Are you afraid of being poisoned? From food, for example? Of course, that's why we wash our food and cook it properly. We know that if we do not, we might get an upset stomach, diarrhea or headaches. What you do not know is that we ingest poisons we are not aware of, and can get so sick over time that you may die. Symptoms can appear so late and be so unspecific that help may arrive too late.
August 14, 1996 , Karen Wetterhahn, the professor of chemistry who was specializing in toxic metal exposure at Dartmouth College, accidently spilled a few drops of a colorless Mercury component called dimethyl mercury on her hands, covered by latex gloves. She knew that dimethyl mercury is very toxic, which she did not know was that it could and did penetrate her undamaged latex gloves and her skin, severely poisoning her entire body within 15 seconds. She felt fine and did not have any symptoms for months and considered herself healthy. Six months later, she became very ill and was admitted to the hospital in January of 1997. She went into a coma, despite being treated – and died that June.
What strikes me in this case is that even though everyone knew she was dealing with mercury, they could not make a diagnosis early enough to save her life. That's how dangerous toxins are, and how difficult it is to diagnose poisoning.
But she was not alone.
210 BC. Ancient China. The Emperor of the United China and the initiator of the Great Wall of China project: Uin Shi Huang, was looking for eternal life. But how could he get it? He believed it was hidden in Penglai City on Penglai Mountain, which was the base of the Eight Immortals. The Emperor sent thousands of men on ships to find this mountain. No one came back, because they knew that without the elixir of life they would be killed. Therefore, they went ahead and found and colonized Japan – that's why the Chinese Emperor had to get 'magic pills' from his doctors and scientists, and after taking them he died. The reason: those pills contained mercury. Those pills did not make him immortal, but they made his name immortal because he became the first famous man poisoned and killed by one of the most dangerous and well known contemporary poisons – mercury.
The privilege of being poisoned by mercury though does not only belong to famous people.
Have you ever heard the expression: “mad as a hatter”? You probably have. What you may not know is in the 18th and 19th centuries, many felt hat manufacturing workers went mad from mercury exposure used in the solutions for curing animal pelts. Almost mad was Theophillius Carter, who Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”, personally knew and was believed to have inspired the vivacious character 'the Mad Hatter'.
Mercury is very dangerous: it damages the brain, nerves, kidneys and lungs. It causes fatigue, pain, itching, swelling, hair and tooth loss, muscle weakness, memory problems, irritability, personality changes and insomnia. Because it prevails your body from clearing catecholamines, you get too much epinephrine with resulting heart palpitations, sweating and high blood pressure. But does this deadly toxin get into your body?
October 23, 2008. Broadway, New York . The famous American actor Jeremy Piven appeared in the Broadway hit play “Speed-the-Plow”, co-starring Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men, and Raul Esparza – a three time Tony nominee. Soon, Mr. Piven misses a few performances and announcements that he's not going to perform due to a mysterious illness. The author of the play David Mamet joked that Mr. Piven had decided to leave “to pursue a career as a thermometer”. It was a very cruel joke because Piven was suffering from Mercury toxicity. But how did he get Mercury poisoning? Simple – he ate sushi twice a day for 20 years, and possibly Chinese herbs.
However, sushi is not the only source you can get mercury from. Other sources of mercury are thymerosal from vaccines, fluorescent lamps, cosmetics, waste disposal and other human generated sources as well as dental amalgams. According to OSHA, a dental amalgam is toxic and dentists can not throw it into the waste basket – but they can put it into your mouth for 15 to 20 years. How beautifully ironic.
Mercury is not the only heavy metal that is deadly poison; there's another one which is always around us. It's poisoned and even killed plenty of people, the famous among them. But sometimes it takes more than a century to find out what the killer is.
May 7, 1824. The Kärntnertor Theater in Vienna. Famous composer and conductor Ludwig van Beethoven was eager to defeat Italian composers like Rossini in Vienna, where Italian music was dominating. He changed the premiere of his Ninth Symphony from Berlin to Vienna. He knew that this was the first time that a composer used voices in a symphony. What he did not know was that his Symphony # 9 will become the best known piece of classical music ever known – and that part of it (“Ode to Joy”) would become the European Anthem. He stood in front of the orchestra and chorus and began conducting. The symphony was finished, the audience burst into cheers. Itave the composer standing ovations, but strangely – Ludwig van Beethoven continued conducting.
