If you are plagued by an irritable bowel, or bouts of Candida or parasite infection, look no further than inside your mouth. It may have nothing to do with the food you eat and everything to do with what chews it.
A few months ago, researchers from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, published an exhaustive review of all the relevant evidence to date on the dangers of mercury in amalgam fillings. By revealing that one major target for dental amalgam is the digestive system,1 the scientists threaten to provide the missing link in puzzles ranging from superbugs to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
The review highlighted evidence showing that, when ingested, some 95 per cent of mercury is absorbed in the digestive tract through epithelial cells (cells lining the stomach) and so begins to wreak havoc with the digestive system. It inhibits the production of digestive enzymes such as trypsin, chymotrypsin and pepsin, and interferes with the normal function of other enzymes like xanthine oxidase and dipeptyl peptidase IV.2
Aside from messing up digestive enzymes, mercury also destroys intestinal flora. Without these friendly bacteria to aid digestion, large molecules of undigested food enter the bloodstream and cause a host of immune-mediated reactions, resulting in a range of allergic-type reactions.
If this weren't bad enough, the presence of mercury lowers your resistance to infection from a number of pathogens, from parasites to yeast and fungi.3 As a result, people who have high mercury levels typically suffer from chronic indigestion, abdominal pain, ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease and even bloody diarrhoea-all hallmarks of chronic IBS.
Although mercury poisoning comes from many sources-from fish and skin creams to certain drugs, vaccinations and incandescent lights-the West Virginia review confirmed that the major source of human exposure remains vapours from dental amalgam, or 'silver' fillings, of which around 50 per cent is mercury. These toxic fumes are inhaled and absorbed into the body every time you chew or bite.4
In particular, the new review cites the work of Anne O. Summers and her colleagues at the microbiology department of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, who have spent many decades studying bacterial resistance to mercury compounds and their effect on the microorganisms in the gut.
She and her colleague Dr Murray J. Vimy, clinical associate professor of the Department of Medicine at the University of Calgary in Canada, plus numerous other medical researchers from the departments of radiology, medicine and medical physiology, have spent years examining the effects of amalgam fillings in sheep, monkeys and humans. Their published evidence conclusively establishes that mercury from amalgam fillings migrates to various tissues in the body, including the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing a type of "timed released poisoning", as Vimy has called it.
In 1993, Summers combined forces with Vimy, whose ground-breaking research was among the first to demonstrate that the mercury in amalgam fillings is released from teeth and deposited in the body.
In one survey of 640 people, Summers and Vimy discovered that those with a high prevalence of mercury resistance among their intestinal flora were also significantly more likely to harbour bacteria with resistance to two or more antibiotics.5
The University of Calgary sent their raw statistics on six monkeys for Summers and her team to analyze in terms of the effect of mercury on intestinal flora. The University of Georgia team found increased mercury-resistant bacteria in monkey gum and intestinal bacterial flora after the placement of dental fillings.
Summers and her team, working with researchers at two other universities, including Dr Vimy, demonstrated that the usual bacterial population residing in the mouth and gut was markedly changed immediately after exposure to mercury from fillings. For instance, in primates in which mercury fillings were temporarily placed, both their oral and intestinal bacteria (streptococci, enterococci and Enterobacteriaceae family members) exhibited a significant increase in both mercury and antibiotic resistance within five weeks of having the mercury fillings placed as well as during the five weeks after they were removed.
When put to the test, the gut bacteria in the monkeys exhibited resistance to six antibiotic drugs: ampicillin, tetracycline, streptomycin, kanamycin, erythromycin and chloramphenicol. Like the humans studied, the monkeys involved in this study had not been recently exposed to any of these antibiotics, demonstrating that the drug resistance in the bacteria was entirely down to exposure to mercury from dental amalgam.
As the scientific teams noted, this happens because, in some bacteria, both mercury resistance and antibiotic resistance are encoded in molecules of DNA that are located adjacent to each other.6 Then, when the organism is exposed to mercury, both sites of genetic material are activated ostensibly to protect the bacteria against mercury, which is lethal.
What's more, when these resistant DNA molecules, or plasmids, are replicated, they are able to spread resistance to other bacteria through the DNA. Summers and Vimy discovered in lab experiments that many gut bacterial strains are able to transfer, via these DNA strands, both mercury and antibiotic resistance to other bacteria in their test samples.
According to the latest estimates, says Vimy, some 80 per cent of bacterial strains resistant to mercury are also resistant to antibiotics. Dr Summers has also demonstrated that when there is high mercury resistance in the gut flora, there is also high resistance to multiple antibiotics.
This extraordinary finding implicates dental amalgam as a major contributor to the vast increase in antibiotic resistance and the rise of 'superbugs' now being experienced around the world.7 And as one study from London's Eastman Dental Institute discovered, not only is bacterial antibiotic resistance, especially to tetracycline, commonly found in children with amalgam fillings, but the rates are equally high even in children without mercury fillings.8
Summers and Vimy's work has also confirmed earlier Japanese studies showing that the bacterial resistance to antibiotics and mercury (and other heavy metals like cadmium) can be transferred to other bacteria through replication of DNA plasmids.9
The implications of these findings are alarming. As well as contributing to general antibiotic resistance and the creation of 'superbugs', mercury in the mouth also vastly increases gut problems because it has a profound effect on the rest of the gut's usual bacterial population.
