Today a caller questioned the safety of mercury amalgam fillings.
It’s not a bad question. Since the Minamata Bay Disaster people have been concerned about the presence of mercury in the environment, and therefore, obviously, our mouths!
So how toxic is mercury anyway? Well, it depends what form of mercury you’re referring to. Mercury, like any metal, is inorganic in nature. Our bodies are organic, however, and for any metal to be taken into our bloodstream, it must be converted to its organic form.
Take iron for example. We all need iron – we know that – just ask Popeye (interestingly, the original idea behind the “I’m strong to the finish cause I eats me spinach” was about the Vitamin A in spinach, not the iron, but don’t tell anyone).
So we eat iron-fortified breakfast cereals such as Special K or Guardian because we know it’s good for us. And what’s the traditional drink that we have with our breakfast? Why, OJ of course.
And here’s why – OJ contains citrates and ascorbates that bind to the iron, convert it to its organic form, and help it cross the lipid bilayer (the barrier to anything inorganic) and get into your bloodstream. In other words, it is now “bioavailable”.
So sometimes we want the metal converted to its organic form.
But for mercury we sure don’t. Luckily, mercury does not bind to any of the common things in our body like citrates or ascorbates, and any inorganic mercury that found its way into your stomach would generally pass right through you.
In fact there is no obvious source in your body for the conversion of the inorganic mercury to the metallic mercury. But we need to be careful – given the extreme toxicity of organomercury compounds, we don’t need much of a source – even tiny amounts can be deadly.