Vail Valley natural health column: A common source of toxicity
Vail CO, Colorado
Environmental medicine is an emerging field of science that explores the interactions between the environment and human health. It recently has become a major topic in healthcare as we discover abundant toxins in our air, food and water that can adversely affect our physiology.
We are living in an extremely toxic world that makes it impossible to completely avoid coming into contact with toxins on a daily basis. Never before has the human body had to deal with so many chemicals ” automobile exhaust, new carpets, paints, perfumes, flame retardants in mattresses, pesticides, preservatives, plastics, unpronounceable cosmetic ingredients … the list is astonishing and ever-growing.
For the sake of brevity, I wanted to highlight one surprisingly common source of toxicity: mercury. The history surrounding this liquid metal is a fascinating study that dates back to ancient Chinese, Indian and Egyptian cultures. Through the art and science of alchemy, these cultures were able to transmute mercury from a poison to a panacea. It is said that purified mercury can cure any disease and promote infinite longevity. (I’d highly recommend watching a documentary entitled “Ayurveda: The Art of Being,” which can be found for free on YouTube. About six minutes into part four you can observe an Indian medicine man consuming purified mercury).
Unfortunately for us, non-purified elemental mercury has devastating effects on the human body. It is known to cause irreparable damage to the central nervous system, the immune system, the kidneys, and the various detoxification processes in the body. It also brings about significant psychological changes, including irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, insomnia, fearfulness, temper outbursts ” collectively referred to as “Mad Hatter Syndrome.” The type and degree of symptoms exhibited depends upon the type, dose and duration of exposure.
If you are like most Americans, you probably have a mouth full of dental amalgam fillings. In my opinion, these “silver” fillings are far from benign and an understated source of toxicity. Amalgam fillings contain approximately 50 percent mercury and 50 percent alloy (a combination of different metals). The problem comes from mercury vapor, a highly lipid soluble substance that enters the bloodstream and accumulates in the body’s tissues.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the “safe” upper limit of mercury consumption is 0.1 micrograms of mercury per kilogram of body weight per day. This means that a 150 pound adult can “safely” consume 6.8 micrograms of mercury per day or the equivalent of a seven-ounce tuna steak per week.
Interestingly, the Journal of Dental Research published a study in 1985 that showed that persons with four or more amalgam fillings accumulate an average of 20 micrograms of mercury per day, which is well above the EPA’s safe upper limit. For this reason, amalgam fillings have been banned or are on scheduled phase-out in Germany, Austria, Denmark and Sweden.
Mercury is also found in our food. Just last week, I stumbled upon an eye-opening research study in the scientific journal, Environmental Health, that found mercury in nearly 50 percent of tested samples of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A separate study by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy detected mercury in nearly one-third of popular brand name food and beverage products that contain HFCS as the first or second highest labeled ingredient. This is alarming because HFCS is ubiquitous in the standard American diet.
Mercury is also found in our light bulbs. Because the “green” movement in America has inspired many of us to switch from traditional light bulbs (called incandescent) to the low-energy, long-lasting compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) that contain mercury, this toxic metal is now more widespread than ever before.
Should a CFL break inside your home, be sure to take the appropriate precautions to avoid exposure and clean it up thoroughly. Furthermore, when a CFL burns out, refrain from tossing it into your garbage bin. Instead recycle your CFLs to ensure that the mercury does not escape into the environment. ACE Hardware and Home Depot now recycle these bulbs at no charge.
My intention in writing this article is not to insight fear, but rather to educate and create mindfulness around the possibility of environmental toxicity. In my mind, it is the cumulative low dose exposures to everyday toxins that are the most worrisome. Therefore, I encourage you to actively avoid chemical exposures that are most in your control ” those found in your food, water and home environment. If you suspect that you may have environmental toxicity, consult an environmental medicine specialist for appropriate lab testing and treatment.
Nick Bitz is a Naturopathic doctor at the Riverwalk Natural Health Clinic in Edwards. He can be reached by phone at 970-926-7606, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.