My Story of Mercury Poisoning
From following me on Instagram, you’re aware of the many of health journeys I have faced over the past few years, with the most recent being mercury poisoning. Over the past 6+ months I have been pretty open regarding my diagnosis and the massive amount of work I have put in to deal with it, but I am still continuously asked questions by people curious of my symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and the overall journey. In an attempt to answer as many questions as possible and to have a place, to direct those curious to, that contains all of the necessary information, I am laying it all out there in this piece.
I want to be very clear about one thing: I am not a doctor or certified practitioner who has a license in diagnosing or treating any type of illness, especially heavy metals poisoning. What I am sharing is my story and what worked for me. I will continuously mention the specialists and professionals that I saw to help me with this diagnosis & treatment and I highly recommend you seek the help you need if you are going through something similar.
Now, let’s rewind a few years…
My Health History
I talk about this phase of my life in a bit more detail in my blog post and youtube video, My Health Journey, but here is the quick run-down. Six years ago I graduated from college and immediately felt like my body changed. Never one to have digestive issues, I suddenly found myself consistently bloated, constipated, and in pain. Unsure what could possibly be the issue, I chalked this up to the new lifestyle of working full-time at a desk job versus spending majority of my day on the lacrosse field in college and odd recovery symptoms from an appendectomy and hernia removal. These symptoms eventually worsened and led to awful acid reflux and extreme shortness of breath, which finally caused me to see a gastroenterologist. After a slew of tests, my GI told me that I had small intestine bacteria overgrowth (SIBO), which I treated with Xifaxin. Still never feeling like I was 100% back to normal, I felt better and somewhat just decided that these stomach / GI issues were going to be something I’d have to deal with for the rest of my life. What caused the next slew of doctors visits was the shingles I had on my neck and the ever-growing anxiety, stress, and spells of depression I was facing. Although my stress and anxiety were at new highs, hens the outbreak of shingles, those were emotions I had faced before. What I had never experienced was the random depressive spirals that I was facing behind closed doors. Unable to figure out why or comprehend what was making me so sad, I placed blame on the birth control I was on (although it had been 8 years+ at this point on the same one) and decided to get an IUD put in.
After a few years of digestive issues and the recent onset of shingles, I decided to seek professional help in the form of a functional medicine practitioner. We did a handful of tests through bloodwork & stool samples and she found that I tested positive for Cdiff and Giardia (a parasite). However, since she was not a licensed doctor able to prescribe medication and my general practitioner did not agree with the tests that were done, this all went untreated. Due to time constraints of my job and squeezing in appointments, the amount of money I was spending discussing the issue at hand, and quite honestly, frustration, I sort of just put this all on the backburner. Plus, when I got in my accident and suffered from my recent concussion, there were bigger medical issues for me to focus on. It wasn’t until I left my job in April 2018 that I began seeing a new practitioner at Parsley Health (more information about my experience with them here). This was the eventual beginning of uncovering my mercury poisoning.
Finding Out I had Mercury Poisoning
When I walked in to Parsley Health, I had never considered the possibility of heavy metals poisoning. Hell, I didn’t even know what it was. I went in with the knowledge and assurance that something in my body was off, but being unable to find the root cause. At this point I had received an appendectomy & hernia removal, tested positive for & treated SIBO, diagnosed with shingles, struggled with severe bloating, indigestion, and constipation, tested positive for Cdiff & Giardia, and had a severe increase in my stress & anxiety levels and some onsets of depression. After telling all of these symptoms to my doctor, she performed a routine blood test and another SIBO test. At this point, I had previously treated my SIBO about 2 years ago, but unfortunately it appeared it had reoccurred. My results (shown above) for hydrogen increase over the baseline of 90 minutes was 96, which is supposed to be less than 20. In my generic blood panel, the mercury levels came back elevated, but nothing too alarming. Obviously noticing the spiked level, my doctor ordered another mercury blood panel, only to find a similarly out of range number. However, blood panels give more of a current snapshot into the mercury in your system (i.e. could be temporarily high due to consumption of certain fish), so she ordered a urine sample to get a better idea of what may be laying dormant inside my body.
The test that was done in December 2018 through Doctor’s Data and was a urine heavy metals test that used a provocation agent (DMSA) and collected my urine for a period of 6 hours. The results (shown above) clearly showed that I had extremely elevated levels of mercury: 110 when they should be <4.
