Friday, April 22, 2011

My Diagnosis of Mercury Poisoning from Fish

In the mid-1990s, I had started to experience fatigue. I’d always
tended to work myself to exhaustion but would usually recover
after a night of rest. But by 1997, I was waking up as tired as
when I’d collapsed into bed the night before. I also noticed that
my hands were shaking and my short-term memory was spotty.
I saw a number of doctors and tried to describe my symptoms
in detail. None of them was much interested in what I
had to say. None of them found anything wrong with me. One
suggested the problem was psychosomatic. Then, on advice of
a friend, I went to a chiropractor, Dr. Bob Culver in Los Altos,
California. He was attentive as I described exactly how I experienced
the fatigue, and suggested I submit to a hair analysis that
would determine my levels of salts and heavy metals.
The results of the test were unexpected and alarming. I was
high in cadmium and zinc, but my mercury level was literally
off the charts, and he diagnosed me with “chronic mercury
poisoning”. Where on earth had I accumulated such toxic levels
of this particular heavy metal?
There are two ways to get rid of mercury. One is to simply
stop eating fish that contain high concentrations. The half-life
of methyl mercury is 49 to 164 days so within six months 50 to
75 percent of the mercury will have been eliminated from the
human body, though this rate of dissipation may not be true for
the brain. I stopped eating tuna and swordfish, and my mercury
levels dropped naturally. Another way to speed the mercury on
its way sometimes recommended by doctors is to take zinc
supplements that bind with mercury and eliminate it from the
body in a process called chelation.
I took zinc daily and immediately noticed a huge increase
in my physical strength and mental concentration. When I was
retested nine months later, my mercury level was barely detectable.
I don’t believe I incurred any permanent damage, though
it’s impossible to say for sure. But if high levels of mercury are
ingested by children in early stages of mental and neurological
development, damage can be permanent.
I was relieved to have rid my body of toxic mercury. What
I did not know was that when a fish has a high concentration
of mercury, it almost certainly is high in another class of contaminants:
persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as polychlorinated
biphenyls (PCBs) and DDT—components of toxic
industrial and agricultural chemicals. There was a time bomb
still ticking inside of me.
The full story appears in my book The Voice of the Dolphins, out very soon.