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More on Mercury

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I was surprised and disturbed by your answer to the woman who asked about mercury in vaccinations. There is actually a strong correlation drawn through research between thimerosal and autism. Recent research shows that certain children cannot excrete the mercury. That aside, I could accept your statement that you are unconvinced. However, to say that you are unconvinced of mercury causing any neurological symptoms is a surprisingly unenlightened statement, particularly for a medical professional. Mercury has been known as a neurotoxin for more than 150 years.

Dr. Marc regularly answers readers' questions on matters relating to medicine, healthcare and politics. To send a query, click here.

About the Author

Dr. Marc Siegel
Dr. Marc Siegel is a practicing internist and an associate professor of medicine and a fellow in the Master Scholars...

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The city lacks the resources to address its residents' urgent mental health needs.

The United States has fueled a worldwide overreaction to the threat of a bird
flu pandemic, putting AIDS, malaria, malnutrition and other crucial
global health programs at risk.

I find your remarks particularly interesting in light of all the news on mercury in the environment--in which absolutely no one disputes that mercury is a known neurotoxin. Whether thimerosal is the sole cause of autism remains to be seen, but after reading most of the research on the subject, I can tell you it definitely plays a role.

You should also be cautious about reassuring people about its removal from vaccines. The push to remove thimerosal was purely voluntary, and no vaccines were recalled, which means they are still being administered in many offices because they do not expire until late this year. Furthermore, a recent random study of vaccines from four companies (two of which were billed as mercury free) showed mercury still existed in all shots tested.

I implore you to take a more active role in reading the research, because each person you falsely reassure becomes a potential victim of mercury poisoning.

SUSAN PREMO

Dear Susan,

I appreciate your comment, and I have reviewed the literature fairly extensively for my upcoming book, False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear. But what I found does not show a convincing proven cause/effect relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism in humans. I am not saying that mercury is not a neurotoxin--of course it is. And I am not saying that thimerosal shouldn't have been removed from vaccines at the first sign of any association with neural irritability--even in mice. It should have been removed long ago.

But saying that an unnecessary additive should be removed and saying that it is directly causing autism are far different things. If we are to have credibility as critics of drug company carelessness and callousness, we cannot blur our categories, using toxic doses of mercury as a synonym for thimerosal, when two large scientific trials did not show an association with thimerosal and autism in humans. Do we need more large studies on the effects and side effects of vaccines and additives such as thimerosal? Of course we do. But jumping to conclusions prematurely means scaring the public unnecessarily and is not the same thing as justifying careless vaccine-making.


Is anything being done about the mercury in the seafood we consume? Isn't the government spending tax dollars to make sure our waters aren't polluted? If the agency that is responsible for clean water is not doing its job, shouldn't the consumption of fish be banned the same as eating beef would be if mad cow disease broke out?

DIANE ALLRED
Olalla, Wash.

I do believe that increasing mercury in our waters is problematic and tied to pollution. And I think that children and pregnant women especially should eat only certain kinds of fish and limit quantities. But mercury isn't the only problem with water pollution, just as mad cow, a rare disease, is more of a signal of improper beef scrutiny than the major problem or risk (that would be salmonella).


About a year ago, I had a spontaneous fracture (I have osteoporosis) in my lower back. Since then I have had a great deal of pain walking and standing but am comfortable sitting and lying down. My MRI showed scoliosis, stenosis, compression of the spine and osteoporosis. I am 88 years old, I was always very active and I miss exercising. Oddly enough, my doctor advised me not to walk on a treadmill, even though doing so does not give me pain. Do you agree with that advice?

JUDITH KANE

Dear Judith,

A down-the-middle medical question for the politico Dr. Marc. The doctor may be right in that the spinal compression could be made worse and the bones may not take the pounding even if you're not experiencing pain directly. But exercise is important at any age, and if you can't replace the treadmill with an easier-on-the-back exercise such as swimming, perhaps you and your doctor can reach a compromise, like long-strided walking without too much bouncing. I admire your energy and will. Finally, I hope your treadmill comes from a company that supports environmental protection. Otherwise, how about walking on soft grass outside your home?


I just saw you on TV talking about the dangers of ephedra, and you said if it is available and abused it could be dangerous. The same can be said about Pseudophed, No-Doz or a host of other medications. Ephedra has been used safely in China for more than 2,000 years. It is an herb, and like most things in life it has the ability to be misused or used responsibly. Cigarettes are legal and we know they are extremely dangerous, yet the FDA allows them to be sold. There is no difference!

JOEL SAEKS

Dear Joel,

I agree with you in part. Pseudophed (similar to ephedra), No-Doz and cigarettes can be quite dangerous if abused. But this fact is hardly a justification for letting another such product back on the market. In fact, a study in a major medical journal has shown that more than 75 percent of the side effects coming from herbs are from ephedra. I know it has been used for thousands of years in China, but I don't have information on how safely. The problems in the United States come from overusing, using combined with physical exercise, exposure to heat or dehydration, and mixing with coffee and other stimulants. I believe the substance has enough active metabolites to be used only under a physician's guidance.


I recently heard you speak about TTP on Fox News. It was very concerning to hear you misrepresent it. I was diagnosed with TTP at age 25, four years ago. I have not gone longer than two months without plasmapheresis since the day I was diagnosed. There are many of us out there who have continued relapses or never find remission. TTP is an incredibly serious, life-threatening disease. I have had permanent kidney damage and high blood pressure from the original onset. I am also not able to have children now. It is hard to be in my shoes and hear you suggest that TTP is curable and not a serious disease. I guess the next time you talk about a disease, please take into account the experiences of the patients and their families.

LISA
Bellingham, WA

Dear Lisa,

In 90 percent of cases, TTP--a blood-clotting abnormality that affects the kidneys, brain and blood--responds to initial treatment with plasma exchange and doesn't recur. But the correct term for this is still remission and not cure. If the cut and splice of the tape presented my opinion in a different way, I apologize.

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