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Selenium and Mercury Detoxification

by Andrew Bennison(more info)

listed in dentistry, originally published in issue 44 - September 1999

Chronic Mercury Poisoning

The debate in recent years has cast doubt on whether or not the use of amalgam in dental surgery really is as unproblematic for the health of both dentists and patients as has been previously assumed.[1-3] These doubts have been intensified by a wide range of recent research results.[4-6] There is considerable support for the view that many dentists and their patients suffer to varying degrees from some form of mercury poisoning. Chronic mercury poisoning caused by amalgam fillings ("Oral Galvanism" or "Micromercurialism") has, until recently, only very rarely been correctly diagnosed or treated.[1] The symptoms have quite simply not been connected with amalgam, and instead in many cases, have been attributed to psychological problems or stress. Coincidentally, research on trace elements and antioxidants has shown that these elements, and in particular selenium, are of great importance for the optimum functioning of the immune system and the body's resistance to heavy metal pollution. British diets are very low in minerals and antioxidants, in particular selenium.[1] The basis for our natural defence mechanism may be too weak and so make mercury poisoning even more dangerous. This is why it is advisable to take whatever measures that are needed to deal directly with the problem of amalgam fillings and ensure that our diets contain sufficient selenium and antioxidant intake – perhaps with the aid of food supplements.

Antioxidant complex

Antioxidant complex

Selenium – an Essential Trace Element

Selenium is one of the elements which occurs in such minute quantities in the soil, foodstuffs and the body that, in the past, they were impossible to measure. Only a "trace" of their presence was detectable. In the last few decades it has come to light that these trace elements play a vital role in the biochemistry of the human body. The discovery of the significance of selenium, in particular, has heralded a breakthrough in nutritional science, comparable perhaps only to the discovery of vitamins.

Selenium has been shown to be an important component of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase[1],[8] which is of crucial importance to the immune system and to the protection of the cell walls. This enzyme and selenium itself are both important antioxidants. The most clearly illustrated incidence of selenium deficiency stems from China, where selenium soil levels are extremely low in some areas: a widespread and fatal heart disease in children (Keshnan's Disease) was shown to arise from selenium deficiency and has been successfully treated with sodium selenite.[9] It has also been revealed that selenium contributes as an antidote to heavy metals, by forming salt compounds with them, thus enabling them to be excreted from the body.

The selenium content in soils and foodstuffs varies considerably from one part of the world to the other. Britain and the whole of Scandinavia lies in an area of low selenium soil levels, a problem which is being aggravated by artificial fertilisers and acid rain. The official Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for selenium is 50-200 micrograms (although many researchers recommend 200-300 micrograms). The average British diet contains less than 30 micrograms and it is impossible to eat a varied diet which contains the recommended quantities of selenium. A daily supplement of 100 micrograms of selenium is therefore recommended for Britons.

These recommendations are even more relevant for those who are particularly exposed to heavy metals, whose immune system is under strain, or who are subject to an excessive production of free radicals. Two groups who fit into these categories are patients with a lot of amalgam fillings and dentists! A Swedish working party on selenium, consisting of doctors and dentists has pointed out that the body uses up its reserves of selenium more quickly when it is required to counteract an increased strain, e.g. an influx of heavy metals. The group therefore recommended that dentists should take 400 mcg (micrograms) of selenium daily, as a defence against their working environment – a gradually accumulated mercury poisoning. It should also be pointed out that this sort of dosage produces no risk of passing the toxicity threshold for selenium, which is listed in the professional literature as1,000 mcg/day for inorganic selenium and 5,000 mcg/day for organic selenium compounds.

Antioxidants and Free Radicals – The Decisive Battle within The Individual Cell

Oxidation or rancification is a normal, natural and necessary part of the metabolism of the cell, as long as it takes place under the cell's normal control – but if the control is lacking, the process can get out of hand. The mechanisms in this control are substances called antioxidants.

During oxidation, oxygen free radicals are formed. These can be fatal to the cell because of their high degree of reactivity.

Certain metals and radioactive radiation can also give rise to the formation of free radicals. If these free radicals are permitted to run rampant, they can cause damage to the cell membranes or result in mutations (changes in the genetic material in the cell). This can result in damage, or even death, to the cell itself (see below). Free radicals play a major role in the ageing process and they put pressure on the immune system. Moreover, many researchers now agree that free radicals are involved in a range of chronic diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, certain types of cancer, disseminated sclerosis and arteriosclerosis, to name but a few).

