Environmental Toxins and Neuropathy

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Toxin accumulation within the body can cause peripheral nerve damage. What are toxins and where do they come from? Toxins are chemicals that we absorb into our body. They come from the food that we eat (Pesticides, Phthalates, MSG, Aspartame, etc.), plastic containers that food and beverages are packed in, the water that we drink (chlorine, fluoride, heavy metals), household cleaners, personal care products, make-up, perfumes and colognes, to name a few.

Our bodies are designed to naturally detoxify unwanted substances daily, as part of a normal metabolic function. Detoxification is one of the body’s most basic automatic functions of eliminating and neutralizing toxins through the colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, lymph and skin. Unfortunately in this day and age, with the pollution found in the air, water and food, our bodies have an incredibly difficult time keeping up to the demands.

Nerve damage can occur when there is exposure to natural or artificial toxic substances. These toxins are called neurotoxins. Neurotoxins cause a destructive or poisoning effect on the nervous system, thereby altering the normal activity of the nerves. This can eventually disrupt and damage nerve cells.
People who are exposed to neurotoxins in the form of heavy metals (arsenic, lead, mercury, and thallium), industrial chemicals, or environmental toxins frequently develop neuropathy.

One of the most common heavy metals that a person is exposed to is mercury. Mercury has been known to cause illness since Roman times and has been documented to be neurotoxic, meaning it has the ability to poison and kill nerves. According to U.S. Government agencies, mercury and other heavy metals cause adverse health effects and learning disabilities to millions of people within the United States, each year. The elderly and children are especially susceptible.

Mercury is by far one of the most pervasive heavy metals that we are dealing with in the 21st century. It can be found in our oceans, soil, water, air and teeth. Mercury is a metal that has been used in products such as Dental Amalgams (silver fillings) light bulbs, batteries, paint and thermometers. Due to the major pollution and toxic waste run-off occurring in our oceans, lakes and streams, it is a well-known fact that many of our marine wildlife are carrying high concentrations of mercury within their body.

There are several forms of mercury:

  1. Elemental (metallic) mercury: shiny, silver, odorless liquid used in thermometers. It is absorbed by the body through vapors.
  2. Organic mercury: (mercury combined with carbon). Most common form is methyl mercury, which can be found in the fish we consume. Another organic form of mercury is found in Thimerosol, a preservative used in vaccines-including the influenza vaccine-and personal care products like contact lens solutions. One study revealed that ingestion of thimerosol in adults led to multisystemic toxicities, including peripheral neuropathy. Organic mercury is soluble in lipids and can easily cross the blood brain barrier and placenta. It can also be absorbed through the digestive tract and through vapors in the oral cavity and nasal passageways.
  3. Inorganic mercury: mercury combined with non-carbon substances. Mercury salts are one kind of inorganic mercury. This form of mercury has been used in medicines. Mercuric nitrate was used by the felt-hat industry in the process of curing felt. People in the felt-hat industry sometimes showed signs of mercury poisoning and came down with “Mad-Hatter” syndrome. This is where the phrase “mad as a hatter” originated and was the basis for the “Mad Hatter” character in one of my all- time favorite books, Alice in Wonderland. A ban in the U.S was finally instituted in 1941 on the use of mercurous nitrate in the hat industry. (choose which/picture of mad-hatter ).

All three forms are toxic and cause destruction to the nervous system. Methyl mercury targets and kills neurons in specific areas of the nervous system including the brain, making it especially dangerous to developing babies. This form of mercury is highly toxic and can cross the placenta and the blood-brain barrier. Mercury will become concentrated in the brain of the developing fetus because the metal is absorbed quickly and is not excreted out of the body efficiently. Because of the damage that mercury incites in nerves, children exposed to mercury may be born with symptoms resembling cerebral palsy, spasticity and other movement abnormalities, convulsions, visual problems and abnormal reflexes.

Mercury amalgam dental fillings have been found to be the largest source of both inorganic and methyl mercury in people who have several amalgam fillings. Nearly 200 million people in the USA alone still have silver fillings. These fillings continuously release mercury as a toxic vapor and as much as 80% of the vapor enters the body. Up until recently, it was felt that the mercury stayed within the filling. Now it is known that mercury leaches out of the filling, into the mouth, digestive tract and nasal passageways, every minute of the day. The average amalgam filling releases about 34 (plus-minus 2) micrograms of mercury daily. Hundreds of thousands of medical lab tests identified mercury exposure levels to be 10 times greater than the average level of those people without amalgam. They also found that mercury excretion levels declined by 90% after amalgam replacement. If you would like to learn more about other diseases and illnesses linked with mercury toxicity, I highly recommend reading: The Poison in Your Teeth, by Dr. Tom McGuire, D.D.S. Also, visit http://iaomt.org/videos/ to watch the video titled, “The Smoking Teeth”. It’s an extremely interesting 8 minute video that demonstrates the mercury vapor being released from a tooth and the effects that it has on the nervous system, as well as other organ systems in the body. I often play this video when I give public lectures. You will find it very enlightening.

