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What is the Quicksilver Mercury Tri-Test?

It is the only clinical test that utilises mercury speciation analysis, a patented advanced technology that separates methyl mercury (MeHg) from inorganic mercury (HgII) and measures each directly.  Quicksilver Scientific’s instruments are sensitive enough to measure ambient mercury levels in the body WITHOUT THE NEED FOR CHALLENGE TESTING.  This laboratory test provides unprecedented information for the healthcare practitioner, allowing them to assess the patient’s exposure sources, body burden and ability to excrete each form of mercury.  This detailed information helps build an informed picture and allows the clinician to plan an objective protocol for successful detoxification of the patient.

What about Mercury Challenge Testing?

For over two decades now, many clinical metals toxicologists have been relying on “challenge tests”, also called provocation tests, to diagnose mercury and other metal toxicities.  Sensitivity of analytical equipment then were not advanced enough to measure ambient (steady state) blood mercury levels.  Challenge testing involves using high doses of strong chelation agents to “pull” mercury out of organic cellular structures for urinary analysis.  The diagnostic premise of the testing is that it shows the “body burden” of the individual – that pool of deeply held metals that represents our lifetime accumulation of unexcreted metals.  It was also supposed to demonstrate correlation of long-term mercury burden.  While mercury challenge testing was clinically relevant for the time, advances in technology and clinical studies have proven challenge testing to be unreliable and even potentially damaging to the patient.

Problems Associated with Challenge Testing

The literature examining the challenge tests ranges from the years 1991 through 2001 and has thus far failed to find any evidence of the challenge tests revealing any more than recent exposures, and in some instances failing to see exposures made clear by ambient testing.  Recently, challenge tests have come under fire from federal authorities as a diagnostic tool.  The problem is not really that the challenge tests have no use (especially in the case of lead, where EDTA challenge testing is documented to have slightly better correlations with bone lead than blood lead measurements, or the case of gadolinium where levels in blood and urine are undetectable without EDTA provocation); the problem is instead the way they are generally used and interpreted.

  1. Challenge Test does not differentiate between MeHg and Hgll.  Only Total mercury level is represented (HgT).
  2. Challenge does not reflect the “body burden”.
  3. There is no “non-challenged” reference range to compare the challenge test to; from a regulatory standpoint, there is an obvious potential for over-treatment.
  4. Lack of standardisation of challenge conditions:
  1. DMPS has a very different strength and specificity than DMSA
  2. Intravenous versus oral administration has vastly different pharmacokinetics
  3. Use of adjuncts such as EDTA, glutathione and glycine vastly changes the dynamics of the test and its output
  1. Challenge exposes individual to large dose of exogenous substance i.e. harsh chelation agents.
  2. Challenge may cause redistribution of mercury into organs, including the brain.
  3. Challenge does not measure ambient mercury burden.
  4. Challenge does not elucidate elimination abilities of patient.
  5. Challenge results are skewed in individuals with renal insufficiency (common in Hgll toxicity).

Does the “Challenge Test” Really Show the “Body Burden” of Mercury?

The measurement of mercury in the body and extrapolation to body burden and toxic conditions is a very complicated field, requiring acute clinical discernment, including integration of patient history, current exposures, symptomology, and effect of co-morbidities. The simplification and deification of the challenge test is no longer serving the evolution of the field of clinical metals toxicology, and it is now time for the adoption of better tools.


To understand from examples and scientific literature why existing ways of mercury testing and challenge testing do not provide sufficient information for clinical adoption, prescription of detoxification protocols, and monitoring of their efficacy, you can request for materials or further elaboration from us.



Mercury speciation is an analytical testing process that separates and measures the different forms (species) of mercury that are present in a test sample.  Quicksilver Scientific holds the exclusive license on a patented cold vapour mercury analysis technology that is automated and scalable.  This makes the method of mercury speciation analysis an easy and cost-effective solution for processing large test-sample batch sizes.

Our mercury speciation analysis gives researchers and physicians access to critical data unavailable from competitive low-level mercury analysis methods (total mercury analysis).  Understanding the ratio of methylmercury to inorganic mercury facilitates a more complete understanding of toxic effects and risks to the environment and the human body.

Why Mercury Speciation Analysis?

Quicksilver Scientific is currently the only commercial analytical testing laboratory capable of directly analysing ethylmercury, methylmercury and inorganic mercury in one simultaneous procedure at environmentally and biologically relevant amounts.