The most important antioxidants are selenium and zinc, plus vitamins A, B6, C and E. They help to counteract and neutralise the free radicals in a number of different ways. Increasingly, researchers are describing antioxidants in terms of a complex of substances which co-operate with, and reinforce each other. It is therefore of great importance, that we not only take sufficient antioxidants, but also that we take them in the correct reciprocal balance.

Side-Effects of Mercury Amalgam – can mercury safely be locked into a mixture of metals?

There is no doubt that if mercury was suggested today as a new material for fillings it would never receive approval. For far too many years it has been assumed that mercury was safely locked into the amalgam mixture – even though it was not possible to prove it. In practical terms, amalgam became the "realistic" economic alternative to gold for the greater part of the population. Today, a critical evaluation of amalgam results in a quite different picture. Mercury is a toxic heavy metal – and the gas it gives off is particularly poisonous. It is also highly volatile, and fillings in the mouth are exposed to a range of influences which help to release it from its bonds: acid foods, hot drinks and – not least, chewing itself. In fact, studies have shown that chewing stimulates evaporation of mercury from the fillings[4],[5] and that there is a correlation between the number of fillings and the mercury levels in the brain.[6-11] It is, of course, very difficult to produce precise figures for how much mercury is released in different states, or for what quantities the human body can tolerate – both of these factors are largely dependent upon individual variations. However, one thing is certain, that people who suffer from mercury allergy – their fillings can release enough mercury to make them seriously ill. Also it is now clear that dentists are exposed to a serious health risk via their daily contact with mercury amalgam. Will anybody benefit from a suppression of the public debate on this matter?

Oral Galvanism – an electric battery in the oral cavity?

A contributing factor to the unfortunate effects of amalgam is that the filling can function as a galvanistic element – in other words, a source of electrical voltage – in the oral cavity. All the necessary components are present: saliva operates as the electrolytic fluid, the various metals present come into contact with the fluid. The voltage can be particularly high if gold and amalgam fillings are both present. It is not known for sure if this sort of voltage can cause damage in itself, but voltages have been recorded which could be high enough to affect nerve cells. One thing is sure – the battery-effect is connected with an excretion of metal ions from the electrodes to the electrolyte. In other words, oral galvanism can intensify the excretion of mercury.

No Alternatives?

The main argument against the criticism of the use of amalgam in dental fillings has long been that there were no adequate alternatives. These arguments have been overtaken by time and the course of technological development. For example, Dr. Harald Lo, director of the conservative National Institute for Dental Research in the USA, expressed the view, in a television broadcast in 1985, that composite materials can now be used successfully in all fillings, and that in many ways they are superior to the old materials; for example, they do not require as much drilling.

Food Supplement Products

There are a number of different food supplement products on the market which include selenium and other antioxidants. The author recommends those that contain 100% organic selenium, in the form of L-selenomethionine which, according to the latest research, is most readily absorbed and utilised by the body.


The following are in no way comprehensive; however, many of the works referred to contain extensive literature lists.

Critical on amalgam:
1) Patrick Stortebecker: Kvicksilverforgiftning. Stockholme, 1986.
2) Lackertidningen *3: 505-518, 1986.
3) Sam Ziff: The Toxic Time Bomb, 2nd edition, Thorsons, N.Y. 1986.

Studies on amalgam:
4) Fredin, BJ: Studies on the mercury release from dental amalgam fillings. Manuscript, 1995.
5) Svare, CW et al. The effect of dental amalgam on levels of mercury. Journal of Dental Research, vol 60, issue 9, 1981.
6) Schiele R Studies on the mercury distribution in brain and kidney related to the number and condition of amalgam fillings Inst for arbejds- og social medicin, Univ. Erlangen-Nurnberg. Symposium mars 1984: Amalgam – Viewpoints from Medicine and Dental Medicine.

7) Ugeskrift for lager, 145; pp 1911-21, 1985.
8) Schrauzer, GN. Selen, Neuere Entwicklungen aus der Bioilogie, Biochemie und Medizin, Heidelberg, 1983.
9) The Lancet, July 16, 130-135, 1983 and July 24, 175-179, 1982.
10) Chen, X, et al., Biological Trace Element Research 2: 91, 1980.
11) Tolonen, Matti: Selen – ett Vardeefullt sparamne, Helsinki, 1985 Nervesystemet I relation till amalgamfyllinger Lakertidningen vol 83 519-522, 1986.


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About Andrew Bennison

Andrew Bennison is Technical Manager for Pharma Nord UK Ltd a pharmaceutical company that specialises in the development of nutritional supplements and the advancement of nutrition in the management of many illnesses. He can be contacted on Tel: 01670 519989.

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