DAMS Intl.    St Paul MN 55105


Mercury body burden and toxicity tests and factors that significantly complicate usefulness of standard tests.


Blood tests are generally not a reliable indicator of mercury body burden or mercury toxicity(595,600,etc.). Better options are often available depending on what is to be determined (595,etc.).  The blood is pumped throughout the body and rapidly crosses into organs and tissue where it is primarily inorganic mercury, so blood measures primarily recent acute exposures, not body burden. For example, although mercury vapor from dental amalgam has been documented to be the largest source of mercury in most people who have several amalgam fillings, the average length of time of mercury vapor in the blood is less than 10 seconds(370).   High mercury body burden and mercury toxicity and effects are more common than acknowledged due to failure of the blood test to reliably identify mercury body burden or those most affected by toxicity effects.  Doctors with experience at treating mercury toxicity mostly use other tests or combinations of tests. 


        Mercury amalgam dental fillings have been found to be the largest source of mercury vapor, inorganic mercury, and methyl mercury in most people with several amalgam fillings or metal crowns over amalgam (1,599).  But although mercury has been found to be readily methylated in the body by bacteria, yeasts, etc. and also to be demethylated to inorganic mercury complexes, these processes are inconsistent depending on the individual, and there is no test that is reliable for measuring all forms of mercury, as will be shown.  

        A large U.S. Centers for Disease Control epidemiological study, NHANES III, found that those with more amalgam fillings (more mercury exposure) have significantly higher levels of chronic health conditions(543a).   A 2009 study found that inorganic mercury levels in people have been increasing rapidly in recent years(543b). It used data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) finding that while inorganic mercury was detected in the blood of 2 percent of women aged 18 to 49 in the 1999-2000 NHANES survey, that level rose to 30 percent of women by 2005-2006. Surveys in all states using hair tests have found dangerous levels of mercury in an average of 22 % of the population, with over 30% in some states like Florida and New York(543c).

      Elemental mercury vapor and methyl mercury are rapidly transmitted throughout the body via the blood and readily enter cells and cross the blood-brain barrier, as well as the placenta of pregnant women (38,61,287,311,361,596).  Mercury vapor is transmitted across cell membranes at much higher levels than inorganic mercury and also higher levels than organic mercury. Significant levels are able to cross the blood brain barrier, placenta, and also cellular membranes into major organs such as the heart since the oxidation rate of Hg0, though relatively fast, is slower than the time required by pumped blood to reach these organs(290,370). Thus the level in the brain and heart is higher after exposure to Hg vapor than for other forms(360,370).  But methyl mercury also has a relatively short half life in blood, so even for methyl blood mostly measures recent exposures rather than body burden. 

  While mercury vapor and methyl Hg   readily cross cell membranes and the blood-brain barrier, once in cells they form inorganic mercury that does not readily cross cell membranes or the blood brain barrier readily and is responsible for the majority of toxicity effects.  Thus inorganic mercury in the brain has a very long half life(85,273,274,503b,etc.).

 Mercury vapor passes through the blood rapidly and accumulates in other parts of the body such as the brain, kidneys, liver, thyroid gland, pituitary gland, etc. (370,543b,600).  The half-life of mercury vapor in blood is approximately 10 seconds before passing into cells and forming inorganic complexes (370).  Thus blood test measures mostly recent exposure and mostly organic mercury(370,595). Hair mercury level likewise is mostly organic and primarily measures organic mercury (76), while urine test levels correlate most highly with the number of dental amalgams (599). However, all 3 mercury measures are generally positively correlated with both number of dental amalgams and amount of mercury containing fish eaten. (600) But also note that urine mercury level is not a reliable indicator of mercury body burden since the majority of mercury excretion is through the liver rather than the kidneys and mercury excretions decline over time whatever the body burden due to damage done to the kidneys(600). Also autopsy studies have found that higher levels of mercury accumulate in other more sensitive organs such as the brain, heart, and thyroid(600).

