A yellow creep skull and mercury bio hazard

Mercury – Toxicity, Exposure, Body Burden, Detoxification & Elimination

Is it true that drinking Mercury isn’t dangerous?

Not dangerous? Hardly. Mercury vapor is exceedingly toxic to the brain, kidney, heart and liver. And your microbiome would be seriously damaged, too. If you were a fetus, infant, child or teen, your brain development would be derailed, with permanent results.

Even if only a tiny fraction of the mercury (a thousandth of a percent) is absorbed, it is seriously debilitating. If some of the mercury were to get trapped in a pocket (diverticulus), you’d have severe health problems lasting for years, or for the rest of your life.

Your microbiome would react to the mercury and convert it into methyl mercury, which is efficiently absorbed by the body.

Gram for gram, drinking mercury is nowhere near as dangerous as drinking mercury salts and organic mercury derivatives. But it is far from benign.

It’s not something to do on a dare.

Mercury has had medical uses dating back centuries, and maybe millennia. But they are out of fashion now.[1]

Toxicity of Mercury, from Highest to Lowest

Dimethylmercury > Methylmercurcy > Elemental Mercury

Touching a few drops of Dimethylmercury is enough to kill an adult human being [Karen Wetterhahn]

Elemental mercury is usually found in thermometers.

A general rules is that the earlier in development a human beings is exposed to mercury, the more toxic that mercury is for him/her.

For example, embryos are 5 to 10 times more sensitive to the toxicity of mercury than adults.[2]

What are the Consequences of Long Term Low Dose exposure to Mercury?

Anything from “almost nothing” to Alzheimer’s disease.

All humans carry a mercury burden. I’d be willing to bet good money that no human anywhere on the planet has mercury below the detectable limits of todays analytical techniques. So in a real sense, EVERYBODY has “long-term, low-dose mercury toxicity.” So… How low is low?

Since the sulfhydryl (reduced sulfur-containing) enzymes that are strongly inhibited in Alzheimer’s disease only get inhibited when the mercury-detoxification system gets overwhelmed, there is no way to know what the consequences of any given mercury level would have on a human. Another way to say it is: there are people with high mercury burdens who do not have Alzheimer’s disease and others with low levels of mercury who do. It is the dynamic relationship between:

  1. the level of mercury burden and
  2. the adaptive capacity of the glutathione antioxidant defense system.

You have to know both to predict a result. In one case of teenage idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, a 17-year-old male had a mercury burden approaching 0.1% of his heart muscle. Until he died suddenly, he appeared to be entirely healthy.[3]

How do Heavy Metals, like Mercury, Burden the Body?

We currently accept mercury burdens that may be up to a binary order of magnitude higher than those of our ancestors and lead burdens that may be two ten-fold orders of magnitude higher. Heavy metal burdens put a direct strain on the antioxidant defense system (glutathione and ascorbate, as defended by NADH and NADPH) which means that there is:

  1. increased demand on glutathione synthesis (not big problem, that’s just a protein-synthesis demand)
  2. increased demand for reducing equivalents (a big problem because heavy metals sabotage mitochondrial energy-production systems), and
  3. sabotage of the heavy-metal excretion mechanisms involving reduced-sulfur species.

I think this is the Achilles heel of modern disease (degenerative, oxidative, autoimmune and neurological). Loss of renal functions is a direct manifestation of the kidney’s special susceptibility to mercury toxicity, exceeded only by the brains worse susceptibility.

How does the body remove mercury?

Steven Fowkes gave me a very good answer for how the body removes mercury from the body:

The primary detoxification mechanism for mercury is combination with reduced sulfur. This takes place in all tissues and especially in the liver, where the glutathione-bound mercury (GS-Hg-SG) is dumped into the bile for excretion into the gut. The body converts ionic mercury, metallic mercury and organic mercury into glutathione-bound mercury, a small amount of which can be excreted through the kidneys into the urine, but most of which is excreted in bile. The kidney is particularly sensitive to mercury, so urinary excretion is necessarily constrained.

But bile-excreted mercury is not actually removed. Yet. It must pass down the full length of the intestine and colon before it is removed. And this is significantly problematic because glutathione-bound mercury is particularly toxic to single-cell microbes, and they detoxify it by converting it into methyl mercury, which efficiently absorbs back into the blood stream and even crosses the blood-brain barrier.  So the detoxed-form of mercury is recycled into the more toxic form during its transit down the GI tract. This is a loop in which mercury can become trapped in the human body.

In idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, there is a failure of cellular or tissue-level mercury excretion of glutathione-bound mercury. In one 17-year-old male teenager, glutathione-bound mercury accumulated to almost 0.1% (wet weight!) before he suddenly died on the track field. This mercury accumulation in IDC is (1) limited to the heart and was not found in other muscles or other organs, and (2) shows how effective glutathione is at detoxifying mercury.[4]

In response, I gave him my “theory” for improving the elimination of Mercury from the body:

So to increase the detox of mercury in the body, you need to shorten the transit time for the food particles in the digestive tract. To do this you can try:

  • Coconut meat. Excellent when paired with exercise. The fiber in the coconut bulks up the stool and prevents the bile from being re-absorbed.
  • Ginger. Or spicy foods… Actually know that I think about it, spicy foods may cause some people to break out in acne because it increases the bile secreted as an irritant. Therefore pumping out more moving more Mercury around.
  • Red tea (with milk, sugar, cardamom). I always find myself running to the bathroom more frequently when I drink this tea. Weird… Tannins, perhaps?

What Foods Assist in the Elimination of Mercury from the Body?

The Japanese consume foods that protect from mercury poisoning. The compounds in these foods upregulate specific enzymes (e.g., glutathione peroxidase, glutathione reductive, etc) in the liver that are used to neutralize Mercury.

