agents and oxidative stresses. (5)
If your body has a genetic mutation that results in lowered production of glutathione, you’re at risk for mercury toxicity. (5) For your body to safely eliminate mercury, large amounts of glutathione are required. Without glutathione, your body is unable to rid itself of mercury resulting in a build-up of toxic mercury levels. (6, 7, 8) When your body starts to accumulate high levels of mercury, strange symptoms like chronic fatigue begin presenting.
In a previous article, I do a deep dive on the APOe4 gene – it’s commonly known as the Alzheimer’s gene. It’s also the same gene that can put you at risk for developing high cholesterol. This same gene is now thought to put you at increased risk for mercury toxicity. (9) Those with the APOe4 gene are unable to bind to mercury and assist in its elimination. (10)
What is perhaps most interesting about this discovery is that mercury has been shown to create the very same brain lesions found in Alzheimer’s patients. (11, 12, 13) Perhaps it’s the mercury toxicity in those with the APOe4 gene that predisposes them to Alzheimer’s. Not the gene itself.
In a study of nearly 500 patients with confirmed chronic mercury toxicity, more than a third of all patients possessed at least one copy of the APOe4 gene. Before you spend a large amount of cash on testing for mercury, spend a small amount to determine whether or not you have the genes that would put you at risk for developing mercury toxicity.
What are the symptoms of mercury toxicity?
Mercury has the ability to affect nearly every cell in your body. This results in a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms. Below, I give you a brief outline of some of the more common symptoms associated with mercury toxicity: (14, 15,16, 17)
- Inability to concentrate
- Dramatic mood swings
- GI symptoms – nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Notice how all of the above symptoms are similar to those experienced by chronic fatigue patients. And this list is by no means comprehensive. Researchers are still figuring out exactly what symptoms mercury is responsible for. If you have a cluster of the above symptoms and/or received a less-than-helpful diagnosis like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, exploring mercury toxicity with your functional medicine practitioner is certainly worthwhile.
Does mercury toxicity cause chronic fatigue syndrome?
I don’t think there is enough evidence to suggest that mercury toxicity causes chronic fatigue syndrome. But mercury most certainly contributes to fatigue levels – this we can say with confidence. In one small study, researchers suspected those with chronic fatigue syndrome had an increased intolerance to mercury compared with members of the general population. When CFS patients had mercury applied to their skin in what is known as a patch test, 26% experienced the following symptoms: (18)
- General body ache
- Sleep disturbance
- Loss of stamina
When members of the general population had mercury applied to their skin, only 3% experienced any of the above symptoms. (19) Now, this study was done with 50 CFS patients and 73 members of the general population. Which is a very small sample size. So, we can’t draw firm conclusions. But it certainly gives a glimpse into the likelihood of CFS patients having an impaired detox pathway – possibly due to the GSH or APOe4 genes I mentioned earlier.
A larger population-based study done in New Zealand found that out of 465 confirmed cases of chronic mercury toxicity, 32% of patients experienced debilitating fatigue. 89% percent experienced memory loss. And 28% experienced depression. (20) This symptom cluster sounds a lot like chronic fatigue syndrome, doesn’t it? In fact, it’s so closely related that 32% of participants had previously been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome!
After these patients underwent treatment to remove the toxic burden of mercury, the majority experienced an improvement in fatigue, depression, and cognitive function. (21) There’s certainly a connection between chronic fatigue syndrome and mercury toxicity. After future studies are done, researchers may find that the connection is so strong that it is actually causal. But for right now, I don’t think we can safely conclude that mercury causes chronic fatigue syndrome.
That’s not to say that you should ignore mercury as a potential contributor to your fatigue levels. But before jumping headfirst into a mercury detox, make sure you’ve got a treatment plan outlined. Removing mercury is challenged when your gut health is compromised, your HPA axis is maladapted, and even by certain food types. I recommend you follow our rubric for how to treat chronic fatigue syndrome. If after you’ve completed the first few steps of treatment and your fatigue symptoms still remain, then it’s time to look at testing for mercury toxicity.
