Mercury Poisoning

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And My Amazon Journey To Restored Health

Nothing can convert you into an environmentalist and champion of alternative medicine faster than your own brush with severe illness. In my case, a journey that began with working in a mercury-contaminated area of the Amazon has taught me a lot about the connection between human health and environmental pollution, the social and economic effects of illegal gold mining, and the devastating effects that this can have on the local population.

I will try to keep this story as personal as possible and I  will share some of my resources and methods used to recover from mercury poisoning. But in no way do I claim to operate as a health practitioner or advisor; this is strictly my own personal story and experience.

When I first moved to Puerto Maldonado, Peru to begin construction on a new retreat centre called Canto Luz[1], I had not yet heard of the devastating effects of the gold mining that is happening in the region.

A vegetarian at the time, I quickly realized that living in a small jungle town in the remote region of Madre de Dios, Peru, without access to my own kitchen, meant that my only available food would be restaurant rice and potatoes. So I decided to add fish to my diet. There are so many amazing Peruvian fish dishes – sudado, patarashka, ceviche – and the Amazon rivers are full of delicious fresh fish – paco, dorado, paiche, doncella. It all sounded so good that I went ahead and ate fish on a regular basis (ie. every time I left the forest to go to town, which was at least every three to four days). That continued for a period of between six and eight months.

What I didn’t know was that nine out of the 15 fish species most widely consumed in the region carry extremely high levels of mercury, a heavy metal that is being dumped into the local ecosystem as a result of the mostly illegal and ongoing artisanal gold mining activity.

If you have ever been to Puerto Maldonado[2], then you know that it is impossible to spend more than a week in the city without seeing gold miners and all of the equipment related to their activity. In addition, there are gold-buying shops everywhere around the city, as well as stores selling the equipment necessary for mining – giant tubes and diesel water pumps. There are also makeshift sludge sifters set up all along the river Madre de Dios, even though the biggest mining regions such as la Pampa or Huayepetue are far away from the city.

As reported in a National Geographic blog by Ed Yong, posted on October 28, 2013 and titled, ‘Gold Mining in Peru is Much Worse Than Anyone Thought’: “The small mines look like deep pits in forest clearings, up to 10 metres deep with debris and mud at the bottom. The miners cut down a small stand of trees, dig away the top layers of soil, and blast away at what remains with high-pressured water. They transfer the resulting slurry into an oil drum and add mercury…. the mercury binds to any gold in the mud, which the miners filter out with a pan. The nuggets are dried and heated, which releases even more mercury into the air as a vapour.”[3]

From Out There to In Here

As my awareness of the potential health hazards of local mining operations grew, I started paying more attention, and began doing some research online. The first article that really sparked my concern was one about the Carnegie Institute Mercury Research Project. The article, ‘Tracing Toxins’, written by Lauren Hanson, details the ways in which mercury is a pollutant that damages both our health and the environment. Hanson writes, “Madre de Dios, a highly biodiverse region in the Peruvian Amazon, is home to a highly active illegal and informal gold mining sector that releases large amounts of mercury into the environment. The Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project (CAMEP) conducts rigorous, policy-relevant research to improve understanding around how mercury from artisanal gold mining is affecting ecosystems and human populations in Madre de Dios.”[4]

By the summer of 2014, I had been eating fish three or four times a week for six to eight months and I was definitely starting to feel that something was wrong with me. I felt very moody and was often depressed, in spite of the fact that my life was pretty awesome at that time. I had very little energy and often had a hard time completing the work tasks of the day; ‘reactive’ and ‘overly-sensitive’ would be the words to aptly describe me and my condition. I suspected heavy metal contamination.