The Orchestra players knew the composer's best kept secret and immediately realized what was going on. The contralto Caroline Unger approached the composer – and turned Beethoven around to see the audience's standing ovations. People in the audience knew that they had just heard one of the best musical pieces ever written. What they did not know was that the composer and conductor Ludwig van Beethoven was deaf. But it was not only deafness that made him see physician after physician to get help. He was suffering from abdominal pain, indigestion, mood swings and depression. His health was deteriorating rapidly. Soon he became bedridden, and died in 1827 at age 57. Just before his death he wrote: ” As soon as I am dead, if Dr. Schmidt is still alive, ask him in my name to discover my disease …” Even an autopsy did not shed any light on the cause of his death, despite his request and autopsy – the cause of his deafness and death remained a mystery.
Until now. One extravagant act of thievery and one heroic act of mercy helped to solve the mystery of Beethoven's deafness and death – and wrote a new page in the toxicology story.
1994. London. Famous Sotheby's Auction. Mr. Ira Brilliant, the founder of the Beethoven Center at the San Jose State University in 1985, was sitting quietly and watching the new items appearing in the auction. What he was looking for was not the art masterpiece for which Sotheby's is famous. He was looking for a lock of 582 brown, white and gray hairs in a wood and glass frame. As per Sotheby's catalog, this lock of hair was Ludwig van Beethoven's hair. That is why Mr. Ira Brilliant bought it for $ 7,200, thanks to money given to him by a urologist, Dr. Alfredo Guevara from Nogales Arizona. But they wanted to be sure that the lock of hair really belonged to Ludwig van Beethoven. They requested proof, and a few months later that they received a letter from Denmark signed by Mr. Thomas Wassard Larsen. His grandfather, Dr. Kay Alexander Fremming was practicing in a small village called Gilleleje in Denmark, which was just 10 miles from Norway by water. He was helping rescue Jewish people from Nazi Germany, and one of the salvaged grateful Jewish people gave him this precious keeping – the lock of Beethoven's hair, as a gift. But where did he get it from?
Stealing is not a good idea, especially from the dead. But when Ferdinand Hiller, a Jewish composer and Beethoven's admirer snipped the lock of Beethoven's hair on the day after his death, he only wanted a reminder. What Ferdinand Hiller did not know was that this lock of hair would have shed light on the cause of Beethoven's death.
Now, Mr. Ira Brilliant and Dr. Alfredo Guevara were sure that the lock of hair really was Beethoven's. A bold idea came to their mind: by analyzing the hair, maybe they could figure out the cause of Beethoven's death! The hair went to forensic experts at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson. What they found shocked them – Beethoven's hair was heavily loaded with another deadly heavy metal – lead!
What about if lead and mercury are together? They multiply the damage caused by both of them. When they are together it is not like 9 plus 9 equals 18. It's like 9 multiplied by 9 equals 81!
When was the last time you had your mercury and lead levels checked?
Even though heavy metal toxicity is extremely dangerous and difficult to recognize, it was not what scared the scientists most.
1980s . Fishermen in the US and Canada were very concerned because of the declining salmon population. Scientists had to look into it, and it looked like there were too many females and too few males. But how did that happen? Did Mother Nature make a major mistake? They decided to check the male to female ratio after hatching, and found that it was fine. However, when they checked the ratio downriver – the females were outnumbering the males! So what happened to the males? Did they die? There was no evidence of that, so how could they mysteriously disappear? It remained a mystery, until they decided to look into the salmon's genetics.
Initially, scientists refused to believe what they found. Salmons with male genetics were actually female! Somehow after hatching, males became females while going down the river. It was something scientists had never heard of or seen before – gender reversal. First, they tried to explain this phenomenon by low temperature – but it did not fit. Then they tried to explain the gender reversal by partial migration between sex chromosomes, because of mysterious external forces – that did not fit either. Sometimes, every well-known fact came to their mind as a plausible explanation: a male can become a female early in life, if it is exposed to estrogen. But there were no natural estrogens in the Columbia River where the studies were done. So it must have been other man-made compounds like pesticides, detergents etc., which acted as natural hormones, so-called environmental estrogens. That's when they really became scared, because it was not the only disaster they came across.
