Mercury on the Mind – 1 (Retitle: Did the Dentist Alter Your Brain?)

In Thursday’s article related to brain injury and mercury, I see that some may have found the title derogatory towards dentists.  As someone who had braces in middle school and yearly gets regular checkups, I see the benefit of dentistry.  In addition, I understand that doctors and individuals recognize the benefit of treatment and care with mercury on certain conditions.  For these reasons, I have changed the title of this article.

Mercury Can Cause Brain Damage in Kids read the headline in the Huffington Post earlier this year.  Mercury (Hg) is a naturally-occurring, odorless silver metallic trace element that is liquid at room temperature.  It comes in three forms: elemental mercury, which is the form of mercury found on in teeth fillings, inorganic mercury, and methylmercury, also known as organic mercury found in such things as fish.  Its safety has long been disputed.  For example, while many people have amalgam teeth fillings that contain mercury, batteries, which are filled with mercury, are known to be unsafe. In medicine, it has been used as a purgative, disinfectant, astringent and particular as an antisyphilitics treatment.

Mercury is a neurotoxin.  Ingestion, absorption and fume inhalation of mercury can cause mercury poisoning.  The complications of mercury poisoning are numerous and can happen to people of all ages: weakness, fatigue, headaches, lower back pain, ataxia, slurred speech, tremor, somnolence, and mental disturbances, such as hallucinations and psychosis.  In fetuses and young children, Hg exposure, “may delay developmental milestones,” the NIH found 20 years ago.  For these reasons, mercury has been named one of the ten chemicals of major public health concern by the World Health Organization.  Additionally, its application in medical/dental care and in such products as fertilizers and pesticides has been lessening through the years.  One of the concerns scientists and people, in general, have with consumption of tap water is the possible additional consumption of mercury.

This year, the above-mentioned Huffington Post headline continues: Mercury Can Cause Brain Damage in Kids, the EPA Wants to Weaken Rules On Its Emissions.  The article’s title relates specifically to a legal proposal the Environmental Protection Agency sent to the White House that they say would hobble the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) rule.  It specifically refers to the mercury emitted in the production of coal.  (However, the article’s title simplifies the action they are requesting, in a negative manner.  The proposal wants to eliminate co-benefits, in order to save the coal industry billions.)  A win for the coal industry, the article continues, as power plants are the nation’s biggest emitter of mercury.  If the proposal is enacted, there will be additional health costs for the public.  While the financial burden to the public is much less than the current cost of implementation of the rule for the coal industry, is the outcome more important?

I see no legislative follow-up on the proposal.  Additionally, on the EPA webpage dedicated to MATS, it still states that the ruling has prevented thousands of premature deaths a year and has many health benefits, which seems to imply that the basic standards have stayed the same.  However, if the rules regarding mercury are lessened, critics call it a win for the coal industry, as MATS specifically sets limits on the amount of mercury, and other toxins, allowed in coal-fired power plants.

First Snowfall Peril on the Roads

Last week, much of the eastern United States (Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. Vermont, New Hampshire) experienced its first snowfall of the year.  Given that winter does not officially begin until December 21, this snowfall was much earlier than expected, just as in March there was snow into the spring.  Because of governmental unpreparedness, states’ transportation systems became essentially paralyzed.  In my state of New Jersey, lack of governmental preparation meant that a trip that should have taken me 20 minutes, took 12 hours.  The government seems not to have been much involved at all, as it was fellow citizens who distributed water and snacks to others and offered their cell phones for use to those in need.

Ambulances, though, were present.  Unfortunately, as it was almost impossible to move one’s car, the ability for ambulances to get through traffic was difficult.  For those who sustained an injury during a snowfall-related accident, I can only imagine how horrific that must have been.  For those who live with brain injuries and were driving or were passengers in a car, the concern was great – would lack of medication result in negative outcomes, would fatigue overcome, etc.?

