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Mad as a Hatter: Does it matter?

January 20th, 2011

If you think I’m talking about the character in Alice in Wonderland, think again. In today’s blog, I’m going to discuss how toxins, particularly heavy metals (like mercury) could affect everything, including our mental health. The phrase “mad as a hatter” was coined in the early 19th century when “hatters” or people who were making hats started experiencing uncontrollable trembling and appeared insane. Apparently, the hatters were using glue that contained mercury at the time. Mercury toxicity can manifest as loss of appetite, fatigue, depression, emotional instability, peripheral numbness, tremors, poor memory and cognitive function, decreased senses of touch, taste, hearing and vision, and neuromuscular disorders. High levels have also been implicated in acute myocardial infarction. All the symptoms just mentioned are quite common. Therefore, it’s always a great idea to rule out the presence of (heavy metal) toxins in anyone experiencing the said symptoms or anyone who has a possible exposure to mercury (and that means all of us). Mercury is now found all over the place, including our air (esp. surrounding coal-powered plants), food and water supply. In fact, common sources include fish (all fish now, compared to just large fish during previous years), dental amalgams, skin lightening agents (very common in Asia), some hemorrhoidal creams, some vaccines, medical instruments such as thermometers and sphygmomanometers, batteries, electrodes, some fertilizers, the paper industry and finally, the gold industry. In fact, there were recent reports in the news of mercury/lead toxicity in parts of Nigeria where people are involved in gold mining.

To test if someone has elevated levels of metals, particularly mercury, one can have a blood, hair or (provocative) urine testing done with chelating agents like DMSA or DMPS ( although others may use EDTA or other natural chelating agents). A blood specimen is usually used to determine acute exposure while hair and urinary testing informs us more of chronic exposure. Labs that perform the latter tests include Doctor’s Data and Genova Diagnostics. In Asia, I would imagine that Vitech Pro, a company based in Bangkok, is the one that performs these tests. Regular blood tests for mercury could be performed at any reputable lab like Quest or LabCorp. What do you do if your levels are elevated? Besides avoidance of possible sources (kinda difficult nowadays), the accepted form of treatment is a process called chelation therapy. This has to be done properly however. Otherwise, further damage can be done. Natural oral chelating agents include vitamin C, alpha lipoic acid, garlic, cilantro, onions, chlorella and some therapeutic-grade essential oils. EDTA is available in oral (least effective), suppository and injectable forms. Other chelating agents include penicillamine (for copper toxicity), deferoxamine (for iron poisoning), dimercaprol (for arsenic, mercury and lead), DMSA and DMPS. It is important to individualize treatment in any case. Factors such as kidney and liver function, nutritional deficiencies, allergies, and general patient constitution should all be taken into account when one embarks on a cleansing or detoxification program. For more information, please check out the American College for Advancement in Medicine web site, http://www.acam.org. and the American Academy of Environmental Medicine web site, http://www.aaemonline.org.