Dental Mercury Exposure: Dietary Issues
By Helen Lofgren, B.A., M.A.
UPdate Fall 1996

Editor’s Note:  This is a follow-up to the writer’s article on Mercury Amalgam fillings 
which was published in our Summer, 1996 issue.

     Few if any of us are free of mercury exposure and accumulation within our bodies.  Aside from environmental industrial-agricultural/food-chain disasters such as Minimata Bay in Japan, and direct human of animal consumption of mercury contaminated grain, or the infamous ‘mad hatters’ of the last century, and certain other work-place or domestic exposures, the primary exposure to mercury for most people is their mercury-amalgam ‘silver’ tooth fillings.  These restorations forever off-gas mercury vapour which is absorbed directly through the tissues into the brain, or inhaled through the lungs, where it enters the bloodstream and from there is deposited in tissues throughout the body.  In combination with bacteria present in the mouth, mercury vapour from fillings converts to methyl mercury which is many times more toxic than metallic mercury.  Particles of metallic mercury and other toxic heavy metals from the fillings, including highly toxic nickel are ingested as well, through normal wear and tear as the mercury-amalgams are subjected to the forces of chewing, grinding, heat and cold, bacterial action and acidic erosion.  Mercury is present in the guta percha of root canal extractions where it is inserted deep into the jawbone and from there, readily absorbed.  It can also be present in the pink material of dental plates, and as tiny dark fragments in the mouth tissue known as ‘mercury tattoo’, or in the bone.
     What to do? There are many excellent references, some of which I list below, and I refer you to the cover articles in the Summer 1996 AEHA National UPdate and another article, “Peeling the Onion…,” as well as a review of Casdorph & Walker’s excellent Toxic Metal Syndrome: the Effect of Heavy Metals on the Brain, in the Spring 1996 Update for additional information.  Optimal nutrition is key to detoxifying from mercury exposure and minimizing its effects; diet plays a major role in the maintenance or regaining of health for the mercury exposed or mercury toxic person.
     For over 25 years, Dr. Hal Huggins, D.D.S., M.S., of Colorado Springs, has been a pioneer in ferreting out the dietary requirements and nutritional needs for recovery from micro-mercurialism as the long-time, low dose exposure characteristic of that from mercury-amalgam dental restoration is known.  You may find some of these recommendations surprising, as I have, but doing the best I can to follow them, I must admit that I do feel better, and when I do not comply, I feel the consequences.
     Central to Huggins’ recommendations, as well as to those of Queen, and Taylor; is to eat adequate amounts of sulfur-bearing animal protein.  This means eggs every day, beef at least three times per week, turkey, chicken, and a variety of game if available.  Finding a source of organically or biodynamically raised and-or free-range, hormone and drug-free animal protein is very important and well worth the added expense and effort.  One does not need huge quantities, but it is needed on a regular basis.  Animal protein should be cooked as little as possible, and never micro-waved to avoid inactivating proteins.  Dried beans, and generous amounts of onions and garlic daily provide added sulfur.  To be avoided are fish and seafood if any sort, including ‘farmed’ or cultivated, which are readily contaminated with methylmercury in the food chain, as well as the seaweeds which are also affected by coastal contamination.  Freshwater fish, are also subject to heavy metal, chemical and other pollution.  Pork causes a particular clumping of red blood cells when eaten and is to be avoided.  Other foods contraindicated are cheese, especially hard cheese, chocolate, refined carbohydrates, white flour as well as sugars, soft drinks.  Avoid drinking any more than 4 oz. of liquid with meals, including ½ hour before and after because more interferes with protein metabolism by diluting essential digestive enzymes.
     On the recommended list is butter, but never margarine, between 1/8 and ¼ pounds/day.  (I’m working up to 1/8, but I’ll never make it to ¼!).  The rationale for this startling recommendation is to stimulate the liver to adequate production of bile which binds readily to mercury for excretion in the stool.  Dairy products other than butter are to be avoided according to Huggins, though others recommend daily consumption of live-culture dairy products such as plain yogurt.
     Next comes salt, necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid, an essential in protein metabolism and the transport of nutrients through cell membranes.  Huggins observes that given free access to salt, no one eats it by the cupful; our consumption is limited by our need for this essential nutrient.  The problems with salt come with preservatives such as sodium nitrates found in preserved meats and sodium benzoate found in many commercially prepared foods including soft drinks, MSG, salt substitutes, sea salt which is often contaminated from the pollutants of coastal waters from which it is harvested, and others.

