When I was in 5th grade, my best friend returned from Mexico with braids in her hair and the most magnificent souvenirs ever. She brought each of her best friends a necklace- each had a tube pendant containing a grain of rice with our name written on it. Next to the grain of rice was a tiny piece of mercury. After our amazement with this trinket wore off we resumed recess as usual adorned with our new jewels. Our necklaces happily bobbed and lagged around us as we swung from monkey bars, played hot lava monster, and received torment from boys. Everything was copacetic until one our necklaces broke and a playground attendant came to check out the scene of the crime.
It was when the attendant realized that there was mercury in the necklace that the day became very unusual. The attendant made a phone call, put my friend with the broken necklace in quarantine, took the rest of the necklaces from us, and put the rest of us girls in a separate quarantine. One by one we filed into the principal’s office to have people in hazmat suits check our bodies and clothes for mercury.
So, why exactly were we young people pillaged from recess and examined from head to toe at the seemingly trivial exposure to a tiny piece of metal?
The answer is that mercury is very toxic, especially for children. Mercury exposure can result in impairment in the central nervous system (which is in charge of most functions of the mind and body) and peripheral system (nerves that communicate to the central nervous system), lung and kidney disease, and issues in the digestive and immune system. The younger you are, the more susceptible you are to the detriments of mercury exposure which is why such a small piece of mercury caused such a big ruckus at my elementary school.
Unfortunately, we can’t assume we’re safe from mercury poisoning just by keeping away from foreign jewelry. Mercury has many discreet homes. We can be exposed to mercury through wild fires, coal-fired power plants, and from the inside of glass thermometers, light bulbs, and batteries. However, the most common sources of mercury exposure are through amalgam fillings and by eating fish.
Have you ever gotten a cavity and gone to the dentist to get it filled? Did he fill it with a silver or black substance? If the answer is yes, chances are, you have an amalgam filling. Amalgam is a common material used for fillings and is made primarily of mercury. There is debate over whether or not such a small amount of mercury is safe in your mouth but as we know from Pt. 1 in our HMTS (insert hyperlink), no amount of any heavy metal is safe.
Another common source of mercury exposure is through eating fish. There is a ton of mercury in the ocean and basically, the higher the fish is on the food chain, the more mercury it tends to have in it. Some of the fish you want to stay away from or limit your intake of are: tuna, king mackerel, swordfish, shark, and marlin.
Now that we know about mercury’s secret hiding spots, we can do our best to eliminate our chances of exposure. Yet, it’s possible that we may have already been exposed. If you think you might be suffering from mercury toxicity or have further questions, give Starkel Nutrition a call! They can help with nutritional therapies or connect you with doctors that can set you up with additional therapies. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the last part in our Heavy Metal Toxicity Series which will look into specific treatments for heavy metal toxicity.
By Nutrition Student Marieve