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Mercury Rising: Warnings In Pregnancy And Infancy

By Jeanne Ohm, DC

Mercury: a Known Toxin

It has been known for a long time, that mercury is a toxic and dangerous substance that effects the developing nerve system in an adverse way. Web MD offers this report:

“Mercury is very dangerous to children. Relatively low concentrations keep a child’s brain from developing normally. Kids with mercury poisoning have problems with thinking, language, memory, motor skills, perception, and behavior. “

The CDC further states:

“Two groups are most vulnerable to methyl mercury: the fetus and pregnant women. Premature babies are more vulnerable because they tend to be very small and their brain is not as developed as a full term baby”.

Richard Weisman, MD, a toxicologist at the University of Miami School of Medicine and director of the Poison Control Center for South Florida tells us, “There is no doubt that mercury is one of the worst [toxins affecting the brain]”.

Although warnings of toxic mercury exposure has gotten significant press, routine administration of mercury to pregnant women and children has not been as clearly defined for the consumer.

Mercury in Foods

Cautions about eating too much fish in pregnancy and while nursing because of mercury exposure has had frequent media coverage. MY Web MD writes, “Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet, however nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of mercury. Some studies have found dangerously high levels of mercury in some fish enough to cause harm to an unborn baby or a young child’s developing nervous system. This is a cause for concern for the health of women of childbearing age, those who are nursing, and young children. To protect the developing fetus from the effects of mercury in fish, the U.S. FDA advises against eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish during pregnancy and in women of childbearing age. Some states also urge expectant moms to limit canned tuna consumption to 7 ounces a week. ” 1

The title “Canned tuna or canned poison?” was the teaser for a CBS 2 News “Health Watch” report that focused on high levels of mercury found in tuna and the possible health risks associated with them. CBS reporter Paul Moniz quoted a number of physicians, who observed effects of the toxic substance, “Once it gets into our bodies, a substantial part of it will end up in our nervous system, in our brains, and it’s there that it causes a variety of symptoms.”

An interviewed pediatrician said, “We know that high levels of mercury can impair the cognitive development as well as the growth and development of a young child.” What the report appears to be revealing is that while overweight Americans may resort to fish to shed unwanted pounds, too much fish in their diets could reduce the IQ more than the waistline. 2

Mercury in Vaccines

Thimerosal, a mercury derivative has been routinely used as a preservative in vaccines. For years, grass roots groups have warned about the potential hazards of vaccine ingredients including the presence of mercury in vaccines. However, until the vaccine/ mercury/ autism relationship was officially reported, the public was virtually clueless about the presence of this neurotoxin in vaccines and its adverse effects. Thanks to the continued efforts of various consumer groups there have been significant strides in educating the public and government officials about their concerns of mercury in vaccines. These efforts have eventually brought forth a wave of awareness, new policy and research. 3,4

On July 7, 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the United States Public Health Service finally issued a joint statement that because of the “neuro-developmental effects posed by exposure to thimerosal”, “thimerosal-containing vaccines should be removed as soon as possible.” The PHS and AAP recognized that because of thimerosal in vaccines, some children would be exposed to “a cumulative level of mercury over the first six months of life that exceeded one of the federal guidelines on methyl mercury.” Hospitals around the country responded by halting the administration of the thimerosal containing vaccine for hepatitis B at birth, deferring vaccination until the baby was older and more developed.

In an effort to reduce parental fears, numerous studies were published giving a false sense of security to parents. One study published in the Lancet, November 2003 hit the media with this misrepresented headline: “Mercury Levels in Vaccines Are Safe: Study Suggests Infants Are Not at Risk” 5 This small study examined mercury levels in the blood, urine, and stool of 40 infants given vaccinations containing thimerosal and 21 infants who received thimerosal-free vaccines and showed that in a 60 day period, there was virtually no mercury in the blood.

But Neal Halsey, MD, director of the Institute for Vaccine Safety at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health had this warning to heed, “This is a good study, and it helps us to understand the metabolism of ethyl mercury associated with thimerosal, but one thing we don’t know from this study is what the peak levels of mercury are shortly after vaccination.” Halsey cautioned the definitive answer to the safety question is at least several years away. That is when results are expected from a separate government follow-up study of children exposed to differing levels of thimerosal.

“Everyone has a small amount of mercury in their body from different exposures,” he tells WebMD. “The question is what level is associated with harm in young children.” 5

Perhaps a more accurate title for the article would have been “Safety of Toxic Mercury Levels in Children Following Vaccines Remains Unknown.” Then perhaps parents and expectant mothers would question proponents as to why mercury remains in diptheria, tetanus, meningiococcus, and flu vaccines.