Mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals have a high affinity for sulfhydryl (-SH) groups, inactivating numerous enzymatic reactions, amino acids, and sulfur-containing antioxidants (NAC, ALA, GSH), with subsequent decreased oxidant defense and increased oxidative stress. Both bind to metallothionein and substitute for zinc, copper, and other trace metals reducing the effectiveness of metalloenzymes. Mercury induces mitochondrial dysfunction with reduction in ATP, depletion of glutathione, and increased lipid peroxidation; increased oxidative stress is common.
Selenium antagonizes mercury toxicity. The overall vascular effects of mercury include oxidative stress, inflammation, thrombosis, vascular smooth muscle dysfunction, endothelial dysfunction, dyslipidemia, immune dysfunction, and mitochondrial dysfunction. The clinical consequences of mercury toxicity include hypertension, CHD, MI, increased carotid IMT and obstruction, CVA, generalized atherosclerosis, and renal dysfunction with proteinuria.
Pathological, biochemical, and functional medicine correlations are significant and logical. Mercury diminishes the protective effect of fish and omega-3 fatty acids. Mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals inactivate COMT, which increases serum and urinary epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
This effect will increase blood pressure and may be a clinical clue to heavy metal toxicity. Cadmium concentrates in the kidney, particularly inducing proteinuria and renal dysfunction; it is associated with hypertension, but less so with CHD. Renal cadmium reduces CYP4A11 and PPARs, which may be related to hypertension, sodium retention, glucose intolerance, dyslipidemia, and zinc deficiency. Dietary calcium may mitigate some of the toxicity of cadmium.
Heavy metal toxicity, especially mercury and cadmium, should be evaluated in any patient with hypertension, CHD, or other vascular disease. Specific testing for acute and chronic toxicity and total body burden using hair, toenail, urine, serum, etc. with baseline and provoked evaluation should be done.