In its pure form and at room temperature, mercury is a liquid metal, also called quicksilver. The liquid metal has been in use for many years in thermometers, barometers and switches. It is sometimes used in the extraction of gold. However, the mercury that ends up in human body comes in many forms including gaseous metal and methyl mercury. As a mineral, many times, mercury is found in combination with coal. For this reason, most mercury poisoning comes from methyl mercury discharged into the environment from industries, especially coal-powered power plants.

This and other mercury compounds also find their way into water bodies, land and eventually in fish and other foods. Mercury can therefore get into the human body through air, water and food.

Studies indicate that most human beings are exposed to mercury, although it is not required for any known functions. Mercury has adverse effects on the nervous system and various hormones including testosterone and thyroid.

But how does mercury decrease testosterone levels?

We will look at that; but first, let us explore mercury poisoning a little more.

Who is most likely to get mercury in the body

People who work in industries where mercury is produced especially as a waste product are at high risk of mercury poisoning. These people include coal power plant workers. But factory workers are not the only ones exposed to mercury poisoning. As a matter of fact, a majority of the population near coal power stations are likely to have mercury in their bodies.

It is worth to note that when mercury compounds are released into the atmosphere from coal plants and other industrial plants, it finds its way into rivers, lakes, oceans and land. From land, more mercury is leached into the water bodies, while some is absorbed by plants including food crops. A lot of the mercury therefore gets into fish and other foods.

For these reasons, while fish is a recommended healthy food that contains omega-3 fatty acids besides protein and other nutrients, when exposed to mercury, it becomes dangerous food. The same is true of other foods exposed to mercury poisoning.

Effects of mercury poisoning

With the rise of industrial processes, especially power production by coal powered stations, a lot of mercury has been fed into the environment. This has put us at higher risks of mercury poisoning from multiple sources including the air we breathe and the food we eat. Exposure to mercury can cause many health issues including headaches, mood swings, cognitive impairment and irritability. Long-term mercury poisoning can lead to more serious issues including respiratory failure and kidney malfunction, or even death.

But besides these obvious symptoms and results, mercury has other more subtle effects.

One study found that mercury reduces sperm count and immobilizes sperm. In the study, when sperms were exposed to mercury for 30 minutes, the sperm lost 95 percent of their mobility. Additionally, exposure to mercury caused reduction in sperm count and libido. Does this also mean that mercury decreases testosterone?

Studies indicate that this is the reality.

How does mercury affect testosterone?

A study found that mercury (methyl mercury) tends to accumulate in the brain, in the pituitary gland and in the testicles, within the Leydig cells where testosterone is produced. Being a known poison that plays no part in any body process, the presence of mercury in the testicles and the pituitary gland means that the health of these areas is compromised. And being part of the system that is involved in the production of testosterone, the mercury poisoning adversely affects this process.

Another study, involving 41 workers in a heavy metal industrial setting considered the effects of exposure to mercury on functions of the adrenal glands, thyroid and testes. The study found that factory workers who had higher exposure to mercury had lower thyroid and T levels.

In another study, one group of rats was given water contaminated with methyl mercury, while another group was given plain water for a period of eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, it was found that a significant drop in plasma testosterone levels had occurred in the first group. In addition, testosterone levels in the sperm-maturing seminiferous tubes within the testicles decreased by 55 percent.

Summary

From these studies, it is clear that exposure to mercury has adverse effects on the male endocrine system, and specifically on testosterone levels. And because the presence of mercury in the environment is real, it is imperative to avoid practices that put you at higher risk of exposure.

These include:

  • Limit fish consumption to a maximum of twice a week.
  • Opt for fish known to have low levels of mercury like trout, salmon, skipjack tuna and salmon.
  • Avoid amalgam dental fillings because these may contain mercury that may leach out into other parts of your body. Opt instead for other mercury-free types of filling.
  • Eat glutathione boosting foods
  • Glutathione is an antioxidant that helps in detoxifying the body. Glutathione-rich foods include fruits and vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, avocado, grapefruit and melon.

 

Resources

Ultrastructural demonstration of mercury in Sertoli and Leydig cells of the rat following methyl mercuric chloride or mercuric chloride treatment; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1807554

Effect of organic and inorganic mercury on human sperm motility; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1653954

Endocrine function in mercury exposed chloralkali workers; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1128033/

Accumulation of mercury and its effects on testicular functions in rats intoxicated orally by methylmercury; www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21219378