By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Mercury is a toxic metal that can have a number of harmful effects in the body. If you are exposed to high levels of mercury, it can accumulate in your nervous system and have detrimental neurological effects. Mercury can cause impaired cognitive function, poor memory, anxiety and impaired fine motor skills. Mercury can also be harmful to your immune system, with new research showing it can raise the risk of autoimmune disease.

Researchers from the University of Michigan have shown that even levels of mercury that are currently considered to be safe, are associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disease. The authors of the study examined the relationship between mercury and antinuclear antibodies in 1352 women aged between 16 and 49 years. Antinuclear antibodies are produced by immune cells and attack various tissues in the body of someone with autoimmune disease. They are common in conditions such as lupus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome and rheumatic diseases.

The researchers tested hair and blood levels of mercury in the women. Women with higher levels were more likely to have antinuclear antibodies in their bloodstream. This means the women either had an autoimmune disease, or they were very likely to develop one in the next five years. The primary source of mercury in the women studied was through seafood consumption.

What are the sources of mercury exposure?

The most common sources include:

  • Mercury dental amalgam fillings. These fillings contain inorganic mercury called ethylmercury. It is a more toxic form of this metal than the mercury found in some seafood. Mercury vapours are continually released from amalgam fillings, particularly old ones. If you have a large number of fillings in your mouth, or tests have shown you are suffering from mercury toxicity, you may want to consider having these fillings replaced. It is important to see a good holistic dentist who specialises in this procedure though, as the removal process can potentially expose you to far higher levels of mercury. Check that the dentist you wish to see is experienced at removing mercury amalgam fillings. If you are in Sydney we recommend Sydney Holistic Dental Centre.
  • Mercury has been taken out of most vaccines, however is still present in adult flu vaccines. Patients with an autoimmune disease are often advised to have the flu vaccine every year by their doctor because they are at increased risk of infection. This practice can expose you to dangerously high levels of mercury, as well as other toxins present in vaccines that adversely affect the immune system. The flu vaccine is a very controversial topic for several reasons. There has been great debate over whether it is even effective. In some patients it may cause more harm than good. Please discuss this matter with your own doctor, who can give you guidance on whether or not the flu vaccine is appropriate for you.
  • Mercury is present in some seafood. Generally, large, long lived fish are the ones highest in mercury and other contaminants. Examples of fish that is fairly high in mercury and best avoided include swordfish, shark (flake), billfish, marlin, orange roughy, deep sea perch and catfish. Examples of fish lower in mercury include sardines, herrings, anchovies, mackerel and salmon. These species are also high in omega 3 fats, therefore are beneficial to include in your diet regularly. It is important to note that most fish is a fairly good source of the mineral selenium, and selenium helps to reduce mercury absorption by your body.

We are seeing increasing rates of mercury toxicity among our patients. If you are experiencing immune system problems, you may wish to consider being tested.

Reference: Somers EC, et al. Mercury exposure and antinuclear antibodies among females of reproductive age in the United States: NHANES. Environ Health Perspect 2015.

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