But testing for mercury brings a whole nother group of problems. The way most practitioners test for mercury toxicity is not only inaccurate it can be quite dangerous. Especially for those with chronic fatigue syndrome!
The wrong and right way to test for mercury toxicity
In alternative medicine circles, testing for mercury (and other heavy metal) toxicities is done through something called provocation or challenge testing. This testing method involves collecting your urine for one day and then sending it to a lab to analyze how much heavy metals are present. This is your baseline test. Next, a provocation test is administered. You take a chelating agent (a product designed to bind to heavy metals) and recollect your urine for one day. The results of your initial test are then compared to the results of the provocation test.
Sounds legit, right?
Alas, provocation testing seems to diagnose nearly everyone with heavy metal toxicity. You, me, and everyone else on this planet will be exposed to a wide variety of heavy metals on a day-to-day basis. The Earth’s crust has mercury in it, so, you can’t help but be exposed to it. This small exposure is normal and relatively harmless. Your body recognizes the foreign metals and excretes them through your urine.
The chelating agent (DMSA, DMPS, or EDTA) binds to all those metals you’re exposed to on a daily basis and forces them to be excreted in your urine. When compared to your urine sample collected without provocation, using a chelating agent will show an elevation of heavy metals in your urine almost every time. Heavy metals that would normally be excreted by your body all on their own are gathered up and excreted by the chelating agent. This creates an artificial rise in the levels of heavy metals in your urine.
One study showed that healthy patients had lead levels 6x higher after taking a provocation test. (22) Each of these healthy individuals would have been diagnosed with lead toxicity and prescribed a treatment they didn’t need. A large study examined mercury levels in urine after administering a chelating agent (DMPS). Nearly 75% of the patients tested positive for high levels of mercury. Even though the majority did not have any symptoms of mercury toxicity. (23) And finally, an Irish study found that giving healthy volunteers DMSA raised their urine mercury levels nearly 6x. (24)
The other inherent flaw with provocation testing is the reference ranges. Regardless of whether you use DMPS, DMSA, or EDTA the reference range remains the same. Each of these substances has drastically different rates of binding capacity. Thus, you’ll see different levels of metals in the urine depending on which substance you choose to use. Some practitioners administer these substances orally. Others, choose to use IVs. Again, the binding capacity of IVs is much higher than oral. But the reference range is the same for each. (25)
Provocation testing leads to unnecessary and often expensive treatment/supplement regimes. I do not recommend you use this method of testing to identify whether or not you have mercury toxicity. Instead, use the new testing methods that identify heavy metals found in your blood.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, laboratories did not have advanced enough equipment to accurately diagnose mercury and other heavy metal toxicity. This is why provocation/challenge testing began – it filled a diagnostic gap. Since that time, more accurate testing methods have been developed. Today, you can accurately analyze mercury levels in your blood.
These new blood testing methods also allow laboratories to test for both organic mercury (methylmercury) and inorganic mercury toxicities. With these new tests, you can discern whether your mercury toxicity symptoms are coming from amalgam fillings or seafood! At Flourish Clinic, we utilize Quicksilver Scientific for all of our mercury toxicity and heavy metals testing. The clinical director, Dr. Christopher Shade, has shown to be at the forefront of testing methodologies for mercury toxicity.
If you’ve been previously diagnosed with mercury toxicity via provocation testing, I strongly encourage you to have your blood levels run. You may be undergoing expensive treatments that will not benefit your health. Your mercury toxicity symptoms could actually be caused by something else! Mold exposure is a common culprit as its symptoms are very similar to that of mercury toxicity.
Now, I want to hear from you!
How did your practitioner diagnose mercury toxicity?
What sort of impact did treating high mercury levels have on your fatigue?