Mercury damages nerve cells

A University of Calgary researcher knows exactly how your fillings can wreck your brain cells.

Professor of physiology and biophysics Dr. Fritz Lorscheider
recently found and recorded the damage caused to neurons by the mercury contained in mercury amalgam fillings. He said people should take notice of these findings.

"We need to take mercury exposure much more seriously," he said.

Mercury exposure has long been connected with Alzheimer’s Disease, a gradual degeneration of cognitive and memory abilities. Lorscheider’s study found a correlation: tissue from the brains of Alzheimer’s patients looks much like that of rats and snails exposed to elemental mercury.

According to the study, the mechanics of damage happen at the sub-cellular level, affecting the structure of proteins that support cell walls and membranes.

"Tubulin, a cell-wall protein, forms long chains called microtu-bules, which are the scaffolding
necessary for the cell walls and membrane to have shape," said Lorscheider. "When [the proteins are damaged] it causes the structure [of the microtubules] to degenerate, and you end up with stripped neurons, which appear clumped in Alzheimer’s."

Lorscheider, along with U of C professor Naweed Syed and undergraduate Christopher Leong,
researched and recorded the degeneration. The team chose to do their research on snails, since tubulin is similar in all living things.

"It’s the same protein in rats, snails and humans," said Lorscheider. "We chose the snail. It only has 28 to 30 neurons, but they’re large, which allows us to isolate them."

In 1997, Lorscheider and colleagues at the University of Kentucky found that mercury vapour caused "brain molecular lesions caused by an inability by neurons to polymerize tubulin."

"We looked at Alzheimer’s brain tissue and age-matched control tissue from recently-deceased humans. [The Alzheimer’s tissue] had the same molecular lesions as [the mercury-tainted] tissue. These lesions were found in 80 per cent of the Alzheimer’s samples, but none of the control. Mercury is a known neurotoxin, but it wasn’t known why until the publication of [the current] paper."

Lorscheider said sources of mercury include food, air and water, but a major source of mercury in humans are dental amalgam fillings, which are composed of 50 per cent elemental mercury.

"In our human subjects, 65-70 per cent of the mercury excreted [through urine] is from amalgams. Amalgam fillings are certainly a major source."

A major component of the research was the production of a film showing neuron degeneration. Produced through the Learning Commons with the same technology as was used to create Disney’s Fantasia 2000, the five-minute film was a "very powerful tool" in the presentation. For more information, visit movie.common.ucalgary.ca/mercury

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