All references and information in this article is directly excerpted from “The Toxic Sandbox” by Libby McDonald.
To continue from last week’s article that focused on lead, I am going to highlight mercury this week, as it’s just as destructive to humans as lead. In fact, it is considered the greatest heavy metal threat next to lead for children. Oddly enough, while lead contamination amongst children is on the decline, mercury poisoning in children is on the rise, namely due to environmental influences. Additionally, while lead toxicity has been studied for a hundred years, mercury toxicity has only been studied for fifty, which raises even more concerns about true long-term effects.
This “pervasive poison” (as author Libby McDonald refers to it in her book “The Toxic Sandbox”) is released into the air we breathe every day from coal-burning power plants. As it travels into the atmosphere, it then makes its way into water through rain and windfall, where it then ends up in fish, which concentrate quantities of methyl mercury in their flesh. If the fish are of predator type (meaning they are higher up on the food chain and/or of fatty tissue type and carrying the contaminants from all of the other fish/sea matter they have eaten) like tuna, swordfish, tilefish, etc., then they will contain the highest amounts of mercury. This really stinks, for these types of fish contain high amounts of Omega-3 oils, which are VERY beneficial to our health, especially in children and pregnant women. HOWEVER, these two groups are at the highest risk for mercury contamination and damage, so it’s a total double-edged sword. Mercury contamination in fish has become so much of a concern over the past 10 years that women planning on getting pregnant, pregnant women, and children are advised to LIMIT the amount of fish consumed as to reduce heavy metal exposure as much as possible.
Why should we be so concerned about mercury? Well, mercury has been linked to:
- Memory deficits
- Shortened attention span
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of coordination
- Problems learning language
- Poor vision and hearing
- Loss of IQ points
- Mental retardation
- Bipolar disorder
According to scientific studies outlined by Libby McDonald, she notes that:
- A child is dangerously exposed to mercury in-utero when a mother eats fish or seafood with a high level of mercury.
- Mercury is MOST dangerous for children before the age of SIX.
- Canned tuna and many kinds of sushi contain mercury.
- Prenatal exposure to mercury is much more powerful in causing intellectual and behavioral problems than exposure after a child is born.
- The Center for Disease Control estimates that 16% of U.S. women have blood mercury levels high enough to double their risk of giving birth to children with learning disabilities and/or neurological problems.
- There is no documentation of what exact level of mercury exposure in-utero leads to demonstrable, lifelong harm.
OK, so many of you may be freaking out right now. Some of you may have already been tested and show elevated levels of mercury in your blood. If this is you, don’t beat yourself up thinking that you did your child harm. Like mentioned above, there is no absolute level known from person-to-person as to what kind of harm can be done in-utero. One particular level in one person may yield completely different outcomes in another individual. However, there are some key points to also consider:
- You can keep your children safe from high levels of mercury exposure by simply avoiding fish altogether, or at least eating fish known to be the least affected by mercury contamination. A list of those fish can be found here: http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp
- Today, vaccines contain little to no ethyl mercury (however, I am not stating this as being either pro- or anti-vaccine). Some vaccines (like the flu vaccine and some versions of DTaP) contain the preservative thimerosal, which is 49.6% mercury by weight and is metabolized into ethyl mercury (that is distinct from methyl mercury found in fish). Ethyl mercury stays in the blood for a shorter period of time than methyl mercury (its half-life is a week or two). In order to fully understand which vaccines contain any mercury-containing ingredients, you must read the ingredient label provided by the manufacturer to know for sure.
- There were studies done around the globe (The Faroe Islands Study and The Seychelles Island Study) that showed interesting results regarding mercury exposure.
- The Faroe Islands study showed that the effects of methyl mercury exposure on brain function are detectable at levels currently considered safe by the FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (awesome!)
- In contrast, The Seychelles Islands study showed that low levels of mercury exposure are not toxic (however there were other variants that affected this outcome).
With all of this scary talk about mercury, you’re probably wondering when I’m going to cut to the chase and explain how kids are exposed and put at risk:
- According to the Center for Disease Control, the most common way children are exposed to methyl mercury is by either eating contaminated fish or being exposed in the womb when their moms eat the fish.
- By 2004, the EPA reported that 48 states (all except Alaska and Wyoming) had issued fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination in their lakes and rivers.
- For 15 states, this applied to 100% of their waterways.
- 92% of the eastern seaboard and 100% of the Gulf Coast is under close advisory.