To greatly simplify what happens, the presence of mercury changes the general chemical environment of the roughly two and a half pounds of 'friendly' microbial flora living in the intestines. Besides becoming resistant to antibiotics, these bacteria, which are essential for the smooth operation of the immune system, become otherwise engaged and are no longer able to keep opportunistic fungi like Candida albicans in check.
Such resistance transfer creates a vicious cycle; the reabsorption of mercury vapour is enhanced, says Vimy, as it migrates from the teeth, which only serves to increase the population of mercury- and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This sets up a basic dysfunction in the gut that dentists like the late Jack Levenson, founder and former president of the British Society of Mercury Free Dentistry, believed could be responsible for Candida overgrowth and the proclivity of allergies that suddenly develop in some people in their middle years. In these circumstances, the situation cannot improve until the source of the mercury is removed.
Levenson, as well as many dentists like the American anti-amalgam expert Hal Huggins, documented a plethora of cases where their patients suffering from food or environmental ailments improved in some way once their suspect fillings were removed.
In a consolidated report of six separate studies of patients who had their amalgam fillings replaced, nearly all 1,600 participants reported cure or improvement of 31 types of conditions. Studies from four countries showed that an aggregate of 89 per cent of those who said they suffered from allergies reported an improvement, and among those with gastrointestinal symptoms, 88 per cent reported improvement or cure of bloating and 83 per cent reported improvement or resolution of general GI problems.
If these data were to be extrapolated to all people in the US with silver fillings, 17.4 million would see their allergies improve or disappear simply by having their mercury dental fillings exchanged for non-mercury ones.10 This echoes the experience of Dr Patrick Kingsley, who says that when his patients had persistent and intractable Candida overgrowth or parasitic infestations that refused to clear despite all his best efforts, dental amalgam often turned out to be the culprit. "It also seems to make funguses more virulent. Unfortunately, I found that the more entrenched the case, the harder it was to clear the fungus if the patient still had mercury amalgam fillings in her teeth."
There's no longer any doubt that we are absorbing this toxic metal into our system. Official estimates suggest that individuals with amalgam fillings are absorbing up to 17 mcg/day of mercury, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in its 1991 report Environmental Health Criteria Series No. 118 on inorganic mercury. A more recent estimate puts the intake at slightly less at 12 mcg/day from amalgam fillings, although those with a mouthful of fillings could still be absorbing up to 100 mcg/day.4, 11
Our immune systems can handle up to 2.4 mcg/day of mercury before we begin to feel any ill effects, says the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry based in Atlanta, Georgia. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers the tolerance level to be slightly higher-at 3.84 mcg/day.12
Canada's health authority, Health Canada, is more conservative and puts the tolerable level at around only 0.014 mcg/kg body weight/day.13
What most authorities miss is the fact that the effect is cumulative. Although mercury vapours stay in the blood for only three days, during that time they bind to cells and tissues in various organs and especially in the brain, where traces of mercury have been found for up to 18 years after an amalgam filling was fitted.14
The good news is that in both human and monkey studies, the proportion of mercury and antibiotic-resistant bacteria declined markedly within two months of amalgam removal. Nevertheless, having amalgam taken out is a complex operation best undertaken by a holistic dentist with a wealth of experience and proper experience (see box, page 31). Happily, there are tests you can undergo to find out if the mercury in your mouth is creating havoc in your gut, so it's easy to eliminate any doubt before undergoing the drastic step of getting the metal out of your mouth.
Bad and badder mercury
Mercury comes in three forms:
o methyl, from fish, especially oily fish like tuna and salmon
o phenyl, from amalgam fillings and the linings of nappies (diapers)
o alkyl, from fungicides used for wheat and other agricultural produce.
By far the most common source of mercury overload in the body is phenylmercury-from amalgam-and it's also the most neurotoxic of the three forms. Here are some other useful facts worth knowing.
Our body absorbs more mercury from our amalgam fillings than from any other source, including fish. Around two-thirds of the mercury in the human body comes from our dental fillings.1
Around 80 per cent of the phenylmercury we inhale from amalgam vapours gets into the bloodstream and, from there, into the body's tissues, including the brain.2
Phenylmercury from amalgam stays in the body far longer than does the methylmercury from fish.
One study of pregnant women who ate fish seven times a month could find no traces of methylmercury in their hair and blood samples, but did find high levels of phenylmercury-and the levels increased with the number of amalgam fillings.3
Other studies have come to similar conclusions: those with amalgam fillings have up to five times higher concentrations of mercury in blood and urine samples, and up to 12 times higher mercury levels in organ tissues.4
Methylmercury from fish is far less toxic than phenylmercury, which may be up to 20 times more dangerous.5
Should you get rid of your mercury fillings?
