New Study: Early Exposure to Mercury Blocks Effects of Exercise on the Brain

New Study: Early Exposure to Mercury Blocks Effects of Exercise on the Brain

According to new research funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, cognitive function improves with aerobic exercise, but not for people exposed to high levels of mercury before birth. This is one of the first studies to examine how methylmercury exposure in the womb may affect cognitive function in adults.

Gwen Collman, Ph. D, director of the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training states, “We know that neurodevelopment is a delicate process that is especially sensitive to methylmercury and other environmental toxins, but we are still discovering lifelong ripple effects of these exposures. This research points to adult cognitive function as a new area of concern.”

What is Methylmercury?

The New York State Department of Health explains that mercury occurs naturally in the environment and is released through human activity. Organic mercury, mercury combined with carbon-containing compounds called methylmercury, is produced by microorganisms in water and soil, which accumulated in fish. The Department of Health reports exposure to methylmercury can come through “eating fish that contains it. Usually, greater amounts of methylmercury are found in larger predatory freshwater fish like black bass, walleye and pike, and marine fish like swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish.”

What are the Health Effects of Methylmercury?

The New York State Department of Health explains that long-term exposure to high levels of methylmercury can affect the nervous system – causing “disturbances in vision, hearing and speech, tingling and numbness in fingers and toes, lack of coordination, and muscle weakness.” The report also states that exposure to this type of mercury is especially damaging to children or unborn babies because their nervous systems are still developing.

The Study

The study consisted of 197 participants from the Faroe Islands (200 miles north of England) where fish is a popular component of the resident’s diet. Researchers have tracked their health since they were in their mother’s womb in the late 1980s. At age 22, the subset of the original 1,022 participants took part in a follow-up exam that tested the rate in which you use oxygen (VO2 Max), which increases with aerobic fitness. Cognitive tests were also performed to test short-term memory, verbal comprehension, and knowledge, psychomotor speed, visual processing, long-term storage and retrieval, and cognitive processing speed according to the study.

The Results

MethylMercury, Mercury

Researchers found that higher VO2 max values were associated with better neurocognitive function (as expected by the researchers due to prior research). Increased VO2 max also had positive effects for cognitive efficiency, including cognitive processing speed and short-term memory.

“But when the researchers divided the participants into two groups based on the methylmercury levels in their mothers while they were pregnant, they found that these benefits were confined to the group with lowest exposure. Participants with prenatal methylmercury levels in the bottom 67%, or levels of less than 35 micrograms per liter in umbilical cord blood, still demonstrated better cognitive efficiency with higher VO2 max. However, for participants with higher methylmercury levels, cognitive function did not improve as VO2 max increased.”

Collman stated, “These findings suggest that early-life exposure to pollutants may reduce the potential benefits. We need to pay special attention to the environment we create for pregnant moms and babies.”

How to Reduce Methylmercury Levels

The New York State Department of Health reports, “Altering your diet to eat less of the types of fish known to have high mercury levels can decrease your blood mercury level.” The U.S Food and Drug Administration recommends that children and women of childbearing age eat two or three weekly servings of fish low in mercury as part of a healthy diet.

Mark Hyman, MD, a practicing physician and writer for the HuffingtonPost provides a three-step plan to finding out if you are suffering from mercury poisoning and, if so, detoxifying yourself from it.

Step 1: Getting Ready for Detoxification

1. Optimize your gut function. Eliminate the common food allergens (dairy, gluten, corn, eggs, etc.), taking probiotics and enzymes for one to two months before detoxifying.

2. Optimize your nutritional status for detoxification. Use healthy fats (omega-3 fats, olive oil, and flax oil), amino acids (which boost all your liver’s detoxification capacity), and minerals, particularly zinc and selenium (which help your body detoxify metals).

3. Enhance your liver’s detoxification pathways. Take folate and vitamins B12 and B6 and eating sulfur-containing foods such as broccoli, collards, kale, daikon radish, garlic, onions, and omega-3 eggs.

4. Start sauna therapy. Make sure you take adequate electrolyte and mineral replacements to prevent dehydration and mineral loss from the sweat.

5. Optimize elimination routes for metals including your urine, stool, and sweat. Use fluids, fiber, and saunas.

Step 2: Integrate Additional Steps to Support Detoxification

At this stage you can integrate the following to support your liver detoxification pathways even more:

• Alginate from seaweed (this binds to metal in the gut)

• Selenium, zinc, n-acetylcysteine, lipoic acid, milk thistle, and garlic.

Step 3: The Metal Detoxification Period

• Find a biological dentist to evaluate the extent of your mercury fillings and options for replacing them.

• Get a test to assess your total body load of mercury, called a challenge or provocation test. This is done with a doctor’s prescription and under a doctor’s supervision.

• Use binding agents to pull the mercury out of your body.

• Consider getting intravenous vitamins and antioxidants for three months while undergoing this process this to administer glutathione, phospholipids, vitamin C, and B vitamins to boost detoxification It can help the process work better and help you feel better throughout it.

• Drink enough filtered water and fluids to make urine clear.

• Make sure you have bowel movements twice a day. This is very important or you will reabsorb mercury from the gut. You can add ground flax seeds to shakes or foods, or take magnesium citrate capsules if you are not going regularly. You can also try even stronger laxatives if you must.

Source: NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “Brain benefits of aerobic exercise lost to mercury exposure.” ScienceDaily. 16 September 2016.
Source: Huffington Post.How to Rid Your Body of Mercury and Other Heavy Metals: A 3-Step Plan to Recover Your Health” 17 November 2011.

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