Nerves of Mercury

Nerves of Mercury
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Studies of the neurobehavioral toxicity of mercury on children suggest that no level of mercury exposure can be considered safe, but pressure from the fish industry may be preventing safety limits from dropping further.

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No mercury level may be truly safe. This review on the adverse effects of mercury in fish suggested that “[E]ven slightly increased environmental exposure to methylmercury from fish could lead to adverse effects on nervous system development, just like…lead exposure.” No lead is the only good lead, and the same is true for mercury.

They point to this famous study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics a few years ago, showing delayed brainstem auditory evoked potential latencies in teens exposed to methylmercury as an objective measure of neurobehavioral toxicity in 14-year-old children with developmental exposure to methylmercury from fish.

It’s a measure of how well the nerves in your brain communicate. You take kids; you stick electrodes on their scalp, and headphones on their ears, and play a quick sound. And then, just measure how long it takes for that sound to be transmitted from the nerves in their ear to the auditory cortex in their brain. The longer the delay, the slower your nerve impulses are traveling.

And so, here’s the graph. This is delay versus mercury content in their hair. You’ll notice two things. The more mercury the kids had in their bodies, the longer the delay. That’s bad. Also, you’ll notice it’s basically a straight line. It doesn’t plateau out at the bottom end; the lower the mercury, the better.

Where do the official safety limits fit on this graph? In 1978, the World Health Organization started to realize how dangerous mercury was, so they said no greater than this level is safe. We didn’t know any better.

Decades later, the “safe” upper limit was moved down to here. Our government said no way, our children are much too precious for that, and placed our upper limit here, in 2001. As you can plainly see from this later data, though, if you push levels lower, get people to eat less fish, you get even less brain damage. Yet, as of 2012, the safety limit remains there.

As one former EPA toxicologist told the Wall Street Journal, “[Government regulators] really consider the fish industry to be their clients, rather than the U.S. public.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Serena Mylchreest.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Mike Hughes / flickr

No mercury level may be truly safe. This review on the adverse effects of mercury in fish suggested that “[E]ven slightly increased environmental exposure to methylmercury from fish could lead to adverse effects on nervous system development, just like…lead exposure.” No lead is the only good lead, and the same is true for mercury.

They point to this famous study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics a few years ago, showing delayed brainstem auditory evoked potential latencies in teens exposed to methylmercury as an objective measure of neurobehavioral toxicity in 14-year-old children with developmental exposure to methylmercury from fish.

It’s a measure of how well the nerves in your brain communicate. You take kids; you stick electrodes on their scalp, and headphones on their ears, and play a quick sound. And then, just measure how long it takes for that sound to be transmitted from the nerves in their ear to the auditory cortex in their brain. The longer the delay, the slower your nerve impulses are traveling.

And so, here’s the graph. This is delay versus mercury content in their hair. You’ll notice two things. The more mercury the kids had in their bodies, the longer the delay. That’s bad. Also, you’ll notice it’s basically a straight line. It doesn’t plateau out at the bottom end; the lower the mercury, the better.

Where do the official safety limits fit on this graph? In 1978, the World Health Organization started to realize how dangerous mercury was, so they said no greater than this level is safe. We didn’t know any better.

Decades later, the “safe” upper limit was moved down to here. Our government said no way, our children are much too precious for that, and placed our upper limit here, in 2001. As you can plainly see from this later data, though, if you push levels lower, get people to eat less fish, you get even less brain damage. Yet, as of 2012, the safety limit remains there.

As one former EPA toxicologist told the Wall Street Journal, “[Government regulators] really consider the fish industry to be their clients, rather than the U.S. public.”

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Serena Mylchreest.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Mike Hughes / flickr

Doctor's Note

This is the second of my three-part video series on the latest on the risks of mercury in fish. For part one, see Hair Testing for Mercury Before Considering Pregnancy, and for part three, see Which Brand of Tuna Has the Most Mercury? I have a bunch of other videos on mercury, including fish contamination and its consequences. For example, see The Effect of Canned Tuna on Future Wages. And check out my other videos on undue industry influence on our food supply. One can also be exposed to lead though meat (Cannibalistic Feed Biomagnification), and dietary supplements (Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse Than Lead Paint Exposure), and even protein powders too (Heavy Metals in Protein Powder Supplements). 