- Dental fillings, also known as amalgam fillings, contain large amounts of mercury that actually seep into your bloodstream from the tooth. Dental amalgam is 50% mercury. The World Health Organization says that amalgam fillings release about one microgram (1/1,000,000th gram) of mercury into your body every day. To put this in perspective, the EPA says that each of us takes in about five to six micrograms of mercury in our food and water daily. Composite, or non-amalgam fillings are becoming much more popular as concern is rising over mercury leaching into one’s bloodstream from dental work.
- Mercury occurs naturally in coal, in mercury contamination in children who live near coal-burning power plants. By far, the largest source of methyl mercury in the U.S. is coal-burning power plants.
- Crematoriums release mercury vapor into the air when amalgam fillings are incinerated.
- Purified mercury is used commercially in:
- Fever thermometers
- Fluorescent light bulbs
- Some types of electrical switches
- energy-efficient light bulbs
Mercury vapor is also released into the air when mercury-containing products and items are destroyed and/or disposed of in landfills or junkyards. Once mercury vapor is pumped into the air, it can travel on wind currents hundreds of miles from its source, raining down into lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans. Once in waterways, mercury is taken in by bacteria in aquatic sediment and tiny plants called plankton transform the heavy metal into methyl mercury. Small fish then eat this plankton and the beginnings of food chain contamination occurs.
For women considering getting pregnant, they should reduce their exposure to mercury a good six to twelve months before conception and ultimately get a blood test done to see if mercury levels are initially high, as once a women is pregnant and/or breastfeeding, a cleanse cannot be done to remove heavy metals. As it is, the Environmental Protection Agency has determined that mercury above 5.8 parts per billion (ppb) in the bloodstream of a woman who is of childbearing age can harm babies in the womb. Additionally, if a pregnant woman eats fish with a high mercury concentration, the metal is pumped across to the fetus and becomes concentrated in the baby’s umbilical cord blood, significantly upping the dose of mercury in fetal blood above the mother’s own mercury blood level. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that mercury exposure in the womb is responsible for sixty thousand babies born in this country each year with neurological damage and mental impairments. What’s even more alarming is The Learning Disabilities Association of America, the National Education Association, and the Arc of the United States all say mercury pollution is one of the biggest culprits in the rising tide of learning deficits.
So…what do you do now? Here are some of my suggestions:
- If you are thinking of becoming pregnant, test your own level of mercury beforehand. This link explains why some conventional blood, hair, or urine tests may not be the best gauge for accurate readings and what you can use instead: http://www.mercout.com/pages.php?pageid=42
- Be aware of products you use, such as cosmetics, as many are found tainted with mercury: http://www.forbes.com/sites/melaniehaiken/2012/03/12/dangerous-beauty-top-5-contaminated-beauty-products/
- Limit and/or avoid fish if you are pregnant, want to become pregnant, or are feeding fish to small children. Check the link above for which fish have the lowest levels.
- Obtain healthy levels of Omega 3 oils from fish through purified forms like Nordic Naturals fish oil, etc. You can also get plenty of Omegas from non-fish sources like chia seeds, flaxseed, etc.
- Know your environment – if you are close to an industrial area and/or a coal-burning power plant, you should monitor your mercury levels.
- Don’t touch mercury that could come from light bulbs, thermometers, etc.
- Read vaccine ingredient labels to see which ones actually contain mercury and in what amount. There are different manufacturers of vaccines that have varying ingredients and preservatives. Share your concern with your doctor.
We will cover “detoxing” and cleansing the body of heavy metals next week, as this is something that can be achieved and then maintained on a daily basis…and for every member of the family. It’s up to us to take control as much as possible of the risks that these contaminants pose on ourselves and our children. While it seems they will not leave our environment anytime soon, there are definitely measures we can take to try and keep them out of our bodies as best as possible.
Do any of you have mercury stories of your own? I recall my parents saying how they used to play with the mercury from broken thermometers by rolling it around in their fingers. Oh my…..
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Nutrition and Health Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC. Megan educates and empowers women, men, and children of all ages to learn the true ins-and-outs of “feeding the brain with knowledge about the best foods, products, and habits for one’s body” in order to reach optimal health and wellness potentials. Visit her website today to learn more:http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us or feel free to send her an e-mail at:firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Megan on Twitter (@MPowerNutrition) and like her onFacebook: Empower Nutrition & Health Coaching, LLC.