  Kidneys have a lot of hydroxyl(SH) groups which mercury binds to forming inorganic complexes - causing accumulation in the kidneys and inhibiting excretion(503).  As damage occurs to kidneys over time, mercury is less efficiently eliminated (11,36,57,183,216,260,503),  so urine tests are not reliable for body burden after long term exposure. Some researchers suggest hair offers a better indicator of mercury body burden than blood or urine(279,21ab,66,84), though still not totally reliable and hair is a better indicator for organic mercury than inorganic. But hair mercury levels have been found to be inversely related with mercury toxicity effects and body burden in those most affected by mercury due to having low detoxification ability for mercury(86,577). Blood allele type has been found to have a significant effect on ability to excrete toxic metals and accumulation of toxic metals in the body (577,86).  This significantly affects mercury test levels by blood, urine, or hair.   If a hair test is used as an indicator of mercury toxicity, the pattern of hair levels of other metals and minerals is a better indication of mercury body burden and toxicity than the hair level of mercury, since mercury exposure causes significant changes in cell membrane permeability that often be seen as imbalances from the standard for other elements tested(229). 

 Mercury and other toxic metals exert part of their toxic effects by replacing essential metals such as zinc and magnesium at their sites in enzymes (43,427,443,464). Metalloprotein (MT) are involved in metals transport and detoxification(442,464). Mercury inhibits sulfur ligands in MT and in cell membranes inactivates MT that normally bind cuprous ions (477), thus allowing buildup of copper to toxic levels in many people and malfunction of the Zn/Cu SOD function. Prenatal and neonatal mercury exposure has been found to be able to block the MT function in this manner and has been to result in MT dysfunction in the majority of autism patients tested, preventing detoxification and excretion of mercury and other toxic metal (86,464). This also represents a major confounding of mercury test results for either blood, urine, or hair test.

 Hair tests are useful since they provide information on other toxic metal exposures and essential mineral imbalances (229).  It is documented that essential mineral deficiencies and imbalances given a normal diet are a strong indication of mercury toxicity, due to mercury’s causing cell membrane permeability changes, absorption problems, and enzyme blockages (229,600).  A challenge test using a chelator like DMPS or DMSA is a more reliable test for mercury body burden (290,360,273). 

Non organic forms of mercury are methylated in the body by bacteria, yeast, methyl donors to methyl mercury, so even though the largest source of mercury in most people is mercury vapor from amalgam (599), due to the short half life of vapor and conversions to methyl, most of what is measured in the blood is methyl. And the inorganic accumulation in organs is not measured.  Ethyl mercury from vaccines has been the largest source of mercury in most infants (598).

        Feces is the major path of excretion of mercury from the body, having a 

higher correlation to systemic body burden than urine or blood, which tend to 

correlate with recent exposure level (6,21abd,35,36,79,80,183,278). For this 

reason many researchers consider feces to be the most reliable indicator of 

daily exposure level to mercury or other toxics. The average level of mercury in 

feces of populations with amalgam fillings is as much as 1 ppm and approx. 

10 times that of a similar group without fillings (79,80,83,335,386,528,25), 

with significant numbers of those with several filings having over 10 ppm 

and 150 times those without fillings (80).  For those with several fillings daily 

fecal mercury excretion levels range between 20 to 200 ug/day.  

         The saliva test is another good test for daily mercury exposure, done 

commonly in Europe and representing one of the largest sources of mercury 

exposure (84,600).  Mercury level in saliva has been found to give a better 

indication of body levels than blood or urine levels( 36,600). Saliva mercury is 

proportional to the number of amalgam fillings or surfaces, but for those without 

amalgam is often below detection limits unless fish has recently been eaten (76,84).     