It’s important for us to discuss the role that fish consumption can play in adding a mercury load into your body. Fish and shellfish have many nutritional benefits. Fish and shellfish contain high-quality protein and other essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. However, nearly all fish and shellfish contain trace amounts of methylmercury. How does this element get into our fish supply? Mercury contamination can occur, naturally but usually it occurs in greater abundance from man-made sources. Some of it can be traced to coal-burning power plants; smokestacks release toxic mercury emissions which rain down into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Bacteria convert the mercury to a form that’s easily absorbed by insects and other small organisms. Mercury moves up the food chain as small fish eat the small organisms and big fish eat the smaller fish. The highest concentrations accumulate in large predators such as shark, swordfish and tuna…some of America’s favorite fish. Certain types of fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that can harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system. The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amounts eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish or shellfish. Remember, mercury has a cumulative effect within the body. The FDA issued a consumer advisory for women who may become pregnant, are currently pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children warning them to avoid types of fish that contain higher levels of mercury and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

This list has been formulated by the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) and I have listed it here for you. You can also go to www.nrdc.org to see their full report and download a wallet sized card to carry with you.
Protecting yourself — and the fish: Certain fish, even some that are low in mercury, make poor choices for other reasons, most often because they have been fished so extensively that their numbers are perilously low. These fish are marked with an asterisk.


  • Anchovies
  • Butterfish
  • Catfish
  • Clam
  • Crab (Domestic)
  • Crawfish/Crayfish
  • Croaker (Atlantic)
  • Flounder*
  • Haddock (Atlantic)*
  • Hake
  • Herring
  • Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub)
  • Mullet
  • Oyster
  • Perch (Ocean)
  • Plaice
  • Pollock
  • Salmon (Canned)**
  • Salmon (Fresh)**
  • Sardine
  • Scallop*
  • Shad (American)
  • Shrimp*
  • Sole (Pacific)
  • Squid (Calamari)
  • Tilapia
  • Trout (Freshwater)
  • Whitefish
  • Whiting

Eat six servings or less per month:

  • Bass (Striped, Black)
  • Carp
  • Cod (Alaskan)*
  • Croaker (White Pacific)
  • Halibut (Atlantic)*
  • Halibut (Pacific)
  • Jacksmelt (Silverside)
  • Lobster
  • Mahi Mahi
  • Monkfish*
  • Perch (Freshwater)
  • Sablefish
  • Skate*
  • Snapper*
  • Tuna (Canned chunk light)
  • Tuna (Skipjack)*
  • Weakfish (Sea Trout)

Eat three servings or less per month:

  • Bluefish
  • Grouper*
  • Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf)
  • Sea Bass (Chilean)*
  • Tuna (Canned Albacore)
  • Tuna (Yellowfin)*

Avoid eating:

  • Mackerel (King)
  • Marlin*
  • Orange Roughy*
  • Shark*
  • Swordfish*
  • Tilefish*
  • Tuna (Bigeye, Ahi)*

Sources for NRDC’s guide: The data for this guide to mercury in fish comes from two federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration, which tests fish for mercury, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which determines mercury levels that it considers safe for women of childbearing age.
About the mercury-level categories: The categories on the list (least mercury to highest mercury) are determined according to the following mercury levels in the flesh of tested fish.

  • • Least mercury: Less than 0.09 parts per million
  • • Moderate mercury: From 0.09 to 0.29 parts per million
  • • High mercury: From 0.3 to 0.49 parts per million
  • • Highest mercury: More than .5 parts per million

The question racing through your brain at this point (if you haven’t consumed too much fish, of course) is, “How exactly does mercury do all this damage?” Mercury is fat soluble and can enter every cell of the body through its lipid membranes. Cell membranes consist of approximately 60% protein and 40% fat. Nerve cells are an exception, containing nearly 75% fat. These fat-rich membranes determine what enters the cell and what does not. Methyl mercury oxidizes within the body into an extremely destructive form of mercury. Methyl mercury is considered to be the most dangerous form due to its ability to travel great distances and enter all cells. Once inside the cell, mercury can disrupt internal structures and metabolic pathways of the cell and both directly and indirectly kill off the neurons.

Studies have found that mercury has the ability to kill or damage brain and nerve cells. Mercury can inhibit the production of neurotransmitters of the nerve by inhibiting normal calcium-channel function as well as nitric oxide synthase. Nitric Oxide is important in the function of nerve transmission.

