Of the nearly two dozen elements that are considered heavy metals, the one that is the most ubiquitous in the environment is mercury. Mercury, in its well-known liquid form at room temperature, commonly enters the environment in vapor from industrial sources.

Approximately 50 tons of mercury are released into the U.S. atmosphere annually from numerous sources, including coal-fired electrical generating plants and multiple other industrial uses. Mercury vapor in the atmosphere eventually falls to earth in precipitation and ends up in bodies of water. There it is absorbed by microorganisms in the water and becomes the most toxic form of mercury – methylmercury.

Fish are exposed to methylmercury while ingesting mercury-contaminated phytoplankton – then humans eat the fish. Thus, eating fish is the most common dietary source of this dangerous metal, although humans can also inhale mercury vapor in the atmosphere. Mercury can also directly enter waterways from industrial pollution.

Another common source of ingesting mercury is dental fillings – the ones that look like silver. These dental amalgams are approximately half mercury. When we chew, drink hot beverages, or grind our teeth, a small amount of mercury vapor can be released, inhaled, and absorbed. The risk of mercury toxicity increases with the number of dental amalgams present in the mouth.

Mercury, in the form of the preservative thimerosal, can also enter the body via a flu vaccine that is administered from a multiple-use vial (a large vial that delivers multiple doses).

Whatever its source, whenever mercury enters the human body it can give rise to serious health concerns. Mercury will deposit in organs and tissues, and have an adverse effect on the nervous system, gastrointestinal system, immune system, and kidneys.

At the cellular level, mercury can attach to sulfur compounds, including amino acids that contain sulfur; for example, methionine, cysteine, and taurine. These amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, including enzymes that catalyze biochemical reactions. When mercury binds to these amino acids after they are incorporated into proteins, the protein can be damaged. If that protein is an enzyme, then it can be deactivated and made useless, which then adversely affects our biochemistry. One area that can be negatively impacted is the very ability of our bodies todetoxify harmful substances including – you guessed it – heavy metals.

Although the effects of mercury toxicity are individualized, it can result in the following symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Poor immune function, including recurrent infections
  • Facial numbness
  • Altered feeling in the extremities
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Mental fogginess

Testing for mercury levels in the blood will help you and your health professional either rule out potential toxicity or confirm that a high mercury level might be a health concern. Information is power – so testing can identify a potential cause of your health concerns and help guide you and your health professional in your treatment.

Thorne's Heavy Metals Test provides insights about levels of heavy metals and essential elements in your body