It's easy for mercury to get into the body and accumulate in cells and tissues, but quite difficult to remove it. Even at low exposure levels, mercury can cause and contribute to a variety of chronic illnesses by depleting nutrients. However, symptoms come on quite gradually after the initial exposure, and mercury's toxic effects are so broad that most cases of chronic, low-dose mercury poisoning go completely undetected. The purpose of this article is not to alarm you, but rather to empower you with information to keep you and your family safe.
Passing Through The Generations: An Unwanted Inheritance
Not only does mercury concentrate in the body over time, but it also accumulates over generations, passing from mother to child. During pregnancy, maternal mercury crosses the placenta, exposing the developing fetus. The metal is also excreted into breast milk. Studies show that levels of mercury in the placenta, breast milk, and cord blood correlate with the number of amalgam fillings in the mother. In other words, toxicity builds over our individual lifetimes and from one generation to the next during pregnancy and breastfeeding. So you and even your children could be paying the price of your mother's and grandmother's mercury exposure.
Looking Out for Future Generations
Knowing the basic facts about fetal mercury exposure can help you take precautions during preconception, pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you are not yet pregnant, this information can help you time conception in such a way as to protect your baby from mercury.
We all have some mercury in our bodies, and developing fetuses are much more susceptible to the effects of mercury than the rest of us.
Because mercury accumulates from one generation to the next during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you will need to consider your own exposure history as well as your mother’s, maternal grandmother’s, and on through your maternal line.
Dental Amalgam is the Most Common Exposure Source
For most people, the most significant sources of mercury exposure are dental amalgam (silver-colored fillings), followed by fish consumption and mercury-containing prescription or over-the-counter health and beauty products. Amalgam fillings have been in use for about 150 years and have thus affected humans for several generations.
Dental amalgam is about 50% mercury, constituting an ongoing toxic exposure for those who have such fillings. The World Health Organization’s report estimates that the typical daily dose of mercury absorbed from amalgams is 1–22 micrograms, with a daily average of 1-5 or 5-9 micrograms per day, depending on the study. Various factors can considerably increase the exposure levels, which can reach an upper range of about 100 micrograms per day in people who chew gum and/or grind their teeth, as the WHO report linked above notes.
Pre-conception Strategies to Protect the Next Generation
By decreasing your mercury load before conception, you will optimize fertility, reduce miscarriage risk, and improve sperm and egg health.
If you’re preparing for conception, ask yourself three basic questions:
- How flexible can we be with the conception timeline?
- What can I do before conception to reduce mercury exposure?
- How can I reduce exposure throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding?
A number of circumstances can impact the degree of flexibility in your timeline, with parental age being the most common one.
Keep in mind that it’s unsafe to remove amalgam fillings if you have a short preconception preparation timeline. You’ll need to wait 12-18 months after the last amalgam removal before trying to conceive. Do not place or remove amalgam fillings during preconception, pregnancy or breastfeeding. Thus, if your timeline is short, or if you’re already pregnant or nursing, focus on preventing new exposures.
If you have a flexible timeline and have amalgam fillings, safely remove them, and work on your fertility and overall health with a functional nutritional practitioner experienced in preconception nutrition and in mercury toxicity.
Putting it All Together
If you are ready to address a chronic health issue or plan to start a family, it’s a good idea to assess your past mercury exposure and any current lifestyle and environmental factors that could be a risk for ongoing future exposure.