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A mercury detox refers to any process that helps to remove mercury from your body.
There’s no single mercury detox method. A doctor can do it using medications. There are also a variety of home remedies that some claim can help to remove mercury from your system.
Read on to learn more about mercury detox methods and who should do one.
Mercury is a type of heavy metal that occurs naturally in the environment. It’s also used in a variety of industrial products, from thermometers to light switches. There are several types of mercury. All can be toxic to humans, but some types are more harmful than others.
For example, research shows that inhaling elemental (metallic) mercury vapor is more likely to lead to serious complications than swallowing it in liquid form. That’s because the body absorbs very little of this type of mercury in the gastrointestinal tract.
However, the gut easily absorbs another type called methyl mercury. It can also enter the body, in vapor form through the skin. Methyl mercury is most commonly found in fish and seafood.
Ethyl mercury occurs when the body breaks down thimerosal, the mercury-containing preservative used in a few vaccine formulations.
Thimerosal prevents germs from contaminating the vaccine, but it is used safely in very trace amounts. The body clears this type of mercury faster than it does with methyl mercury.
Mercury is also found in:
- industrial sites
- dental fillings made from mercury amalgam
- light bulbs
- cigarettes and cigarette smoke
- old paint
Mercury poisoning can lead to a range of symptoms. They tend to appear as mercury slowly builds up in your body over a long period of time. Symptoms can also come on suddenly if you’ve recently been exposed to high amounts of mercury.
Possible symptoms of mercury poisoning include:
- chest pain or burning sensations
- inflammation of lung tissue
- behavioral changes, like irritability or excitability
- lack of concentration
- memory problems
- loss of sensation
Having your doctor test for mercury levels is the only way to know how much mercury is in your body. Here are several tests your doctor may use:
- Blood test. A blood test indicates whether you’ve been exposed to mercury in the last few days. However, blood levels of certain types of mercury decrease rapidly within three to five days.
- Urine test. Over a period of several months, the level of mercury in the urine also decreases.
- Hair test. Hair tests can show signs of long-term mercury exposure.
If you want to test your mercury level, make an appointment with your doctor. Tell them about any time that you’ve been exposed to sources of mercury. Make sure to bring up any unusual symptoms you’ve been having, too.
Based on your exposure history and symptoms, your doctor will determine whether a blood, urine, or hair test will be most effective.
According to the Mayo Clinic, blood mercury levels of 0 to 9 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) are normal and do not present a concern. A level of 10 to 15 ng/mL indicates mild exposure. Anything over 50 ng/mL may indicate heavy exposure to organic mercury.
Keep in mind that the level of exposure indicated by these measurements can vary based on the type of mercury involved.
Most people don’t need a mercury detox until their blood mercury level starts to rise above 15 ng/mL.
Unless you have a condition that affects your kidney or liver function, your body’s natural detox system is very effective at removing toxins, including extra mercury, through urine and in bile excreted to the feces.
However, high levels of mercury can overwhelm the kidneys and liver, making it harder for them to do their job. If you have a blood mercury level that’s approaching 50 ng/mL or causing significant toxicity in the body, you may need to do a mercury detox.
There are a few ways to go about doing a mercury detox, depending on your level of exposure.
If you have mercury poisoning with a very high level of mercury in your blood, your doctor will probably recommend chelation therapy. This method involves using medications, called chelators, that bind to mercury in your body and help it to exit your system.
Chelators can be taken as a pill or injected.
A quick internet search for mercury detox turns up several methods and products that promise quick results. However, there isn’t much research to support the effectiveness or safety of these methods.
When looking at different home remedies for a mercury detox, keep these questions in mind:
- Is there evidence or research to support this method?
- Is the treatment safe?
- What are the risks?
- Will this help lower mercury levels in my body?
- Is the source trustworthy and qualified to make these recommendations?
- How expensive is the treatment? Is the cost in line with the benefits or risks of not doing a detox?
You can also try doing a simple mercury detox without any special products by:
- Eating more fiber. Your body naturally gets rid of mercury and other potentially toxic substances through feces. Eating more fiber helps to move things more regularly through your gastrointestinal tract, resulting in more bowel movements. Try adding these high-fiber foods to your diet.
- Drinking more water. Mercury is also eliminated in urine, so drinking extra water can help to speed up the process.
- Avoiding exposure. The best way to get rid of mercury in your body is to avoid sources of it whenever you can. As you reduce your exposure, the level of mercury in your body will decrease as well.
If you have very high levels of mercury in your body, a home detox likely won’t be enough to do the trick.
Mercury poisoning can lead to long-term complications, so it’s important to work with a doctor to make sure your levels return to a safe range.
If you’re concerned about mercury, follow these tips to protect yourself from unnecessary exposure:
- Know your fish. Large fish, such as tuna and swordfish, live longer and absorb more mercury from the sea. Try to limit your consumption of larger fish and opt for smaller ones, such as salmon or shrimp. Learn more about the link between mercury levels and eating fish.
- Avoid amalgam fillings. Many
older dental fillingscontain mercury. Over time, this mercury can start to escape the fillings. If you’re sensitive to the mercury from the amalgam fillings you have, talk to your dentist about replacing them with high-density tooth-colored resin. If you have a cavity that needs a filling, have your dentist use the tooth-colored resin.
Watch out for pollution. Air, water, and soil around industrial sites may contain higher levels of mercury than found elsewhere. Use water filters that specifically filter mercury, like this one on Amazon. If you do a lot of gardening, wear gloves when digging in soil to limit skin absorption.
If you think you have mercury poisoning, talk with your doctor. If tests indicate your mercury level is too high, you’ll likely need medical treatment to avoid lasting complications.
There are some things you can do to support your body’s own detoxification system. If you want to try a mercury detox at home, make sure you carefully review the plan you’re trying. There’s very little research to back up these methods.
Be sure to speak with your doctor about any questions you might have regarding a mercury detox.