How I Treated my Mercury Poisoning
Obviously, when I was given these results I went into a full panic. “Seriously, another thing that is wrong with me?”. Not surprising in the least bit, but that is where my mind immediately went. Fortunately, my doctor was able to calm me down with the reassurance that this could be the answer I’ve been looking constantly searching for over the past 5 years. Mercury poisoning, when at an elevated and serious level, can cause anxiety, mood changes, depression, gastrointestinal issues, and a home for bacteria (such as SIBO & shingles) to live. Hello, all of my symptoms. Working with my doctor, we decided that chelation therapy would be the best form of treatment. This involves a provoking agent, that can be done through either IV or pill format, that seeks and pulls out the minerals in your bloodstream and fat. With the help of binding agents, the compounds are created to leave your body in your urine, stool, and sweat. Because of time constraints and the IV requiring in person visits multiple times I week, my doctor and I decided to use the provoking agent of DMSA through pill format and complete a 4-month detox protocol. The pills were taking Monday-Wednesday and then Thursday-Sunday was focused on replenishing my body with essential vitamins through supplements, as the provoking agents are not able to determine what is mercury vs essential minerals and strips you of most nutrients. In addition to the chelation therapy I was staying extremely hydrated, eating lots of fruits & vegetables and a clean-focused diet, and spending time in an infrared sauna at least two times per week. While this protocol can be somewhat controversial, it was the best decision for me and I am grateful that I went through with the process. This is absolutely not something I blanket statement suggest to everyone. If it is something you are considering or going through with, you must do so with the professional help of a doctor.
During the four-month protocol, I was extremely tired and run-down. I had expected to somewhat shut my life down to focus on this but, if you know me, you understand that I am pretty much incapable of doing that. While I cut back on serious workouts, especially cardio, and allowed myself the leeway of cancelling days and appointments when the detox symptoms (fatigue, brain fog, headaches, etc) were too much for me to bear, I was somewhat still attempting to live my normal life. While I felt better digestively, my anxiety levels were still high given all that I was going through and my body felt pretty freaking fatigued. Once the four-month protocol was over, it was time to do the same heavy metals urine test with a provoking agent. Nervous as hell that all of my hard work would not have paid off and showed a decreased level in my mercury, I was ecstatic to get the results I did (shown above): a mercury level of 22. While not completely gone, it was extremely encouraging to see all of the hard work and dedication was worth it. If you are not seeking such an intense protocol as chelation therapy, there are items that help your body detox in a more natural way: cilantro, garlic, wild blueberries, spirulina, chlorella, barley grass juice powder, dulse, and lemon water. However, each ingredient plays a crucial role in the detoxing process (i.e. removing the metals from your blood, moving them within your system, binding to release, etc). While his work can be controversial and I encourage you to do your own research, the Medical Medium has a pretty popular smoothie to assist with less invasive at home detoxes.
What are the next steps with treatment? My doctor did not find it was necessary to continue such an intense and invasive procedure with levels that had decreased so much, so I am currently doing a less extreme detox protocol that is more focused on supplements than DMSA provoking agents. However, as I’m writing this, I am one week into this procedure and suffering from such extreme nausea that I am unsure how long I will be able to last on this regiment. As I continue with this journey, I will add updates to this piece with my status and levels.
What Caused my Mercury Poisoning
If only I knew! Trust me, I spent many of nights trying to figure this out. The two main causes of mercury poisoning are from seafood consumption and/or amalgam (metal) fillings. Sure, I eat a lot of seafood, tuna being one of the main fishes I used to consume, but my doctor and I are convinced that my levels were too elevated for this to be simply from seafood. When searching my mouth for amalgam fillings and on the phone with all of my prior dentists, I was simultaneously searching for procedures to get them removed, because I knew I had some at some point in my life. All of the research I did pointed me to holistic dentists who focus on very specific removal procedures that involve tenting the specific tooth so that it is not exposed to your mouth and/or nasal pathway when the metal filling is removed. Once I had done that, I was prepared to find the appropriate dentist to go through with these removal procedures. However, after speaking with my dentist on the phone and him informing me that I did not currently have any amalgam fillings, he made me aware that he removed one of my fillings in 2013. Knowing quite well that I never went through a removal process like the ones I had just spent so much time learning about online, he agreed that he did not go through with this specific type of procedure as he does not see it as a cause of mercury poisoning. Unfortunately, this is the situation I had faced many times before: typical western medicine vs a more holistic functional medicine approach. Although there is no physical proof or evidence that I am able to directly correlate this amalgam filling removal with my mercury poisoning, given that my numbers were at such an elevated level and this timeline aligns perfectly with my onset of symptoms, I am confident in claiming it is the cause.
What I’ve Learned
While I’ve had some serious ups and downs during the last six months dealing with this diagnosis and it’s corresponding treatment, there is one main lesson I have learned: never stop advocating for your own health. This was not a quick fix that I suddenly realized I had after not feeling well for a short period of time. I want to reiterate: this took over five years to get to the bottom of my symptoms. If you are someone going through something medical and you feel like it is never ending and you will never get to the bottom of it, I’ve been there. Most importantly, you are not alone. Continue to take note of your symptoms, do your research, seek professional help, and stand up for yourself. You have to be your strongest advocate and cannot let people push you around just because they may have a respected title. If you know there is something wrong and you do not feel like your normal self, put in the time and effort to figure out what is causing that pain. In the end, I hope it will all be worth it!
I want to remind everyone reading this that I am by no means a doctor, professional, or expert on this topic. I am simply sharing with you my journey and answering some of the questions you had on this topic.