There is only a weak correlation between blood or urine or hair mercury 

levels and body burden or level in a target organ (36,157,183,278,11, 


        Tests commonly used to test for mercury toxicity effects include the 

blood lymphocyte immune reactivity test(MELISA) which is used to test for 

immune reactivity to mercury related to autoimmune conditions like MS, 

Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, CFS, Fibromyalgia, oral lichen planus, etc. 

(342,369,405,600). The majority of those with chronic fatigue or MS were 

found to be immune reactive to mercury, and both reactivity and symptoms 

declined after amalgam replacement. Another test commonly used to test for 

the common metabolic and detoxification system blockages caused by 

mercury toxicity is the comprehensive liver detoxification test(386). 

 It utilizes blood, urine, and saliva tests.  Another test commonly used to 

assess metabolic toxicicity effects of mercury and other toxic exposures is 

the fractionated porphyrin test (260).  The type, level, and pattern of 

metabolic waste porphyrins in urine indicate the extent of toxicity effects and 

give an indication of the likely toxic source by the pattern.  These tests 

indicate not only degree of toxicity effects but also suggest treatments that 

usually result in improvement of the condition.


According to Great Plains Medical Lab: What metals test to choose?  (595)

Hair is ideal for measuring toxic metals accumulated in the body tissues over a period of time. The growing hair follicle is well supplied by the blood vessels, and blood transports essential and toxic elements present in the body. These elements are incorporated and stored in the hair proteins, which are evaluated in the test. Hair testing also gives the most accurate information about interactions between nutrients and toxic metals. Other advantages of hair testing are simple samples requirements and lower cost. The test measures 39 essential and toxic metals, with individual interpretation that will guide you in the treatment process. People who use hair dyes, perm or chemical treatments should be aware that the hair can sometimes give false high values due to the metals in the dyes or chemicals. We recommend cutting the most recently grown hair closest to the scalp. Hair samples do not expire. (but note: hair level is not reliable for mercury body burden)  

Blood is best for measuring levels of essential minerals, determining possible deficiencies and recent exposure with heavy metals. 

Urine and fecal testing reflects the levels of heavy metals deposited in the body tissues, but it is most accurate after taking a chelating agent that helps extract metals in urine. These tests are important for evaluating the efficacy of the chelating treatment since they measure levels of metals excreted from the body and the tissues. The urine and fecal elements tests are not recommended unless using a chelating agent before sample collection



EPA and National Academy of Sciences advise a limit of 5 micrograms per liter in blood and the upper level of mercury exposure recommended by the German Commission on Human Biomonitoring has also been lowered to 5 micrograms per liter in the blood(30), but adverse effects such as  increases in blood pressure and cognitive effects have been documented as low as 1 ug/L cord blood, with impacts higher in low birth weight babies(308). The EPA reference level for hair mercury is 1 part per million, but adverse health effects have been documented in many with lower hair mercury levels(86,464,etc.). A nationwide hair test program by Greenpeace found that 22% of the U.S. population tested had hair mercury levels more than the EPA reference level, and several states had over 30% higher than the EPA reference level. The U.S. Department of Health, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ASTDR) standard (MRL) ‑for acute inhalation exposure to mercury vapor is 0.2 micrograms Hg/M3, which translates to approx. 4 ug/day for the average adult(20). The EPA health guideline for methyl mercury is 0.1 ug/kg body weight per day or 7 ug for the average adult, and the MRL for methyl mercury is 0.3 ug/kg body weight/day(599).      

           DAMS has compiled a record of over 60,000 clinical cases of recovery from over 30 chronic conditions caused by mercury toxicity, after reducing mercury exposures and detoxification treatment (597,86b,464).


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(596) Review: Fetal Effects of Amalgam, B Windham(Ed),

(597) Results of Replacement of Amalgam Fillings, B Windham(Ed),

(598) Review: Children’s neurological conditions, B Windham(Ed),

(599) Exposure Levels from Amalgam Fillings, Review,

(600)Health Effects Related to Dental Amalgam, B Windham(Ed),


National/technical contact: B. Windham,,          850-878-9024