Our western diets are lacking in such foods and nutrients… this is one reason why symptoms of heavy metal toxicity is higher in the West. In these cases – as many people have eluded to – chelation therapies are used to cleanup the mess.

Conventional Therapies

Chelation therapy enhances the elimination of metals (both toxic and essential) from the body. Methods include:

  • DMPS, an oral medication for arsenic, cadmium, and mercury toxicity
  • Succimer (DMSA), an oral medication for mild-to-moderate lead, arsenic and mercury toxicity
  • Calcium-disodium EDTA for lead encephalopathy and lead poisoning

But heavy metal chelation can be very dangerous if you have a ‘leaky’ blood-brain barrier (an all too common situation amongst the Western population). This is something I see quite often too. I have a client who has undergone chelation therapy for the past several months only to see symptoms worsen.

I would never expose a person to chelation if I suspect a ‘leaky’ brain. Despite these chemicals effectiveness, the downfall is that they work in binary format (fully on or fully off). There’s no modulation involved. The liver is all to happy to get rid of its heavy metals and dumps them right back into the blood stream. From there, it can go right to your brain (if leaky).

For the above reason, chelation is not my go-to method to detox the body of heavy metals. Instead I like to use strategies that support the body in ridding itself of these nasties.

Integrative interventions

Below are a few nutritional strategies used to help the body against the ravages of heavy metals:

  • Selenium: Selenium is an inhibitor of mercury accumulation and increases excretion of mercury and arsenic. Selenium also increases toxic metal excretion (Li 2012).
  • Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a free-radical scavenger that can protect against oxidative damage caused by lead (Patrick 2006), mercury (Xu 2007), and cadmium (Ji 2012).
  • Folate: Active folate (not folic acid) is a cofactor in sulfur-containing amino acid metabolism. Sulfur-containing amino acids (cysteine and methionine) are precursors to known heavy metal chelators (alpha-lipoic acid and glutathione – see below). In a study of 1,105 pregnant women, 841 of which were followed through late pregnancy or delivery, higher blood folate levels were associated with lower blood mercury levels during mid- and late-pregnancy (Kim 2013)
  • Garlic: Garlic contains many active sulfur compounds derived from cysteine with potential metal-chelating properties. Garlic lowered lead levels in the blood of industrial workers as effectively as the chelator d-penicillamine (Kianoush 2012).
  • Lipoic Acid and Glutathione: Sulfur-containing compounds can complex with heavy metals, and the sulfur antioxidants alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and glutathione have been demonstrated to chelate a number of metals (mercury for glutathione; cadmium, lead, zinc, cobalt, nickel, iron, and copper for ALA) (Patrick 2002). ALA and glutathione reduced some of the adverse changes in blood parameters, including drops in red blood cell number and size as well as reductions in hemoglobin concentration brought about by intoxication with lead, cadmium, or copper (Nikolic 2013).[5]



  1. Is it true that drinking Mercury isn’t dangerous? [Quora]
  2. Methylmercury and Dimethylmercury [Source]
  3. What are the Effects of Long Term Low Dose Mercury Toxicity? [Quora]
  4. How Does the Body Remove Mercury A2A by Steven Fowkes [Quora]
  5. What foods assist in the elimination of Mercury from the body? [Quora]

5 thoughts to “Mercury – Toxicity, Exposure, Body Burden, Detoxification & Elimination”

  1. Andy Cutler, Ph.D advises using chelators like DMSA/DMPS/Alpha lipoic acid only according to their half-lives, so dosed every 3 hours, to avoid the redistribution of more mercury into the brain. Doses not in accordance with half life will remove some mercury, but will pick a bunch of it up and drop it off into the fattiest tissues like the brain and liver.

    1. Do you know the reason why mercury loves fatty tissue? How well does the bile secreted from the gall bladder remove mercury? I think that would be the main way mercury leaves the body.

      That’s why I think that bitters, like Turmeric, could help a person eliminate mercury from their body- because turmeric increases the secretion of bile.

      1. Mercury loves fatty tissues because it’s lipophilic (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2386431). I don’t know about bile removing mercury. I haven’t heard that it does. From what I’ve learned, chelators excrete mercury mostly through the bowels and a little through the urine.

        Taurine helps make bile too. I took a lot of turmeric in 2013 but only saw improvement in mercury symptoms from using DMSA/ALA by the aforementioned method (Cutler Protocol).

        I emailed Ray Peat about this but I think he has a reductionist view of chelation. Mercury’s brain half-life is 27.4 years and his solutions of coffee, milk, and OJ are not gonna cut it.

        1. I mentioned bile, because the body (should) have its own way of removing mercury from the body, even so slowly. It looks like I’ve asked this question before on Quora, read Steven Fowkes answer on the topic: https://www.quora.com/How-does-the-body-remove-mercury

          Where did you learn about Cutler’s protocol? Also, how did you figure out that you needed to detoxify yourself of Mercury?

          Yea, I don’t see how milk or OJ (vitamin C?) could significantly improve the elimination of Mercury from the body. I can imagine where Ray Peat was coming from with coffee, since coffee can speed up the transit of food through the digestive tract, and lessen the amount of mercury that is reabsorbed by the body (from the bile secreted).

          I appreciate chatting with you. Very good information you’ve brought up!

          1. That is great info from Fowkes that’s new to me. I learned about Cutler’s protocol through Google in 2013. I have dealt with symptoms in the chronic fatigue spectrum for 6 years so I’m doing all I can to recover (I’m 20). Ray Peat and Andy Cutler have been the most helpful to me out of everyone.

            Absolutely man. You have a great site. I’ll continue to check it out.

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