If you have a persistent gut problem like Candida overgrowth or parasites that hasn't responded to treatment, and you've had yourself checked out by a seasoned professional practitioner to exclude any other conditions, consider taking one of several available tests to confirm whether your problem is the amalgam fillings in your mouth.
These tests include:
o a blood or urine test. The blood test measures the level of mercury present in your blood, while the urine test examines the level of mercury in your urine, which is presumed to be representative of the level of mercury circulating throughout your system.
o a provocation urine test, in which you are given the well-known mercury chelator (chemical 'grabbing' agent) 2,3-dimercaptosuccinic acid (DMSA), which leaches mercury out of your tissues and organs. The amount excreted in your urine is then measured for mercury content, and your entire body burden estimated. This test is a fine art that should only be attempted by a practitioner highly experienced in interpreting such data.
o a hair analysis test. Your body's current metal load shows up in growing hair and can be measured from a small sample of recent hair growth.
All tests are available in the UK at Biolab Medical Unit in London
(www.biolab.co.uk; tel: 020 7636 5959) and in the US at Doctor's Data laboratory (www.doctorsdata.com; 800-323-2784).
In a report combining the results of six studies of some 1,600 patients who'd had their amalgam fillings removed, an overwhelming number of those with allergies or gut symptoms reported improvements or cures.
89% Allergy improvement
88% Cured bloating
83% Improvement of GI problems
Before your fillings are removed
If you're suffering from a chronic gut problem, your amalgam fillings could be the culprits.
If an experienced practitioner determines that your mercury load is contributing to your health issues, he or she should devise an individualized pretreatment dental and supplement plan that should begin at least two months before your amalgams are removed.
This is likely to include:
o a fresh, organic wholefood dietthat avoids salty, sour or overly hot foods, all of which increase mercury vapour
o supplementsthat bind and excrete mercury, such as a good multivitamin supplement, 50-200 mcg selenium, 50 mg zinc (taken last thing at night) and 1-3 g vitamin C powder
o natural chelators,including the homeopathic dental remedy Merc Sol, long used effectively by homeopaths to remove mercury from the system, plus DMSA with charcoal and glutathione peroxidase.
Suggested dosages on the day of treatment: three charcoal tablets half an hour before the fillings are removed; two capsules of DMSA taken with a pint of water over the following two hours after the procedure; and one capsule of glutathione with water half an hour before breakfast, taken both two days before and two days after the procedure, so five days in all (and don't take this with DMSA).
1- Drink copious amounts of mineral water
2- Eat a diet rich in onions, garlic, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale-all glucosinolate-rich vegetables that can help mop up free radicals
3- Detox with saunas, far-infrared saunas and lymphatic drainage
4- Under practitioner supervision, consider taking DMSA to flush mercury out of your system. A gentle one used by a number of clinical ecologists is Bio-Chelat (www.evenbetternow.com), which includes a low dose of DMSA
5- Supplement with, in addition to those named above, N-acetylcysteine (NAC), a form of the essential amino-acid l-cysteine, which helps with heavy-metal elimination15
6- Consider taking extracts of grape seed, milk thistle and turmeric root, which increase the body's production of glutathione, and help by binding to mercury and flushing it out
7- Take Spirulina or Chlorella algae, as both are frequently used for detoxing heavy metals.
How to get your fillings removed
Only a dentist who fully understands the dangers of amalgam and follows the necessary strict protocols to protect you should be allowed to remove them. Find one experienced in removing amalgam fillings by consulting the International Academy of Oral Medicine & Toxicology (IAOMT), an international organization of dentists trained in appropriate amalgam removal (www.iaomt.org). The dentist should be familiar with the protocol for removing fillings in a particular sequence and the use of ammeter or voltmeter measurements (the metal in your mouth sets up an electrical current).
The dentist should also test you for your reaction to the replacement composite (white) fillings beforehand. One simple way is for you to suck on a sample of the material for two hours, and then do this again two days later and report any reactions. Only agree to the material if you have no reaction.
High levels of toxic mercury vapour are released during amalgam extraction. For this reason, the I AOMT has prepared eight 'best-practice' steps that every dentist should follow when attempting such a procedure.
1- Keep the fillings cool. Throughout the procedure, copious amounts of water should be used to prevent the fillings from heating up.
2- Use a high-volume evacuator. This should be placed near the tooth at all times during extraction of the filling to help 'vacuum up' the vapours released from amalgam.
3- Have on hand an alternative air source, such as a nasal hood, throughout the procedure. The patient should be breathing through the nose, not the mouth.
4- Dispose of the mercury alloy immediately. Particles of mercury alloy should be washed and vacuumed away as soon as they are removed.
5- Lavage the patient's mouth. When removal is complete, the patient's mouth should be washed and vacuumed for at least 30 seconds.
6- Clean the patient's face well by washing and change any protective wear that was worn.
7- Flood the patient with nutritional support before, during and after removal of the fillings. Patient aftercare is especially important, and nutrients and supplements can help to 'mop up' any phenylmercury still present in the body.
8- Keep the air in the room clean. The surgery should have air purifiers or ionizers.
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Bad and badder mercury References
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Lynne McTaggart, with additional reporting by Bryan Hubbard