What about cholesterol and high blood pressure?
     Cholesterol is essential for the brain, and if there is not enough from food sources, the body manufactures it.  Even persons eating no cholesterol can have high blood levels.  Huggins has conducted experiments in which those with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, as well as low levels, have followed the above diet.  What he has observed is that blood pressure normalizes and cholesterol levels come to normalize at 221 mg/100ml blood (observed also by Emmanuel Cheraskin, M.D., D.M.D., & Dr. Melvin Page, D.D.S. at earlier times and other places), leading Huggins to conclude that the normal level for cholesterol is 200-225 mg/ml, a much narrower range than the accepted standard of 150-330 mg/ml.  The villains for both high blood pressure and high cholesterol are sugar, caffeine and alcohol.  Avoid these, as well as smoking, follow the diet, and both will normalize.
     Huggins believes each of us will be healthiest when following our ancestral diet, that is, the diet of our forebears, because human evolved over time to adapt to a diet of the foods that were locally available.  For some, this can be readily determined but for many others of mixed background, optimal diet is much less obvious.  For example, persons of African ancestry can usually tolerate a greater amount of fruit in their diet than can those of more northern origin; Scandinavians and other northern peoples usually thrive with more fish in their diets, except that it is now contraindicated due to almost universal contamination.  To aid in determination of one’s personal optimal diet, information, biochemical testing and recommendations are available through Huggins’ Clinic.
     Large amounts of fresh vegetables daily, mostly raw, some lightly cooked, dried beans, nuts and some whole grains, are recommended.  Some fruit is recommended, just not 5 or 6 servings/day.  Organically or biodynamically grown produce and grains are most desirables.  Standard commercial grain, especially wheat, is fumigated with methylmercury, with as much as 4 inches of volatile mercury to be found in the bottom of storage silos, so it can be particularly detrimental.  Juices are not recommended in the diet as one needs the fiber that is discarded in juicing in order to fully utilize the nutrients while minimizing the impact of their sugars.  Fruit juice without its fiber component is a sugar-fix, and sugar in any form disrupts digestion and metabolism and fosters the over-growth of candida in the gut.  A small amount of pure honey, from unsprayed sources, raw, unadulterated, unfiltered, unheated and unpasteurized is allowable for those who need a bit of added sweetening.
     Huggins is cautious in recommending nutritional supplementation, believing as many do that supplements without their healthy food components can do more harm than good, often accumulating in various tissues in forms that cannot readily be used by the body.  He believes that many of the high levels of mineral seen in blood and hair chemistries actually represent these unhealthy accumulations.  Calcium, magnesium, manganese and zinc are among the minerals that can be detrimentally stored.  Calcium can become plaque in blood vessels.  Various minerals can occupy other sites.  For example, one of the principal destinations of mercury (though never a dietary supplement) liberated from dental restorations is the hemoglobin of the red blood cells which is essential for life as it is the carrier and distributor of oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.  Unfortunately, mercury has an affinity for hemoglobin greater than oxygen’s, readily coming to occupy as many of the four oxygen sites on each hemoglobin molecule as it can find, thus depriving the body’s cells of essential oxygen.  To compensate, the body may produce more hemoglobin, suggesting in a blood profile a healthy situation when really it represents the body’s attempt to compensate for a type of anemia.  This can be an explanation for the fatigue reported by some persons who have what look to be high levels of hemoglobin.  Vitamins can pose problems, too: Vitamin B12, cobalamin, greatly accelerates the absorption of mercury in the tissues.  
     Another destination of mercury is the brain, where it can be responsible for emotional-behavioural changes, loss of memory, and Alzheimer’s disease.  Multiple sclerosis can occur as the mercury attacks the myelin sheath surrounding the nerve fibers; arthritis and other immunological of collagen diseases, and heart irregularities to name a few may also be induced.  Mercury readily crosses the placental barrier where it can cause chromosomal damage and can be measured in the infant brain in case of autopsy.  It can be introduced to both the woman and the fetus via the sperm, and is found in mothers’ milk.
     With biochemical testing, specific individual recommendations can be made for optimal diet and nutritional supplementation in forms most readily usable by the body to foster its ability to cope with and excrete mercury and other toxic substances.  Many people benefit from taking digestive enzymes and vitamin C in their most digestible forms.  Aside form individual variation, there is another pitfall to supplementation, and that is, if one still has implanted mercury, e.g. mercury-amalgam fillings, even if, and especially if they are covered with gold or other metallic crowns, or in the presence of metallic bridge of orthodontic appliances, root canal filled teeth or stray bits of mercury in the tissues, there is a danger with supplementation of accelerating the release of mercury through oral galvanism, and hence its absorption by the brain and elsewhere, with the very real possibility of increased symptomology.

