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Mold, mercury, and lead can cause serious health problems, but truly toxic levels of these and many other substances are rare. Here is what you need to know about the toxins that endanger your health, and those that don't.

Phyllis was a fanatic about maintaining her health. She spent over $1000 every month on nutritional supplements. She had light therapy, reflexology, tui nai massage, colon cleansing, and a visit with her iridologist several times a year. Not one to forsake traditional medicine, she also saw her doctor every month, if only to make sure he was fully informed of alternative medicine. 

Every year, holistically oriented doctors and alternative medicine practitioners charge their patients billions of dollars for testing and treatments for toxins. Some toxins present valid health concerns. Others do not. Let's take a look at some common but usually unnecessary tests for toxins, and then at some uncommon but often urgently needed tests for toxins.

Mold Intoxification

Many people really are allergic to mold. Allergies to mold can manifest themselves in sneezing, wheezing, coughing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. A mold called Alternaria can make children's asthma much worse, although only children who inherit a trait that causes unusual helper-T cells are affected. 
 
In modern, air-tight homes, a "cold" that lasts more than two weeks is usually actually due to mold. In hot, humid climates, exposure to molds in the air in summer can cause allergic fungal sinusitis.
 
Molds do not, however, typically cause symptoms of intoxication. They don't cause depression. Black mold in your basement won't make you lose your mind (at least not until you try to sell your house). Mold is not to blame for ADHD or lung cancer. You don't need blood tests for mold intoxication, although there is a blood test for mold allergy. 
 
This doesn't mean that you should do nothing if you discover mold in your house. Allergies, asthma, and sinusitis greatly lower quality of life, and it can be very hard to sell or even mortgage your house if mold infestation is not remedied. Simply airing out your house or apartment (in the afternoon, when most plant pollens are less abundant), keeping it dry, and using HEPA air filters will do more good than getting treatment for a non-existent mold intoxication.

Mercury Poisoning

Mercury poisoning can be a devastating disease. From 1932 to 1968, the Chisso Corporation released vast amounts of mercury into the bay near the seaside city of Minamata, Japan. For decades, hundreds of people developed bizarre symtoms that came on suddenly: stumbling, numbness in the hands and feet, loss of peripheral vision, damage to hearing and speech, and, in severe cases, insanity, coma, and death. Even pets developed strange neurological symptoms; Minamata became known as the home of "dancing cat disease." Over 1700 people died and over 10,000 people developed symptoms before the strange disease affecting the people of Minamata was identified as mercury poisoning. However, similar problems do not result from the mercury in the amalgam used in dental fillings.
Thousands of people have been persuaded to have their mercury amalgam fillings removed from their teeth. The ironic fact is that removing mercury amalgam fillings releases more of the potentially toxic element than allowing them to stay in place. There is some evidence that the mercury in fillings could be harmful for children who have not yet reached the age of six, but adults are not affected by the tiny amount of mercury that gets into systemic circulation, and they do not need treatments like chelation therapy. 
 
A possible exception to this rule is treatment of mercury poisoning in women in China, Korea, and South Asia who use mercury-based cosmetic to lighten their skin. They may need medical treatment if they use these products over a period of years.
 
Mold and mercury get a lot of attention but they aren't commonly real health problems. Some often overlooked heavy metal poisons often are.
 
Continue reading after recommendations

  • Hamann CR, Boonchai W, Wen L, Sakanashi EN, Chu CY, Hamann K, et al. Spectrometric analysis of mercury content in 549 skin-lightening products: is mercury toxicity a hidden global health hazard?. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014 Feb. 70(2):281-7.e3.
  • Murata K, Iwata T, Dakeishi M, Karita K. Lead toxicity: does the critical level of lead resulting in adverse effects differ between adults and children?. J Occup Health. 2009. 51(1):1-12.
  • Photo courtesy of John-Morgan: www.flickr.com/photos/aidanmorgan/2332578952/
  • Photo courtesy of Sam Droege: www.flickr.com/photos/usgsbiml/14367791348/

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