Mercury is an element found in nature, but one that can have serious consequences for your health!
Like all heavy metals, it can be toxic and accumulate in your organs over time, interfering with healthy internal function and leading to a wide range of problems—from endocrine dysfunction to organ failure.
Below, we’re going to take you on a deep dive into mercury, looking at what it is, how you’re exposed to it, the danger that it poses, how to recognize and test for signs of mercury poisoning, and what you can do to purge it from your body.
By the end of this post, you’ll know all the important details about this heavy metal and will be armed with the knowledge necessary to take actionable, practical steps to live a life free of mercury exposure and toxicity!
Mercury is a naturally occurring chemical element that is found in deposits around the world. Typically, it takes the form of cinnabar (a toxic metal) and has to be processed to produce the liquid silver-colored metal we know as mercury.
Mercury’s element symbol: Hg
Mercury’s atomic number: 80
Mercury is unique in the fact that it’s the only metallic element that turns to liquid under standard conditions. While other metals turn liquid at “just above room temperature”, no heat is needed to turn mercury to liquid.
Mercury is used in a wide range of applications—from barometers to thermometers to float valves to switches to fluorescent lamps to relays to mechanical pressure gauges, even dental applications.
There are a lot of ways you can be exposed to mercury:
In the air you breathe. When mercury-containing soil decomposes, rocks erode, and volcanoes erupt, particles can become airborne and circulated through the atmosphere. Burning coal, gas, oil, and household trash can all add mercury into the air, as can mining ore deposits.
In your water. Airborne mercury particles may fall to the ground along with sleet, snow, rain, and hail, absorb into the ground, and enter groundwater sources. Sewage leaks can also cause mercury and other chemicals to seep into groundwater, which you then drink in the form of tap water.
In your food. Typically, the most common form of mercury exposure is through the consumption of fish (and other seafood) that is contaminated with the heavy metal. Whale and dolphin meat (popular in Japan) can also be a common source of mercury.
Everyday exposure. You may be exposed through the mercury that leaks from a broken thermometer, mercury-containing hospital and dental equipment, broken fluorescent light bulbs, or explosives and/or batteries that contain mercury.
The effects of mercury exposure and toxicity will vary according to:
The amount of mercury
The form of mercury—whether elemental mercury in metallic form or methylmercury produced by biological organisms (like fish and shellfish)
The age of the person involved (it’s always more dangerous to children, toddlers, and unborn infants)
The health of the person involved
The duration and severity of the exposure
The form of exposure (via the air, food, water, skin contact, etc.)
In some (rare) cases, exposure to mercury will have little to no effect, according to the EPA . However, both methylmercury and elemental mercury are known to have harmful effects on the body, including:
Pins and needles sensation around the mouth and in the feet and hands (methylmercury)
Muscle weakness (methylmercury and elemental mercury)
Loss of peripheral vision (methylmercury)
Movement coordination decrease (methylmercury)
Impairment of hearing, speech, and/or walking (methylmercury)
Insomnia (elemental mercury)
Emotional changes, mood swings, irritability, and nervousness (elemental mercury)
Headaches (elemental mercury)
Changes in nerve responses (elemental mercury)
Sensation disturbances (elemental mercury)
Tremors (elemental mercury)
Decreased performance on mental function tests (elemental mercury)
These are just the initial side effects caused by exposure to mercury.
Over time, as the heavy metal accumulates in your body (because your body is unable to purge it), mercury can damage your kidneys to such a degree that it can lead to kidney failure. Other nasty repercussions include respiratory failure and ultimately death.
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If you’re noticing any of the symptoms above, it’s a good idea to get yourself tested for mercury toxicity or poisoning.
There are two tests you can take:
Blood test to assess if there are high mercury levels in your blood
Urine test to assess if there are high mercury levels in your urine, being filtered by your kidneys
Be aware that everyone has mercury present in your body. It’s only when it reaches “too high” levels that it can be toxic and cause serious long-term harm.
Now we get to the crux of the matter, the “what can I do about it?” part.
If you’re worried about mercury poisoning—due to recent exposure or just out of a desire to be proactive with your health—there are a few things that you can do to a) purge the heavy metals, and b) prevent future exposure.
Try chelation therapy. Chelation therapy is recommended for those who have been exposed to heavy metals or are showing symptoms of mercury poisoning. It involves the use of chelating drugs that bind with the heavy metal particles in your bloodstream to make it easier for your kidneys to eliminate them. However, chelation therapy is a serious medical treatment with a number of risks and side effects. Consult your doctor to determine whether it’s the right choice for your current condition.
Eat more fiber. One study  found that eating wheat bran after exposure to mercury reduced the amount of heavy metal accumulated in the brains of rats. Though it didn’t reduce mercury in other tissues (liver, gut, and kidneys), it did act as a neuroprotective agent and reduced neurotoxicity.
Add a side of cilantro. Cilantro has been shown to increase renal excretion after mercury exposure , though it was only about as effective as the placebo used in the trial. Still, anything that helps your kidneys to excrete heavy metals is worth the try!
Change up your diet. Stick with lower-mercury seafood like sardines, cod, salmon, trout, herring, mussels, pollock, oysters, clams, and shrimp, and avoid shark, swordfish, tuna, and other high-mercury fish. Consider adding more medicinal, detoxifying herbs—like garlic, turmeric, milk thistle, gingko biloba, green algae, and phytochelatins —into your diet.
Avoid environmental exposure. Wear protective gear when handling chemicals, and be wary of any equipment that contains mercury. Avoid areas where you know mercury is present in the air or groundwater. Replace any old dental fillings (which were sometimes made of mercury in the amalgam metals) with new fillings that you know to be safe.
Drink filtered water. Drinking filtered water will help you to avoid exposure to mercury via your city’s municipal water supply, which may be (knowingly or unknowingly) contaminated with trace (or higher) amounts of mercury.
Now that you know the danger is real and all around you, it’s up to you to take action and get proactive in avoiding exposure to mercury. Your health is at risk, but a few simple steps (as listed above) can do wonders to protect you against this heavy metal!
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