Fortunately, at around that time a friend of mine was returning home to Canada from Canto Luz. Upon my request, he took a sample of my hair to have a Hair Mineral Analysis test done through CanAlt Labs in Ontario, Canada.[11] The lab results that CanAlt emailed back to me were shocking – they revealed 9.35ug/g of mercury concentration (with 1ug/g being considered “within acceptable range”). In my search for the source of mercury contamination, I also sent samples of the Canto Luz ground water for testing at the Canadian lab (and got clean results!). Next, I had several of the Canto Luz employees tested – and even a cat – to determine whether it was safe to be living where we were. After the test results were analyzed, it was determined that the source of contamination was the fish and that, “as long as fish is not consumed, everyone will be safe and healthy.”

After doing more online research I realized that, at these levels of mercury toxicity, I was at risk of fetal brain development complications if I were pregnant, and/or Alzheimer’s and Parkinson disease for myself later on; I won’t even mention the potential for kidney, liver, and other organ damage.

The more I looked around, the more I could see it happening all around me; there is absolutely no awareness of the danger of mercury poisoning amongst the population in the Madre de Dios region. A flat-out denial of reality is often the chosen response, since gold mining is a significant income provider in the otherwise cash-poor region. Even armed with full knowledge of the health risks, local communities don’t have many opportunities to avoid eating the contaminated fish or consuming the contaminated river water. We are talking here about riverside indigenous and Mestizo communities, whose staple foods are river catch, wild game, and small crops of yucca and plantain.

Soon after meeting Claudio, one of the first employees of Canto Luz, I was introduced to the youngest of his four children, his three-year-old son, Shosho. The boy was very little and he hid behind his mother’s skirt, looking away from me. When I said ‘hello’ to the child, Claudio said, “Oh, Señora Mariya, he doesn’t speak yet, he is a little bit slow.” (‘Retrasado’ is the Spanish word Claudio used.)[5]

This turned out to be a common story that I heard time after time when meeting local young mothers with their toddlers. Here are just some of the striking facts:

• Eight out of ten people in the Madre de Dios region have levels of mercury elevated between five and 500 times the norm. The most vulnerable people, women of childbearing age, show the highest average mercury levels.
• An estimated 42 tons of mercury are dumped into the aquifer each year by approximately 30,000(!!!) artisanal gold miners working in the area.
• 60% of the species of fish sold in Puerto Maldonado have mercury levels that exceed international mercury concentration limits for fish.
• In 2010, Peru’s former Minister of the Environment, Antonio Brack Egg, estimated that miners had already cut down over 370,000 acres of forest. By now (2015), this number has grown exponentially.
• The pop-up mining towns are self-governed outlaw territories where police don’t set foot. Justice for thieves, or anyone who might even be suspected of theft, is often performed in the most brutal and murderous manner in order to set an example for the entire community.
• Every mining settlement is surrounded by makeshift brothels where girls, often as young as 13 years of age, work in deplorable conditions. Some of them arrive on their own from other regions of Peru, usually without the knowledge of their families, but some young girls from indigenous communities are, in one way or another, forced to work by the people running these “night clubs”.[6],[7]

The deeper I delved into the hair-raising and unsavoury facts of the situation, the more I discovered.

Getting the Mercury Out

As stated earlier, the environmental disaster brought by gold mining struck closer to home in the summer of 2014 – the matter became a very personal issue, a battle for my own health. I knew I had to get the high levels of mercury out of my blood and tissues, and fast. Luckily, I had a good network of support from people close to me – people who were knowledgeable nutritionists, alternative medicine practitioners, and genuinely interested, inquisitive folks. After a lot of online research and quite a few trials and errors, I designed my own do-it-yourself detox chelation protocol which I followed for a year, on and off.

