Mad Hatter Syndrome


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What is the 'mad hatter syndrome'?

The term "mad as a hatter" has been inextricably linked to the madcap milliner in Lewis Carrol's classic children's book of 1865 Alice in Wonderland.

It actually relates to a disease peculiar to the hat-making industry of the nineteenth century. A mercury solution was commonly used during the process of turning fur into felt, causing the hatters to breathe in the fumes of this highly toxic metal, a situation exacerbated by the poor ventilation of most of the workshops.

This led in turn to an accumulation of mercury in the workers bodies, resulting in symptoms such as trembling, loss of co-ordination, slurred speech, loosening of teeth, memory loss, depression, irritability and anxiety - the "mad hatter syndrome"! The phrase is still used today to describe the effects of mercury poisoning, albeit from other sources.

Mercury and industry- a marriage made in hell!

Mercury (also known as quicksilver) is one of the most toxic substances known to humanity. Despite this it is still in use industrially. Indeed, most modern day exposure to mercury comes from industrial pollution and dental amalgam fillings.

It is released from burning fossil fuels, coal combustors, lead smelters and chlorine producers as well as being used in the paint, pesticide, gold mining and electrical industries (in the latter it is utilised in the production of thermometers, barometers, fluorescent tubes and alkaline batteries). The knock on effect of this continual spewing out of mercury into the environment has been increased contamination of our oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.

Methylmercury is formed when mercury settles in the sediments of the Earth's water systems, where it combines with methogenic bacteria to produce a new type of mercury that binds to protein in the small fish that eat the methylmercury-tainted plants. The concentration of methylmercury increases the further it travels up the food chain, thus the larger the fish the higher the risk of pollution.

Fish consumption has risen dramatically in recent years due to widespread media coverage of its health benefits, in particular the high concentration of low saturated fatty acids on offer. Thus, it is paramount that the fish consumed come from the cleanest waters possible - not an easy task in these environmentally polluted times. The governments of the world should be lobbied continuously in a bid to curtail manufacturing plants from dumping mercury and other toxic wastes into our waters before it is too late!

The dental amalgam debate - something to chew over

The debate still rages as to the safety of amalgam dental fillings. According to the World Health Organisation these so-called 'silver fillings' are a major source of mercury exposure. They have already been banned in countries such as Sweden, Germany and Denmark, and an increasing number of dental surgeons in other countries are now turning to mercury-free alternatives.

Amalgam dental fillings are comprised of at least 50% mercury, 35% silver, 13-9% tin and 6%-2% copper, with a trace of zinc thrown in for good measure. The mercury releases vapour on a daily basis, the amount increasing the more we chew, brush our teeth or eat hot/acidic/salty food.

This chronic exposure to mercury has been linked to various degenerative and autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis and lupus erythematosis. Mercury is a cumulative poison and particularly affects the brain and nervous system.

Symptoms of mercury poisoning are all encompassing, ranging from neurological complaints (headaches, dizziness, tremors, etc.) and inflammatory/immunological conditions. (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, allergies, asthma, etc.) to psychological disorders (memory loss, mood swings, anxiety, depression, mental confusion, etc.), gastrointestinal problems (diarrhoea, constipation, IBS, etc.) and so on.

Mercury does not show up in urine or blood samples. However, hair analysis will detect toxic levels of mercury. A sample of the hair can be sent by post to one of the many laboratories that specialise in such matters. It is best to use a laboratory that has been recommended by your healthcare professional.

Treatment strategies

Nutritional supplements can be used to leech out mercury and other toxic heavy metal. This process is known as chelation therapy, whereby a chelating agent specific to the metal involved attaches itself to the offending article and then removes it from the bloodstream. Sodium alginate (found in seaweed), apple pectin and Vitamin C are excellent natural chelators.

Calcium, magnesium, zinc and selenium may be used to neutralise the effect of mercury, or prevent its uptake in the first place. Supplements such as glutathione, L-methionine, L-cysteine and garlic can be used to detoxify the body.

These days there also a number of supplements on the market especially designed to rid the body of heavy metals. They contain a variety of ingredients including the above. The ideal diet should be organic, with plenty of fibre and distilled water to enable proper elimination of toxins.

Sulphur-containing foods such as onions and beans are recommended to protect the body against poisonous substances. If dental fillings are the cause of mercury toxicity it is advisable to have them removed by a dentist who advocates the amalgam-free approach.


Other weird 'n wonderful facts:

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome



Yummy Mummy!



This is a file from the Wikimedia Commons.

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