The U.S. Center for Disease Control ranks toxic metals as the number one environmental health threat to children, adversely affecting large numbers of children in the U.S. each year (1-4). According to an EPA/ATSDR assessment, the toxic metals lead, mercury, and arsenic are the top three toxic metals having the most adverse health effects on the public based on toxicity and current exposure levels in the U.S. (1), with cadmium, chromium and nickel also highly listed. Large numbers of people have been found to have allergic conditions and immune reactive autoimmune conditions due to the toxic metals, especially inorganic mercury and nickel (5, 6).

Heavy metal poisoning is so common these days that it is literally impossible to avoid it as even young newborns have been shown to have heavy metals as soon as they emerge from their mother’s womb, as well as receive mercury from breastfeeding (7 – 10).  A recent report published by Reuters from the Environmental Working Group showed that blood samples of umbilical blood taken by the American Red Cross from ten babies showed an average of 287 contaminants in the blood, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and the Teflon chemical PFOA (11).

 Interesting research has shown a positive correlation between the level of mercury in mother’s breast milk and the number of dental amalgams in their mouth. The mean levels of mercury in milk of amalgam-free mothers was < 0.2 microgram/L, while milk from mothers with 1-4 amalgam fillings contained 0.57 microgram/L, with 5-7 fillings 0.50 microgram/L and with more than 7 fillings 2.11 micrograms/L (12).

Many epidemiologists believe that this prenatal or postnatal exposure to toxic metals is probably responsible for over 50% of learning difficulties and cognitive disturbances in all U.S. children.  Many studies are estimating that over 20% of the children in the U.S. have had their health or learning significantly adversely affected by toxic metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium. Furthermore, toxic metals have been documented to be reproductive and developmental toxins, causing birth defects and damaging fetal development, as well as causing neurological effects, developmental delays, learning disabilities, depression, and behavioral abnormalities in many otherwise normal-appearing children (13–46).  Such effects are also found in adults (46).


Sources of exposure to Toxic Metals

Heavy metals have been implicated in various research studies to cause as many as 20% of learning disabilities, 20% of all strokes and heart attacks, and in certain areas to be a factor in over 40% of all birth defects (46). The U.S. Center for Disease Control has found that primary exposure to lead is from paint chips, drinking water, fertilizer, food, auto and industrial emissions, and dust. High levels of cadmium are found in regions with high emissions from incinerators, coal plants, or cars (5), as well as in shellfish (47) and cigarette smoke (5). Other common sources include rural drinking water wells (5), processed food, fertilizer, and old paint. Common exposures to aluminium include aluminium cookware, antiperspirants, cheese and other processed food. Nickel, which is highly toxic and commonly causes immune reactions, is commonly seen in dental crowns and braces, along with jewellery, etc. (nickel and inorganic mercury commonly produce allergic type autoimmune problems, (6). Manganese and other metal exposure can come through welding or metal work. Cadmium, mercury, arsenic, chromium, silver, copper, and are other metals to which Floridians and others are commonly exposed in drinking water, food, or dental materials (47-49).

The most common significant exposure for most people is to mercury vapor from amalgam fillings (46).  Dental amalgams usually emit 1-10 ug/day; the amount of mercury in the brain is strongly correlated with the number of dental fillings.  Researchers have shown that chewing gum can double the mercury levels in the blood and treble the levels in urine for those that have amalgam fillings.

Seafood contaminated with mercury is another issue of concern – generally larger fish have most mercury, due to bioaccumulation in the food chain. The highest levels of mercury have been found in the following fish (mean mercury levels in parts per million (ppm); Tilefish 1.45; Swordfish, 1.00; Shark, 0.96; King Mackerel, 0.73 and Grouper (Mycteroperca) 0.43. Lowest levels have been found in the following fish – Tuna (fresh or frozen) 0.32; Lobster Northern (American) 0.31; Halibut 0.23; Tuna (canned) 0.17; Crab Blue 0.17; Scallop 0.05; Catfish 0.07; Salmon ND; Oysters ND; Shrimp ND (ND = not detectable). During the spring of 2001 the State Department of Health (DOH) issued a fish-consumption advisory for women of childbearing age and children under age six, due to high levels of mercury in certain breeds of carnivorous fish, such as shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel, and tuna.

Another major exposure source to infants is from thimerosal, a water-soluble, cream-colored crystalline powder used as a preservative in vaccines that contain 49.6% mercury by weight and is present in over 30 licensed vaccines in the US in concentrations of 0.003% to 0.01%. In the human body, thimerosal is metabolised to ethylmercury and thiosalicylate (67, 68).

The EPA safe limit for mercury exposure is 0.1 mcg/kg; that is one tenth of a microgram. It is common for most children to be vaccinated on the day of birth with the hepatitis B vaccine which contains 12 mcg of mercury (30 times the safe level); at 4 months with the DtaP and HiB vaccine on the same day which provides a further 50 mcg of mercury (60 times the safe level); at 6 months they receive the Hep B, Polio with a further 62.5 mcg of mercury (78 times the safe level).  These figures are calculated for an infant’s average weight in kilograms for each age. By age two, American children have received 237 micrograms of mercury through vaccines alone, which is thousands of times more than the EPA safe limit (52).