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Mercury Testing Recommended Before PregnancyLead Poisoning Risk From VenisonProtecting Our Babies From Pollutants; and Schoolchildren Should Drink More Water.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

12 responses to “Nerves of Mercury

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  1. This is the second of a three-part series on the latest on the risks of mercury in fish. See yesterday’s NutritionFacts.org video-of-the-day Hair Testing for Mercury Before Consider Pregnancy for part one. There are a bunch of other videos on mercury contamination of fish and the consequences, for example The Effect of Canned Tuna on Future Wages. There are also 27 other videos addressing undue corporate influence on our food supply. One can also be exposed to lead though meat (Cannibalistic Feed Biomagnification) and dietary supplements (Some Ayurvedic Medicine Worse Than Lead Paint Exposure). Protein powders too–I have a video coming up on that in a week or two–stay tuned! In the meanwhile, check out any of the hundreds of videos on more than a thousand topics.




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    1. No surprise with regards to the FDA-it’s status quo for them (Unfortunate for us).
      And ACOG (American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) still recommends, “you can safetly eat up to 12 ounces (about 2 meals) of these fish per week while you are pregnant.”  The fish are Salmon, Pollock, shrimp, canned light tuna (have you ever smelled the light tuna?). http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq001.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120529T0858297697
      But they also say if you are vegetarian you better make sure you have enough protein in your diet.  Sounds like they should stick to delivering babies and leave the nutrition to the experts.  Hmmm, maybe NutritionFacts.org.

      Now we know about Mercury but what about Cesium: http://news.yahoo.com/radioactive-bluefin-tuna-crossed-pacific-us-190121826.html
      Just read this story today.




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    2. My doctor thinks I have mercury poisoning from silver filling removals and he doesn’t know where to send me for testing, where does one go to be tested?




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  2. I was watching this video and out of the corner of my eye I saw a link for Bragg’s liquid Aminos.  I clicked on it and it took me to a blank page, and then I searched for it and it showed Nothing Found.
    So is it a Bad link or Future Vid? 
    I use this stuff for stir-fry.  Now I’m concerned that it’s got heavy metals in it or something worse.  Inquiring minds want to know :-()




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      1. No problem!  We’re all in this together to get the word out.
        About the Braggs, however, your video states that Braggs has MSG.  My bottle in my office that I am looking at right now says only soybeans and their website only indicates soybeans as an ingredient.  Are they on the up and up?  Or is the Braggs Liquid Aminos you are referring to an older brand.




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  3. So many mercury worries for fillings isn’t to be dismissed so easily either.

    And, sorry OT but this: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/african-monkey-meat-that-could-be-behind-the-next-hiv-7786152.html

    “African monkey meat that could be behind the next HIV

    Deep in Cameroon’s rainforests, poachers are killing primates for
    food. Evan Williams reports from Yokadouma on a practice that could
    create a pandemic”




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  4. Now I am a very big fan of yours Dr Greger, you being beacon on credibility, but the graph you show us here has a logarithmic scale on the x axis regarding mercury levels. which implies a linear amount of damage caused by mercury levels…whereas in fact mercury levels do exponentially more damage rather, than linearly. It may be the original graph..but I feel it is misleading to the lay person.




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  5. This study is one more wake-up call about fish pollution– and the situation is not becoming better. Yet, given that ingestion of methyl mercury is commonplace in the American “mainstream” diet, what remedial measures are available to reduce mercury already sequestered in the body?

    Of course, a full course of IV-based chelation treatments with disodium EDTA is not without some risk– 30 deaths since the 1970s. But for most of us, multiple IV-drip sessions are not a practical option.

    Chelation through diet is one hopeful course, using herbs like cilantro, but does that yield sufficient results to halt the progressive damage?




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  6. Dear Dr Greger, I am watching a documentary on vaccine from this website http://www.vaccinesrevealed.com/ and Robert F Kennedy interviewed explains how it has been found that the mercury in vaccines is 50 times more toxic than the one in fish. I am a vegan so I am just writing this because you once said not to fear vaccine because fish has more mercury but apparently is not like that. Mercury in vaccines apparently crosses the brain barrier and remains in the brain thus autism and neurological disorders from vaccines..




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