Mercury poisoning is a health problem that is becoming more common today. Exposure to mercury from heavy metals causes it through various sources. Metal is toxic and can have dangerous effects on health.
Several studies have shown that high and perpetual exposure to mercury can cause changes in the central nervous system, causing headaches, irritability, hearing and cognitive loss, tremors, fatigue, hallucinations, behaviour changes or even death.
Also, researchers have also observed that the effect of mercury on the cardiovascular system. Exposure to mercury can also cause hypertension in both animals and humans.
In a normal world, no one would have any amount of mercury present in their bodies. However, almost all people have traces of mercury present in their bodies due to factors such as environmental exposures, diets and fillings.
A small amount of mercury in the body is eliminated through faeces and urine and is not as problematic, but high levels of metal due to continuous exposure can cause signs of mercury poisoning with the passing of weather.
Fortunately, low mercury levels do not cause any problems, but it is also very easy to expose the metal repeatedly. For example, if an individual consumes a significant amount of mercury-laden fish, the body can take more than a year to remove mercury from the body.
This is because most seafood contains methylmercury and the body can absorb up to 90 percent of that mercury in the bloodstream. Later, it travels to different parts of the body and penetrates the cells of organs and tissues.
Mercury can remain in the cells of tissues and organs for many weeks or even months and cause complications that people may not even realize are signs of mercury poisoning.
It is not possible to avoid mercury completely and not have traces of it in the body, but preventive measures can be taken to reduce exposure to mercury.
For example, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared that fish and shellfish are some of the largest sources of mercury. Limiting the amount of fish loaded with mercury can effectively reduce the chances of mercury poisoning.
How does mercury poisoning occur?
Mercury is one of the heavy metals found in the earth’s crust. Mercury can be released into the environment either by natural phenomena such as volcanic eruption or human activities such as gold mining or burning coal.
Metal is found in three forms: organic, inorganic and elemental. Mercury is present in inorganic salts and compounds in nature. It is rarely found in liquid form naturally.
Elemental or metallic mercury is also seen in barometers, thermometers and fluorescent bulbs. Mercury thermometers have recently been removed from many hospitals and other medical centres due to studies showing their toxic effects.
Mercury poisoning is due to exposure to water-soluble forms of the heavy metal, such as methylmercury, the ingestion of any form of mercury, and the inhalation of mercury.
Ideally, a normal level of mercury in the blood is between zero to nine nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml). People who are likely to have more than the normal amount are those who are regularly exposed to metal.
People who have regular exposure to mercury, such as dentists, can have up to 15 nanograms per millilitre of metal in their blood.
Also, studies have shown that people who receive amalgam fillings may also be at higher risk of having a higher amount of mercury than usual in their blood. A study conducted by the University of Georgia in 2016 highlighted the role of these fillings in mercury poisoning.
The researchers included in the study also indicated the number of mercury fillings that can cause an increase in the metal in the bloodstream.
According to the study results, people with more than eight mercury fillings had about 150% more mercury in their blood compared to people who had fewer fillings. An average person in the US UU It has three dental fillings, while 25 percent has eleven or more.
It may be fine to get one or two dental fillings, but having more than eight dental fillings can cause problems. People who have many fillings and are exposed to mercury from other sources such as shellfish or the environment are at the greatest risk of mercury poisoning.
Elemental mercury is also found in fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, electrical switches and dental fillings.
What are the symptoms of mercury poisoning?
The initial signs of mercury can easily be confused with other everyday health conditions, so people are not able to discover that they are experiencing mercury poisoning.
The most common symptoms of exposure to elemental mercury are:
- A strong cough
- Metallic flavour in the mouth
- Bleeding and inflammation of the gums
- Throwing up
- Difficulty breathing
Exposure to elemental mercury can have serious side effects in the body, depending on how much is inhaled. Effects include long-term brain damage, permanent damage to the lungs and even death.
The organic mercury or methylmercury is found mainly in or in the fumes of coal burning. Symptoms of exposure to this type of mercury include:
- Inability to walk straight
- Uncontrollable agitation (or tremor)
- Pain and numbness in particular areas of the body
- Difficulty in remembering and memory problems
- Blind and double vision
- Long-term exposure can even cause seizures (leading to death)
What are the most common causes of mercury poisoning?
Consistent with the research published in Environmental Health in 2007, the major sources of exposure to mercury are fish methylmercury, mercury vapour from dental amalgam fillings, and inorganic mercury from food.
In the United States, fish consumption is mainly related to exposure to the heavy metal. The fish that are observed high in mercury include swordfish, giant mackerel, tilefish, bigeye and shark with the tilefish that has the highest concentration.
The method of cooking the fish does not affect the mercury levels in the fish. Cooking simply makes the difference and mercury levels are the same in both cooked and raw versions of fish.
The second most important source of mercury exposure is amalgam fillings. It is said that amalgam fillings contain tin, silver, alloy metals, copper and liquid mercury, which make up about fifty percent of the filler by weight.
According to Mayo Clinic Medical Laboratories, mercury is released daily from amalgam fillings. About two to twenty micrograms of mercury are released from dental fillings only by chewing.
This also means that chewing gum from time to time can release a large amount of mercury. Also, the flora present in the mouth can convert the mercury released into methylmercury and oxidized mercury, which is known to penetrate body tissues.
Researchers have stated that the mercury released by some amalgam fillings is not as dangerous. It mainly depends on the daily exposure along with the levels of mercury already present in the body.
The third source of mercury poisoning is considered to be medicinal herbs that have been manufactured outside of the United States. Because these medications are not controlled by the Food and Drug Administration, there are no purity standards established for them.
That is why it is important to choose the medicinal herbs along with the various supplements with great care. Try to visit a health professional before trying any herbal medicine to decrease the risk of mercury poisoning.