In 2005, the NIH reported, “To date, only 2 previous studies have examined the effects of the first snowfall of the season,” on collisions, injuries and fatalities.  Research shows that since that time, that number does not seem to have greatly increased.  However, all agree that the first snowfall of the year is substantially more dangerous.

Today, Thanksgiving, while snow may not be in the forecast, “The coldest Thanksgiving in over a century for millions plus traffic troubles,” is anticipated.  Typically, studies and articles that focus on driving difficulties during the holidays address the effects of driving under the influence of alcohol.  Add to that the hazardous effects of snowfall and the risk becomes even greater.

The Big Battle in the Brain

Just as a hematoma is the body’s response to a bump, so does the brain inflame following a TBI.  The cells that cause this inflammation of the nervous system are known as microglia, the brain’s innate immune cells.  The NIH already recognizes, “Innate immune cells clearly play a role in the etiology and disease course of… traumatic brain injury.”  Beyond that though, they say little, as the NIH states that the role of immune cells in brain injury is a “young field”.

The only information I could find on the NIH site related to inflammation and brain injury before 2018 presented disheartening results – “neuroinflammation may contribute to neurodegeneration” and “anti-inflammatory drugs shortly after TBI didn’t help.”  This information, though, comes from NIH findings in 2016.  As this has been a mostly unexplored area of study, it is not a surprise to find new studies that have results that conflict with these earlier findings.  For example, this past October, it was found by professors at the Australian National University and RMIT that seaweed sugar allows the immune system to turn on and off and, therefore, may help recovery from a brain injury.

As those in Australia were having their SUSHI and seaweed salad, in the United States, the Ohio State University published the results of their study: Traumatic brain injury-induced neuronal damage in the somatosensory cortex causes formation of rod-shaped microglia that promote astrogliosis and persistent neuroinflammation.  Specifically, this study focused on the, “formation of rod microglia in cerebral cortex.”  These rod formations that cause the inflammation further harm brain health and become a secondary injury.  As the study states, this secondary injury can persist by as much as a decade or more.  The OSU researchers looked for a drug to rid the brain of or block the activity of microglia.  A drug was found that rid the brain of microglia in mice.  Unfortunately, there is no drug for humans, as of yet.  Scientists at OSU, though, have hope and say, “Understanding the microglial response and relationship to neuronal injury is vital.”

November 11th – Veterans Day

November 11 is a day to celebrate and honor the millions of Americans, of all races and genders, who served this country with honor as veterans of the US military – today is Veterans Day!  It is time to recognize the veterans who are living with the “signature wound” of more recent wars: traumatic brain injury and often the co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder.  These men and women fight on the battlefield for the citizens of the United States and now fight for their health and/or equality back at home.  (Visit the articles links or click the Government/Military link on the right side of this page to find more information about veterans and TBI.)

Originally published: November 11, 2017

International Support for Brain Injury “Research, Treatment and Care”

Brain injury is not just a traumatic issue that affects people in the United States, it is a global epidemic.  For that reason, the Unites States National Institute of Health has been partnering with the European Commission (EC) and the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) since 2011, “to advance clinical traumatic brain injury (TBI) research, treatment and care.”  Specifically, the EC and the NIH brought together politicians, scientists, and others, from the European Union, United States, Canada, China, and Australia in Brussels in October 2011 to discuss joining forces.  Ultimately, the EC, the CIHR and the NIH joined together, “to coordinate and leverage clinical research activities on traumatic brain injury research” and created the International Initiative for Traumatic Brain Injury Research (InTBIR).  Even though well-over 100 studies related to brain injury are completed in America every year, more than 100 people die of brain injury every day and over 2 million brain injuries occur in the U.S. every year.  The three who formed the InTBIR saw the definite benefit of being connected to additional research and other resources.  To this end, many of the links found on various posts on this blog have directed you to research done in Europe or in Canada, as well as links to American research.