Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Getting Rid of Mercury?

I'm hoping to get pregnant soon, but I've always eaten a lot of fish and I'm worried about the effect mercury from fish will have on my baby. Is there a way to get rid of mercury?

Answer (Published 1/6/2005)

I've been getting a lot of questions about this issue since the FDA and EPA warned women of reproductive age to limit their consumption of many varieties of freshwater fish and some types of ocean fish. The mercury comes from emissions from coal-fueled power plants that pollute the air and end up in the water - and in the fish. During pregnancy, mercury from fish you've eaten can get into the bloodstream of the fetus and harm the developing nervous system, which can lead to learning disabilities, developmental delays, and other serious health problems. Dental amalgams containing mercury used to fill cavities have also spurred concerns that escaping vapors may cause health problems (although many studies in the U.S. and abroad have found no evidence that this amounts to a public health risk).

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Supplements & Herbs - If you are interested in supplementing your diet, and want to take the mystery out of choosing vitamins, try Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor. Visit today for your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation.

You first might want to be tested to see if your mercury levels are high enough to cause concern. It is normal to find trace amounts of mercury in the body, and a test may show that you don't have anything to worry about. A study published in the Center for Disease Control's Nov. 5, 2004, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report showed that only about six percent of U.S. women of childbearing age have blood mercury levels above safe limits. Your physician can test your blood for mercury, and home tests are available to analyze your hair for mercury (although I can't vouch for their accuracy).

The conventional medical method for removing heavy metals (including mercury) from the blood is called chelation therapy. It involves intravenous injections of EDTA (ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid), a synthetic amino acid. EDTA grabs onto chelates (heavy metals and minerals in the blood), allowing them to be excreted in the urine. Another intravenous agent used by some physicians for mercury detoxification is called DMPS.

An oral chelating agent called Succimer (also known as DMSA) is FDA-approved for treatment of lead poisoning (particularly in children) and is now being used by some physicians to remove mercury from the body. When used for lead poisoning, the drug combines with the metal in the blood stream and then both are removed from the body by the kidneys. The most common side effects include diarrhea, loose stools, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting and skin rash. If you take this drug, be sure to report any symptoms you develop to your doctor.

Beyond that, despite insubstantial evidence, some health practitioners who offer mercury detoxification recommend supplements such as cilantro tincture, chlorella algae powder, garlic, as well as various amino acids to rid the body of mercury. A 1999 Korean study did show that garlic juice reduced mercury toxicity in rat embryos, but I know of no evidence suggesting that it works in humans. I've seen two studies indicating that cilantro can speed excretion of mercury, but I understand that the effect here is weak. Eating foods rich in vitamin E has also been recommended. This may protect against mercury toxicity, but I know of no evidence showing that it helps the body eliminate mercury.

You can lower your mercury levels over time (months, I'm afraid) by avoiding shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, all which have unacceptably high levels of mercury. Stick to wild Alaskan salmon, which may be more expensive than other types of fish, but is good for you and low in mercury. I also recommend sardines, herring and black cod (sablefish).

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here