Multiple Sclerosis: Could This Common Brain Disorder Be Caused By Mercury?

Posted by – February 25, 2011

Skull and Crossbones

Mercury

In the first half of the twentieth century, a strange illness attacked children seemingly at random, its cause unknown. The illness was known as acrodynia, or Pink Disease. Affected children developed pain in their hands and feet; their noses and hands turned pink, they became moody and unstable and they failed to thrive. Pink Disease was a difficult illness to diagnose and for decades its cause evaded medical scrutiny. Some suggested the disease was caused by a virus that infected the brain. Others thought that a bad diet might be the problem. The illness was present in all developed countries, baffling parents and doctors alike.

Finally in 1953 the cause was ascertained. Pink Disease was caused — probably solely and entirely — by mercury, which incredibly was being used in infant toothing powders among other things.

One factor that had made mercury particularly difficult to trace as the cause was the fact that there appeared to be no relation between blood mercury levels or known mercury intake and the appearance of the disease. The only thing that was clear was that a child who had been exposed to mercury had a greatly-raised chance of developing Pink Disease.

Even outright death caused by mercury followed an unpredictable pattern. It was noted that among people receiving mercury injections as a diuretic, a small number of people would literally drop dead — but not on the first injection. A person might receive many injections with no apparent ill-effect, until eventually an injection would kill them.

Hard to Avoid

Mercury is still used in dental filling throughout most of the world today. It seems to cause few problems. And yet, mercury is a known toxin; mercury damages the brain, impairing the senses and reasoning ability, as well as affecting many other organs.

Even more disturbing is the fact that mercury is widely present in the fish we eat. Various industrial activities, including gold mining, and battery and energy-saving lamp manufacture, have led to mercury being spread throughout the oceans, where it has entered the marine food chain. Fish near the top of the food chain concentrate mercury in their bodies; levels can become so astonishingly high that a single fish can cause outright mercury poisoning. Consumption of large amounts of certain kinds of fish is now believed to be linked to heart disease; a deeply ironic fact given that scientists were — until quite recently — actually recommending that people at a lot of fish to protect from heart disease.

Mad Hatter

The Mad Hatter: hat makers traditionally used mercury in hat manufacture, leading to high levels of neurological disorders.

We know that mercury is widely present in our food and environment and even in our mouths, and we know that blood levels do not correspond directly to symptoms of poisoning. While some studies attempt to correlate fish consumption with known illnesses, for the most part we can only guess what harm mercury does to us — but we may be sure that it does do some harm.

Possibly the Greatest Mystery in Neurology

One intriguing possibility is that mercury is a cause of multiple sclerosis, or MS. MS is one of the most common neurological disorders, affecting roughly one in a thousand people in the USA and much of Europe. The illness usually starts slowly, causing numbness in the face and hands, muscular weakness, problems with balance and eyesight, and unstable moods. Many victims of MS eventually require a wheelchair to get around.

The proximate cause of MS is known; the nerves that conduct signals from our brain to our body and from our body to our brain are coated with a fatty substance called myelin, which acts much like the plastic insulation on electrical cables. In MS this insulation becomes eroded, meaning the nerves can no longer do their job effectively.

Since the brain contains huge numbers of such nerves, much of the brain is made up of myelin. In MS, the myelin and associated tissues in the brain become inflamed and develop ‘scars’ — actually soft areas that are depleted of myelin and do not function effectively.

The ultimate cause of MS, however, is completely unknown. No-one knows what causes myelin to become inflamed. Some suspect that a virus causes the immune system to attack nerve tissue; others argue that the immune system is not involved directly in MS, but merely tries ineffectually to clear up damage that has already been done.

Interestingly, mercury is known to damage myelin and to disrupt myelin growth in children. Could mercury be the cause of MS?

Unfortunately, it is possible to construct equally plausible-sounding explanations as to why various other substances or organisms could cause MS. MS may even have many causes — myelin disruption merely being the common factor.

Nevertheless, to allow such a toxic and unpredictably dangerous substance to build up in our environment in this way seems like a surefire recipe for disaster. While the world worries itself about a non-toxic, harmless gas called carbon dioxide causing global warming — in the middle of an interglacial period in the quaternary ice age, no less — dangerous chemicals like mercury are being allowed to flow into the environment all but unchecked.

Selected References:

The Rise and Fall of Pink Disease

Are all cases of Pink Disease actually “idiopathic” infantile acrodynia?

Medical Journal Extract from 1934

A Review of Infantile Acrodynia (Pink Disease)

Mercury Diuretc [Wikipedia article]

Warning over fish mercury levels [BBC News]

Evidence that mercury from silver dental fillings may be an etiological factor in multiple sclerosis.

Changes in fatty acid elongation in developing mouse brain by mercury–comparison with other metals.

Peripheral neuropathy following intraneural injection of mercury compounds.

THE CAUSES OF PINK DISEASE (A really fascinating article on the history of Pink Disease!)


UPDATE: I just discovered this. Someone else called Squiffy, who blogs to raise money for multiple sclerosis resources. Check it out!


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2 Comments on Multiple Sclerosis: Could This Common Brain Disorder Be Caused By Mercury?

  1. Sharee says:

    Found your web blog through Delicious. You know I am signing up to your rss feed.

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