It is known that the mercury in the thimerosal preservative in vaccines is 50 times more toxic than liquid mercury. This is because injected mercury is far more toxic than ingested mercury and converts to ethylmercury, which has a natural affinity for brain cells and nerves. The fact that babies do not have a blood-brain barrier makes penetration easier. Moreover, infants have difficulty excreting mercury, as they do not produce bile, which is required for proper excretion (51, 67, 68). If the nurse giving the injection did not shake the vial according to directions before drawing out the vaccine dose, there is a chance that the child receiving the last dose could get as much as 10 times the usual amount in one dose.


Harmful Effects of Heavy Metals

Studies have found that heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, lead, and tin affect chemical synaptic transmission in the brain and the peripheral and central nervous system (32a, 40-43, 46, 50). They also have been found to disrupt brain and cellular calcium levels that significantly affect many body functions: such as (a) calcium levels in the brain affecting cognitive development and degenerative CNS diseases (5, 13, 28, 46, 52) (b) calcium-dependent neurotransmitter release which results in depressed levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine (5,13, 51-55, 46) – related to mood and motivation; (c) cellular calcium-sodium ATP pump processes affecting cellular nutrition and energy production processes (5,13, 46); (d) calcium levels in bones causing skeletal osteodystery (13, 56) . Toxic metals have also been found to affect cellular transfer and levels of other important minerals and nutrients that have significant neurological and health effects such as magnesium, lithium, zinc, iron, Vitamins B-6 & B1-12 (21, 49, 54, 56, 57). Based on thousands of hair tests, at least 20 % of Americans are deficient in magnesium and lithium (13, 58, 59), with zinc deficiencies also common. The resulting deficiency of such essential nutrients has been shown to increase toxic metal neurological damage (13, 46, 51, 56).

Studies have also found heavy metals to deplete glutathione and protein-bound sulfhydryl SH groups, resulting in inhibiting SH-containing enzymes and production of reactive oxygen species such as superoxide ion, hydrogen peroxide, and hydroxyl radical (42, 46, 53-55). This has been found to be a major factor in neurological and immune damage caused by the heavy metals, including damage to mitochondria and DNA(40-43, 46), as well as chronic autoimmune conditions and diseases (6).

High lead levels have been found to be associated with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), impulsivity, and inability to inhibit inappropriate responding (28a). High aluminium levels are related to encephalopathies and dementia (60). Some individuals have been found to be more sensitive to toxic metals depending on genetic sensitivity and past exposure to toxic substances (5, 6). Nickel exposure is common and nickel exposure has been found to be significantly related to perinatal unthriftiness and mortality in animal studies and large numbers of people affected by allergic conditions such as eczema and psoriasis vulgaris (61) and serious autoimmune conditions such as lupus and CFS (5).

Other agents including mercury are known to accumulate in endocrine system organs such as the pituitary gland, thyroid, and hypothalamus and to alter hormone levels and endocrine system development during crucial periods of development (27, 39, 40, 46). Such effects are usually permanent and affect the individual throughout their life. Some of the documented effects of exposure to toxic metals include significant learning and behavioural disabilities, mental retardation, autism, etc. But even some of the relatively subtle effects that have been found to occur such as small decreases in IQ, attention span, and connections to delinquency and violence, if they occur in relatively large numbers over a lifetime can have potentially serious consequences for individuals as well as for society (34, 40, 44, 45). The incidence of neurological conditions in children such as autism has increased over 200% in the last decade (62), and mercury has been found to be a factor in most of those tested (63).


Treating Heavy Metal Toxicity

Many health practitioners use synthetic chelating agents such as DMPS, DMSA, EDTA and others to mobilize and eliminate heavy metals from the body. There are advantages and disadvantages to using these. One advantage is the power of their mobilizing activity – they are quick to mobilize and eliminate certain metals in the body, but this may place a huge burden on the body’s detoxification system. DMSA, for example, can create tissue redistribution of mercury as decreasing mercury levels in the kidney (the organ accumulating mercury most abundantly) increase mercury concentrations in the blood, brain, lung, heart, muscle and liver (Gregus et al).

34. Smith DR, et al: Succimer and the urinary excretion of essential elements in a primate model of childhood lead exposure, Toxicological Sciences 2000 Apr;54(2):473-80.

35. Ding GS, Liang YY: Antidotal effects of dimercaptosuccinic acid, Journal of Applied Toxicology, 1991 Feb; 11(1):7-14.

Natural medical physicians throughout the US have reported MS symptoms in adults and intractable seizures in paediatric patients with high dose and extended use of DMSA (2, 3-dimercaptosuccinic acid), Chemet or Succimer.


Other Problems with DMSA

Extended use of DMSA can cause mild to moderate neutropenia with increased SGOT, SGPT, Platelet count, Cholesterol, Alkaline Phosphatase and Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN). Adverse reactions to DMSA include ataxia, convulsions, rash, nausea, diarrhea, anorexia, headache, dizziness, sensorimotor neuropathy, decreased urination, arrhythmia, infection. Zinc excretion doubles during the administration of DMSA. Patients must be kept hydrated as renal function can be compromised.

For the above-described reasons in all good conscious we cannot recommend the use of DMSA for the treatment of mercury toxic pediatric patients.

Approaching the fragile brain architecture of young children with autism, PDD and seizure disorders brings about tremendous responsibility in protecting the children from invasive interventions that risk alteration in brain function.


Natural Chelators

Talk about HMD ……………………………………




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