What about vegetarianism and the recommendation for consumption of animal protein?
      Huggins believes that a vegetarian diet can be healthy for certain already healthy persons, but strongly urges vegetarians to adopt consumption of sulfur-bearing animal proteins and butter during their period of mercury detoxification.  Consuming eggs and poultry will be adequate for those who object to consumption of red meat, but just as for others, fish and seafood are to be avoided.  He reports never having successfully detoxified a mercury-toxic patient who has remained totally vegetarian.  A vegan who is particularly well informed is surprised to hear this and suggest that: 1) With the percentage of the population that is truly vegetarian as low as it is, Huggins’ sample is likely too small to be meaningful; 2) People mean many different things when they report they are vegetarian, from the idealistic teenager who, relatively uninformed, eats little besides peanut butter and jam sandwiches and is really on his or her own with respect to diet, to persons whose diet is more varied but still haphazard, to a very few who are genuinely well informed and willing to become educated to what may for them be an entirely new way of eating, often with foods that at first seem very strange.  Perhaps Huggins’ experience with vegetarians has not included those who are well enough informed and diligent in pursuing their dietary needs.  My vegan informant says she has yet to pursue a problem of nutritional deficiency with even the strictest vegan diet that can’t be solved.
     Recommendation for daily consumption of certain nutrients such as eggs, onions, garlic and butter are problematic in the case of allergy, and obviously conflict with the intent of rotational diets, thus complicating the decision of what to do.  Duck eggs are of a different food family than chicken eggs and can offer some variety.  There must be room for some dietary flexibility in mercury detoxification, even if particular choices may speed up or slow down the rates of recovery, but avoidance of sugar, caffeine, alcohol, smoking and other toxic exposures are critical, just as they are for recovery from chemical sensitivity of other origin.
     A diet essentially the same as that described here for mercury toxicity is prescribed successfully by some alternative practitioners for the relief and/or cure of arthritic symptoms, so it can be well addressing the fundamentals of nutrition for optimal health.  This should come as no surprise as the focus of most of Huggins’ career, and the subject of his master’s degree has been the relationship of diet and health.  If this diet is new to you, it can provide some real food for thought, but only your own research and information-gathering, combined with your experience will tell you what is right for you ad your own particular body chemistry.  Bon appetit!


Helen Lofgren is a teacher, educator and mother.  She has long been interested in environmental health issues and their effects on the family.  The more she learns the more she asks.  Helen has been active in the AEHA since its inception in Halifax and before, in its precursors, and is a long-time member of its Board of Management.


1. Huggins, Hal A., D.D.S. It’s All in Your Head: The Link Between Mercury Amalgams and Illness 5th ed., 194p. Avery Garden City, NY 1993, or 3rd or 4th ed., It’s All in Your Head: Diseases Caused by Silver Mercury Fillings, 236p. 1989 or 1990, tel 1-800 331-2303
2. Queen, H.L. Chronic Mercury Toxicity: New Hope Against an Endemic Disease The Doctor’s Guide for Lifestyle Counseling. Vol. 1 Queen and Co., health communications, Inc. P.O. Box 49308 Colorado Springs, CO 80919-9938. 1998
3. Taylor, Joyal, D.D.S. The complete guide to Mercury Toxicity from Dental Fillings: How to find out if your Silver Dental Fillings are Poisoning You and What You Can Do About it.  Scripps Publishing, San Diego, CA 1998
4. Casdoeph, H. Richard. M.D. & Ph.D, and Walker, Morton.  Toxic Metal Syndrome: How Metal Poisonings Can Affect Your Brain.  Avery.  Garden City, NY 1995.
5. Ziff, Sam & Ziff, Michael F., D.D.S. Dentistry Without Mercury.  Bio-Probe Inc. P.O. Box 60820, Orlando, FL 32860-8010. 1985.
6. Huggins & Huggins, personal communication.
7. Prudholm, T., personal communication.