Mercury Poisoning—The Undiagnosed Epidemic: Sources of Mercury and How to Detox
By David Hammond
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
As a young man in the 1970s, David Hammond labored in an Australian steel factory. There he developed a mysterious illness involving fatigue, diarrhea, sinusitis, insomnia, thirst, irritability and loss of interest in socializing. Even after he left the job, his symptoms continued to come and go, but the many doctors he consulted had no answers. In 2010, Hammond learned that the scrap metal used to produce molten steel at the time of his industry involvement contained mercury and that he undoubtedly had inhaled mercury vapor on the job. The mercury deposited in his body and brain following this thirty-year-old workplace exposure could explain his ongoing illness.
Guided by books by Andrew Cutler and a related Internet forum, Hammond got tested for mercury and undertook low, frequent-dose oral chelation. Both are complicated, controversial and fraught with potential missteps. However, Hammond’s treatise—published a mere three years after he learned of his likely occupational exposure to mercury—walks carefully through this minefield, presenting “science and case histories showing the role of mercury in diseases…and how to eliminate mercury from [the] body.” In fact, Mercury Poisoning may be the simplest and most accurate guide to mercury toxicity available, offering a go-to resource for practitioners and patients who seek to understand complex illnesses that may have a mercury component.
Hammond describes mercury’s power to cause acute and chronic toxicity that manifests in an astonishing variety of symptoms. He also discusses mercury’s many commercial uses (either currently or until recently) and how these have led to widespread exposures from dental amalgam, vaccines and numerous products (e.g., skin creams, contact lens solutions, latex paints and pesticides). Some exposures may be hidden, including broken fluorescent light bulbs, industrial emissions and casual spills. Hammond cites many case studies of odd illnesses eventually attributable to these types of exposures.
In the twenty short but compelling chapters that form the bulk of the book, Hammond reviews the science documenting mercury’s role in chronic illnesses (such as Alzheimer’s disease, autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, allergies and chronic fatigue), doing a heroic job of finding and describing many of the most fascinating studies. For example, a 1999 study of a type of heart failure that sometimes kills young athletes revealed that the thirteen patients had, on average, levels of mercury in their hearts that were twenty-two thousand times higher than those in the control group. Although the quality of research on mercury varies somewhat, its very existence is remarkable, considering how difficult this broad-spectrum, chronic toxicant is to study in humans—and how little attention mercury gets from mainstream medicine.
Some of the book’s most poignant sections relate to mercury’s subtle but reproducible effects on emotion and personality. Hammond mentions his own increasing introversion and quotes German chemist Alfred Stock (1876-1946), who wrote of his mercury-related withdrawal from social activity. The Internet is crowded with dental amalgam sufferers who describe feelings of alienation, irritability and social withdrawal. (Note: See discussion of mercury-induced changes in brain connectivity by Kern and others in this issue.)
A particularly useful chapter explains why one cannot simply interpret hair test results at face value. When levels of toxic elements (toxic metals) are low but levels of essential elements (essential minerals) appear “deranged” (either abnormally high or low), this is a hallmark of mercury toxicity. This disruption of mineral transport, along with mercury’s ability to block excretion pathways, means that levels of toxic elements in hair will not reflect the actual body burden.
Hammond recommends the chelation protocol known as low frequent-dose oral chelation (or rational chelation, or the Cutler protocol), which involves taking specific chelators every few hours around the clock to keep blood levels stable. (Note: See interview with the late Andrew Cutler and article on the Cutler protocol in this issue). Incidentally, alternative health practitioners often use the word “chelation” inaccurately, which is unfortunate since chelation is not a risk-free undertaking and requires extreme care. Chelators increase mercury excretion and thus lower body burden, but they also inevitably cause redistribution of toxic mercury to the brain. The low frequent-dose oral chelation protocol is a way to minimize this inevitable damage.
For those who choose not to chelate, the book offers other valuable chapters on dealing with mercury toxicity, although Hammond unfortunately fails to discuss dietary issues. Cutler, on the other hand, clearly acknowledged that people with mercury toxicity need nutrient-dense, easy-to-digest foods. Hammond covers sulfur intolerance but does not discuss mercury-related food intolerances to gluten, casein, soy, yeast, phenols, grains, oxalates, histamines or others. He does describe key nutrients that mercury depletes—vitamins A, C, E and the B family; minerals including zinc, selenium and magnesium; and the omega-3 fats—and he recommends cod liver oil per Weston A. Price Foundation guidelines.
As they work their way through the book, readers may well ask themselves, “How can this be?” Indeed, a separate book could be written on the political, technical and sociological barriers to recognizing the still-mostly-hidden epidemic of mercury toxicity. Hammond explains that when researchers rely on blood and urine mercury levels (which only capture recent exposures and not body burden or toxicity), it is like trying to determine how much money someone has in the bank by examining his wallet. In the clinical domain, most physicians are unfamiliar with the variety of symptoms that mercury can cause, the potentially long latencies or the difficulties of testing for mercury body burden, much less treating it. As a result, the medical system is able to diagnose only the most severe cases of mercury poisoning, while less blatant illnesses remain mysterious.
The book leaves some questions unanswered. For example, the young Hammond also had a mouthful of amalgams—did this increase his susceptibility to his occupational exposure? Did his birth mother have amalgams that produced in utero exposure? Would a nutrient-dense diet have conferred some resistance? Can one regain one’s health at any age, or does a longstanding body burden of mercury cause some level of permanent damage? Nonetheless, Hammond packs his book with carefully stated and efficiently delivered information.
As this article goes to press, Amazon reviewers give Hammond’s book five stars, but only thirty-six people have rated it. This mirrors the mercury issue in general—few people are aware, but those who are usually consider it to be extremely important. Anyone who appreciated Eric Gladen’s film Trace Amounts will enjoy this book; both Gladen and Hammond used their mercury-related illness as a motivator to extract and organize reams of high quality information into a top-notch, user-friendly product.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2018.