Overall, I used five boxes of Medicardium EDTA chelation suppositories, one box of Glytamins, and one box of Xeneplex: Medicardium is a chelation agent that binds to heavy metals; Glytamin is a liver/kidney/gallbladder support formula; and Xeneplex is a coffee enema suppository.[8] I purchased the products through Peak Health’s U.S. website[9] and I took all three products on a daily rotation (i.e. one day I took Medicardium, the next Glytamin, and the next Xeneplex). In addition, my daily regimen included:

• One full dropper of cilantro tincture, followed 20 minutes later by….
• 15 to 20 grams of chlorella (mixed into my daily smoothie that always contained healthy whey);
• 3 to 4 brazil nuts (source of selenium);
• other immune boosting foods and antioxidants such as wild blueberries, sea buckthorn oil, pine bark extract, ashwagandha, chia seed (the high fibre content of which helped to get all that stuff moving through my intestines);
• I added a trace mineral supplement to replace the minerals that were being flushed out by the heavy metal chelation protocol (Thorne Citramins II citrate minerals were my choice).
• I also took a daily multivitamin with the full spectrum of B vitamins, and Probiotics.
• Exercise and sauna for regular detox also helped.

After implementing the detox protocol, I started noticing improvements right off the bat. However, completing the whole process, in a slow and fully integrated and supported manner, took an entire year.

Recently, I received my new test results[10] and saw the proof that my efforts were not in vain. What a relief! My mercury levels were reduced from a whopping 9.35 ug/g down to 0.7 ug/g (ug/g def’n: Microgram/Gram).

Now, looking back over the past year, the question is: what has this experience brought into my life?

I have become a fervent speaker on the subject of mercury contamination, and the dangers of illegal gold mining in Peru. I have shared this information personally with our retreat guests who can witness and connect to the beauty of the Amazon that is being destroyed; and who watch as people are literally dying for gold.

The medicine work that we do at Canto Luz is helping to awaken humanity, and to open people’s eyes to the atrocities we are collectively imposing on nature, the ecosystem of which we are a part, in our greed for power (money and gold being attributes of this power).

I now have my personal, physical, and mental health back on track. I have learned what my body and my soul need in order to thrive. I try to motivate and encourage everyone I meet on my path to invest in themselves, and to be the highest manifestation of their spirit’s creation.

I have begun a regular exercise practice that includes yoga, complex movements, and kettle bell strength-training; I want my body to last me well into old age so that I can continue to work, create, and share my energy.

Canto Luz continues to promote more sustainable economic activities in the region (such as the Brazil nut harvest and product development).

We continue to physically remove gold miners from Canto Luz land, and are in ongoing legal battles in our fight to hold onto our 1500 acres of land, which we are determined to protect from deforestation and contamination.

Canto Luz has formed alliances with neighbouring landowners in order to collectively strengthen land management and reduce invasions by miners.

If you are reading this, you might know me personally. You may have been following my blog posts online, or maybe I am a friend of a friend. In any case, I am a real person that you may have a connection with; I am not a far-removed symbol of third world starvation and destruction.

I could be you. Canadian Tar Sands could be your Amazon. RoundUp could be your mercury. Wake up!

Editor’s note

If you’re wondering why we chose to publish an article on the heavy metal contamination of a faraway place like the Amazon, it’s because mercury is everywhere (including Canada). According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are many sources of mercury in the environment. The primary human-related sources include: coal combustion, chlorine alkali processing, waste incineration, and metal processing. Best estimates to date suggest that human activities have about doubled or tripled the amount of mercury in the atmosphere, and the atmospheric burden is increasing by about 1.5 percent per year.

Furthermore, there remains the issue of mercury preservatives used in influenza vaccines, and the question of whether this has a connection to the rise in childhood autism.

To learn more, see Helke Ferrie’s feature, posted at:


[1] Canto Luz:
[2] Puerto Maldonado:
[3] Gold Mining in Peru:
[4] Carnegie Amazon Mercury Project:
[5] Children in Madre de Dios:
[6] Unregulated Goldmine, Lima:
[7] Peru’s New Cocaine:
[8] Medicardium/Glytamin/Xeneplex:
[9] Peak Health:
[10] My Toxins Test Results:
[11] CanAlt Labs, Ontario: (CanAlt Labs provides hair sample testing to the public. Water sample testing is also available to accredited practitioners only. Call 1-877-900-8008)

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