Jack, 34, had just earned his law degree and gotten married. He was struggling, however, with erectile dysfunction, which was eroding his self-esteem and sense of masculinity. Jack tried Viagra and various herbs, but to no avail. Desperate, Jack visited an alternative M.D., who ran some tests, found elevated levels of lead and mercury, and placed Jack on chelation therapy. Chelation therapy involves injections of chelating agents that bind with heavy metals in an attempt to remove them from the body.
Immediately after beginning the therapy, Jack developed muscle wasting, loss of mental function, and general weakness. His health deteriorated to the point he needed a cane to walk. After several weeks Jack discontinued chelation therapy. He regained function and was able to walk again without a cane. He then saw a neurologist, who performed a five-minute exam and sent him for a brain MRI, which came back normal. The neurologist concluded Jack was suffering from stress and needed to learn how to relax.
Because I had worked with some of Jack’s family members, they referred him to me. His history revealed that in addition to erectile dysfunction, Jack experienced episodes of numbness in his face and legs. He was unable to feel parts of his arms, legs, and face when I stroked his skin with a metal pinwheel. When I scraped the bottom of his feet, he demonstrated what is called an “extensor toe sign”—a reflex in which the big toe extends. This is an abnormal reflex that potentially indicates a lesion in the spinal cord or brain. I also found what are called “dysconjugate eye movements with saccades,” which means when he looked quickly to a target his eyes would not move together as they should.
Jack may have had a normal MRI, but his exam findings indicated a possible brain injury. It is important to remember that in early or mild cases of neuron damage, MRI scans are normal. I ordered blood tests to evaluate Jack for antibodies to neurological tissue and environmental chemicals. His lab tests showed elevated antibodies to nerve sheaths, called “myelin,” and elevated antibodies to mercury. It appeared Jack was suffering from neurological autoimmunity triggered by mercury. In other words, his immune system was attacking the mercury in his body and, as a consequence, his own nerve sheaths.
Myelin nerve sheaths protect and facilitate communication between neurons. When nerve sheaths are destroyed, nerve communication is lost and the brain cannot function normally. These findings perhaps explained why chelation therapy caused Jack to fall apart. Chelating agents pull heavy metals from tissues and into the bloodstream, heightening their exposure to the immune system. Jack’s immune system was most likely already overreacting to mercury, triggering his autoimmunity and his symptoms. Chelation simply intensified the reaction by pulling more mercury into the bloodstream. Had these mercury-induced autoimmune attacks continued, Jack most likely would have developed multiple sclerosis or some other type of demyelinating disease.
Jack had lost “chemical tolerance,” as evidenced by elevated antibodies to mercury. When you have chemical tolerance it means your immune system does not react to environmental toxins in our everyday world, such as in cleaners, car exhaust, gas fumes, pesticides, paints, plastics, and body products. We all have toxins and heavy metals in our bodies, but if your immune system reacts to them it means you have lost chemical tolerance. Chelation therapy can exacerbate this reaction and the autoimmunity triggered by it, and it is not recommended for those who have lost chemical tolerance.
In Jack’s case, we improved his chemical tolerance by supporting his blood-brain and intestinal barriers with the various supplements listed in previous chapters. I supported his regulatory T-cells with high doses of vitamin D and put him on compounds that support glutathione activity. Glutathione helps safely clear environmental compounds from the body while dampening the overzealous immune response. I also supported his liver detoxification pathways and had him follow a diet and lifestyle to address his loss of chemical tolerance.
Many of Jack’s symptoms began to improve during the next few months, including his erectile dysfunction, which was most likely caused by damage to the nerves used for an erection. He still struggles with autoimmune flare-ups from time to time, but overall he has learned how to control the episodes and improve his quality of life.
Both the conventional and alternative health care systems often overlook the issues Jack faced, but they are critical if a person is losing nervous system function due to environmental toxins. We are all exposed to high levels of environmental toxins and pollutants daily, but not all of us react to them adversely. In this chapter we will review the concepts of immune chemical tolerance, liver metabolism of chemicals, and how they relate to the health of your brain and nervous system.
Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS