Richard G. Petty, MD

Alzheimer’s: “A Disease of Civilization?”

I have had the pleasure of receiving some excellent comments after the recent article about Alzheimer’s disease.

One suggestion was that Alzheimer’s is a modern illness caused by mercury in dental fillings. This has been a popular idea for several years, and I knew an holistic dentist in Philadelphia who told me about some people who seemed to be relieved of an array of symptoms after their mercury-containing fillings were removed.

Over the last few years I have spent a long time reading books on the topics and analyzing published studies in detail.

These are some of the books with which I started:

  1. Warren T. Beating Alzheimer’s: A Step Towards Unlocking the Mysteries of Brain Diseases. Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing Group Inc., 1991.
  2. Huggins HA. It’s All in Your Head: The Link Between Mercury Amalgams and Illness. Garden City Park, New York: Avery Publishing Group Inc., 1993.
  3. Walker M, Whitaker J. Elements of Danger: Protect Yourself Against the Hazards of Modern Dentistry. Charlottesville, Virginia: Hampton Roads Publishing Company Inc., 2000.
  4. Hardy JE. Mercury Free: The Wisdom Behind the Global Consumer Movement to Ban "Silver" Dental Fillings Glassboro, New Jersey: Gabriel Rose Press Inc., 1996.

One of the best resources that I’ve found for people interested in the potential problems that may be caused by dental amalgams is here.

Clearly there is a potential for harm. At one time I considered having my fillings removed, but in the end I didn’t.

Why did I make that decision?

After all, mercury is neurotoxic, which is one of the reasons for all the concern about thimerosal in vaccines, and its alleged link to autism. And I would prefer to avoid getting Alzheimer’s disease. I have no family history of it. In fact the opposite: my father was estimated to have an IQ in the 170-180 range when he was in his nineties. But it is still a concern.

While some people seem to have benefited form having their fillings removed, many have not. So there must be some other factor or factors, likely including a genetic predisposition. People have created genetically deformed animals with all the signs of Alzheimer’s disease, but without a molecule of mercury in sight.

It is constantly being said that Alzheimer’s disease is a modern illness, and that its appearance roughly coincided with the introduction of mercury fillings. But that’s not true. Alois Alzheimer did describe the classic pathological signs of the disease in 1906. It was only made possible by the development of a new silver staining method developed by Alzheimer’s colleague Franz Nissl. For the first 70 years after it was first described, Alzheimer’s disease was regarded as a “Pre-senile” dementia.

But dementia had been described at least two thousand years earlier by Lucretius.

Some of those early descriptions probably included a ragbag of different illnesses, but for at least 2,000 years, from Rome to China, there were clear descriptions of something that looks just like modern Alzheimer’s disease. There are descriptions by the great English physician Thomas Willis, and the term “demented” entered the English language in 1644. There was a famous description of Sir John Roberts of Bromley, who was described by his physician, William Salmon as “decayed in his intellectuals.” That was in 1694.

There are extensive descriptions of “senile dementia” from many of the famous names in the history of psychiatry, including Cullen, Pinel and Esquirol. So the idea that it is a modern illness is not correct. Has it been becoming more common? Possibly, but it is difficult to say, because in 1905 the average life expectancy in the United States was 47 years.

When I really started analyzing the research in detail, I was not impressed by the data linking mercury with Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis. There are definitely some reports (1.2.) of possible links between neurodegeneration and mercury, but the most recent epidemiological studies have failed to find a link. Indeed there has been a great deal of research indicating that – for most people – amalgams are safe. ( 1. 2. 3. 4.) although it is important that the research should continue. Last year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel called for an additional review of scientific studies on the safety of dental amalgam fillings. Some of the responses are here.

My own take on this is as follows:

  1. The evidence for a causal link between mercury – primarily from fillings – and Alzheimer’s disease is thin.
  2. The quality of the evidence for many other conditions, such as multiple sclerosis is also not of good quality.
  3. There is still a great deal that we do not know about the medical consequences of mercury containing amalgams, particularly in children and pregnant women.
  4. I am going to continue to update this information as more data is published.

At the moment I still have my fillings.

But there is another reason: the few that I have were done in England, and for years now there have been restrictions on the use of mercury-containing amalgams.

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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