1970 . Lake Ontario . Biologist Mike Gilbertson was observing an unusually high death rate among gull chicks. What he found was that 80% of the dead chicks died before hatching, but what stuck him was that they had a huge amount of unusual deformities. He was unfortunately looking for an explanation. The deformed chicks looked like unusually familiar; they looked like something he had seen before, although he could not remember where. Suddenly his memory served an answer: he had seen similar deformities in chicks that were exposed to dioxide poisoning. However, his colleagues almost laughed at him: there was no dioxide in Lake Ontario. It took them more than 20 years to solve this mystery.
1988 . The Great Lakes. Mrs. Theo Colborn, who is a professor of zoology at the University of Florida, Gainesville, was interested in unusual gull behavior: two gulls nesting together. Usually it's a male and female which nest together. What she observed though was two females nesting together. Were they “gay gulls”? Colborn was certainly looking for an answer. The only thing that could change the gull's behavior was hormones, but she was trained in zoology and did not know much about hormones. It looks like endocrinologists (who were the ones who could and should solve the mystery) where not too interested in it. She was left with no choice but to buy an endocrinology textbook and look into it herself. She learned that the Swedish toxicologist Bengtsson was concerned with the shrinkage of fish testicles because of Baltic water contamination by organochlorine compounds. Could it be a hormone disruption? In 1991, she gathered 21 scientists from 15 different areas to discuss the facts about gender change secondary to environmental toxins that behaving like hormones. They issued a document called the “Wingspread Consensus Statement” in 1991. This meeting became famous because it is where the terms “endocrine disruption” and “endocrine disruptors” came to be.
Lead damages almost every part of our body: the brain and the rest of our nervous system, heart, digestive system, kidneys and bones. It causes learning disabilities, insomnia, mood disorders, abdominal pain, tremors, seizures and death. Children are especially sensitive to lead, and may develop permanent damage. But where does lead poisoning come from? Paints, air, food, soil, and consumer products.
Why are these toxins so dangerous?
Normally, hormones act as messengers, like errand boys, which deliver the signals from our brain derivates to our endocrine glands – and then to the rest of our body. Therefore, just a small amount of hormones are necessary to transmit the signal. It's like a small key which can open a huge safe. That's why only a few molecules of an environmental toxin (which works like a hormone-endocrine disruptor) is necessary to destroy the beautiful regulation system Mother Nature created for us. That is why they are so dangerous, moreso than mercury, lead, cadmium etc. Remember Lake Ontario with the dead chicks yet no dioxin? That was because the amount of poison can be so small that it can not be detected by regular water analysis. The consequences of being exposed to endocrine disruptors are disastrous: our body can not regulate itself anymore, even to the extent that gender is changed. It's like trying to insert the wrong key in your apartment door – and it gets stuck, breaking the key: you can not even open your apartment with the right key and you're locked out.
Endocrine disruptors are everywhere: in our water, food, air, dust, detergents, cosmetics, pesticides, plastics, etc. They can cause fertility problems, fetal loss, cancer, menstrual problems, low IQ and learning problems, behavioral problems, ADHD, and autism.
But should not Mother Nature protect us from these various toxins?
Normally when toxins get into our body, they are removed by the liver in two stages. The first stage, called “phase 1” is an immediate deactivation of the toxin by the group of enzymes called 'cytochrome P 450', when intermediate byproducts from the toxin are made. “Phase 2” makes these intermediate byproducts water-soluble, so that they can be excreted in the bile through the stomach, or by the kidneys. Once this is accomplished, the toxin is deactivated and byproducts are removed from the body.
But what if your body is not familiar or prepared for the toxin? Like with heavy metals or man-made endocrine disruptors: pesticides, plastics, cosmetics etc. Or your liver is getting too many toxins and does not have enough resources to deal with them? Then the natural detoxification system is broken, and trouble arises.
The bottom line is simple: if you are experiencing symptoms of toxicity such as fatigue, mood problems or psychological problems, ADHD, insomnia, palpitations, tingling and / or abnormal sensations, unexplained high blood pressure, menstrual problems, memory problems, etc. you may be suffering from toxins.
To get better – you need to be checked by a doctor who specializes in detoxification.
Detoxify yourself to:
– Be more energetic.
– Improve your mood.
– Enjoy better sleep,
– Lower your blood pressure.
What you need to do to get better:
1. Listen to what your body is telling you: Loss of energy? Can not sleep? No Libido? Mood swings? Hot flashes? Weight gain?
If so, then:
2. Do your problems make your life harder, even miserable? If so:
3. Find a physician who you trust and who specializes in detoxification.