Another very important neurological effect that mercury possesses, even at very low levels, is inhibition of nerve growth factors. Deficiencies in nerve growth factor result in nerve degeneration. A research study conducted at the University of Calgary Medical School reported that mercury ions disrupt the membranes of young growing nerves causing them to die back. This can severely inhibit and retard nerve regeneration. Mercury vapor, which is frequently released into the mouth with just 1 silver filling, is lipid soluble; and as you will recall, the myelin sheath of the nerve is made up of lipids. As a result, mercury can easily deposit within the myelin sheath of the nerve, damaging not only the sheath but the nerve, itself. Mercury also has an affinity for red blood cells and cells of the central nervous system. It only takes a few micrograms of mercury to severely disturb cellular function and inhibit nerve growth. There has been a huge increase in the incidence of degenerative neurological conditions in virtually all Western countries over the last 2 decades

Although mercury toxicity may favor nerve tissue for a destruction target, it has an equally high affinity for the kidney. Mercury will not discriminate against kidney cell damage. After attacking these two areas, it can then wreak havoc in any tissue that might get in its way.

Certain dyes used in diagnostic studies like MRI’s, CT scans, angiograms and barium studies also have been linked with peripheral nerve damage. As a matter of fact, one of my patients stated that shortly after he received a dye for an angiogram study, he developed polyneuropathy, which affected his entire torso, legs, feet, arms, hands, chest. He suffered with this polyneuropathy, which progressively worsened, for 1 year until he began treatment at my clinic.

Chemicals in food

Another source of our toxic exposure comes from the highly processed and chemical-laden diet we consume. Our American diet is loaded with too much animal protein, containing hormones and antibiotics, too much trans fat, too much caffeine, too many flavor enhancers and too much alcohol. All of this radically overloads our natural detoxification pathways.

It is imperative for you to be aware that foods, especially processed foods, have additives that can cause nerve damage. Excitotoxns are so pervasive in our food supply that it’s important that I touch on this topic. An excitotoxin is a chemical that causes brain cells and cells in the peripheral nervous system to become overexcited and fire uncontrollably. Ultimately, this will lead to the death of the cell. Excitotoxins are typically used as flavor enhancers in food or as artificial sweeteners in both foods and beverages. The most common excitotoxin that we hear about is MSG (monosodium glutamate) and Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). These substances have the potential for inflicting permanent damage to the brain and nervous system. These chemicals cross not only the Blood Brain Barrier but also cross the placental barrier, harming the brains and nervous system development of unborn children.

So why are these harmful chemicals added to our foods?
They not only enhance the flavor of food but actually over exaggerate it.

What do I mean by this?
Excitotoxins have the ability to hyperstimulate our taste buds.
Your tongue has special receptors for glutamate molecules, aka glutamic acid, an amino acid. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. What that means is that a taste for glutamic acid is a taste for proteins, most commonly found in meat. Just like your sugar receptors give you a sweet tooth, your glutamate receptors give you a craving for meat or ‘meaty’ flavor.

MSG is a form of glutamate. Add it to food, and your food tastes meatier, so adding MSG to any dish makes it taste better. MSG is used in almost all processed foods, fast foods and vegetarian based meat substitute foods like, veggie burgers, seitan, hot dogs, bacon, etc.

MSG over the past several years has become quite the ‘Hot Topic’. Consumers are becoming better acquainted with the dangers and risks of consuming MSG and are demanding it to be taken out of food. As a result, the corporate food processors not only continue to add MSG to our foods, but they have gone to great lengths to disguise these harmful additives. For example, they use such deceptive names as vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, caseinate, yeast extract, and natural flavoring. When you see the word natural flavors on a food label, it is not a good thing, as you might think. If the flavoring were so natural, why wouldn’t they simply list it in the label? Hmmm?! Research has shown us, when these excitotoxin taste enhancers are added together they become much more toxic than when alone.

It’s imperative to read the ingredient listing on food labels. There are certain words that will indicate if a product contains MSG. I have compiled a list of ingredients that ALWAYS contain MSG!

Terms Always Indicating Hidden MSG Additives

  • Autolyzed plant protein
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Gelatin
  • Glutamate Textured protein
  • Glutamic acid
  • Hydrolyzed Plant Protein (HPP) (any protein that is hydrolyzed)
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (HVP)
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • MSG
  • Natural flavors
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Spices
  • Textured protein
  • Yeast extract
  • Yeast food
  • Yeast food nutrient

Terms Frequently Indicating Hidden MSG Additives

  • Malt extract
  • Bouillon
  • Broth
  • Stock
  • Flavoring
  • Natural Flavoring
  • Natural Beef or Chicken Flavoring
  • Seasoning
  • Spices

Additives that Sometimes Contain MSG or Excitotoxins

  • Carrageenan
  • Enzymes
  • Soy Protein Concentrate
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Whey Protein Concentrate

Body systems and organs that were once capable of cleaning out unwanted substances are now completely over-loaded to the point where toxic material remains inside our tissues. These toxic substances will accumulate throughout the years leading to possible neuropathies.