This is why it is superior to conventional “total” mercury analysis.  Rather than simply delivering an undifferentiated lump-sum total, Quicksilver Scientific speciation of mercury provides useful data on the ratio of methylmercury to inorganic mercury.  In addition to this, the patented Quicksilver mercury measurement process can be expanded to include rare forms of this toxic element (ethylmercury and propylmercury).

Total mercury analysis alone cannot provide an adequate representation of the mercury chemistry present in a test sample. As demonstrated in a study published in Science, knowing the distribution of different mercury species can create clearer data relationships and enable more accurate conclusions.  For this reason, all current research recommends mercury speciation rather than total mercury analysis.  Quicksilver Scientific’s mercury speciation provides much more insightful data and has the following key advantages over total mercury analysis:

  1. Quicksilver mercury speciation analysis measures the biologically active forms of mercury with a single test procedure.
  2. Mercury speciation provides clear data on the distribution (proportion) of methylmercury to inorganic mercury and total mercury present in a test sample.
  3. Mercury speciation analysis can also predict the mobility and toxicity of mercury within the food chain of a specific ecosystem.

Different Forms, Inconsistent Proportions

The distribution of different mercury species in a test sample varies widely. Simply measuring total mercury and using a conversion factor to determine the mercury species distribution can produce wildly inaccurate data.  Ratios of methylmercury to inorganic mercury are both sample and site specific. The only accurate method for determining the distribution of mercury species in a test sample is through direct measurement with speciation analysis.

For example, methylmercury (MeHg) in sediment samples may range from <0.001% to >1% of the total mercury present.  The remaining mercury will include inorganic mercury (HgII) with the possible presence of other species.  In speciation testing performed on insects and macroinvertebrates, Quicksilver Scientific determined that methylmercury levels (as a percentage of total mercury) could vary more than 80 percentage points.  It is clear that bioaccumulation studies cannot rely on total mercury analysis for accurate results.

Differences in Mobility, Differences in Toxicity

The various forms of mercury move through biological systems and tissues in different ways. They also express different modes of toxicity. Only speciation analysis can determine which types of mercury are in a sample. And all this data is provided with a single test.


Methylmercury is highly mobile and can pass through tissues with much more ease than inorganic mercury, which tends to stick to cell walls.  The mobility of methylmercury plays a major role in its ability to bioaccumulate. In the environment, methylmercury moves from sediments and water into living things, such as bacteria and plankton. Inorganic mercury, however, sticks to the cell walls of bacteria and to the carapaces of plankton.  As predators consume smaller organisms, the inorganic mercury contained in the cell walls and carapaces gets excreted.  However, the methylmercury contained in the inner organs and tissues is assimilated into the predator organism. This process continues along the entire food chain.  The larger the predatory species, the more methylmercury it contains.  This process is known as bioaccumulation.  The dramatic effect of bioaccumulation is often demonstrated by methylmercury levels in fish.  Fish can have methylmercury concentrations 1 to 10 million times higher than the water in which they swim.

Methylmercury is equally mobile in the human organism.  In fact, human intestines absorb about 95% of the methylmercury that enters the digestive tract.  During the digestive process, methylmercury binds to an amino acid known as cysteine.  The resulting mercury compound (methylmercury cysteine) is mistaken for methionine by the transport proteins which bind amino acids.  Once in the circulatory system, methylmercury can easily cross the placental and blood-brain barriers.  This methylmercury exposure can result in debilitating neurological effects.

Eventually, the human organism identifies the presence of methylmercury and binds it to glutathione, a tripeptide compound also known as the master molecule and antioxidant of the body.  The human detoxification system attempts to remove the methylmercury through the small intestine via the bile.  However, the glutathione is broken down into cysteine while in the intestinal tract, which again results in the production of methylmercury cysteine.  The resulting methylmercury cysteine is then “recycled” by enterohepatic circulation.  Enterohepatic circulation is the cycle by which bile salts and other substances excreted by the liver are absorbed by the intestinal mucosa and returned to the liver via the portal circulation.  Methylmercury remains in enterohepatic circulation for an extended period.  Without proper therapeutic detoxification, the removal of methylmercury from the human body is a very inefficient process.

Inorganic Mercury

Biological organisms do not absorb inorganic mercury as easily as methylmercury. As a result, inorganic mercury does not bioaccumulate to the same degree. However, when inorganic mercury is absorbed into biological tissues, the toxic effects pose an immediate threat.  For example, high levels of inorganic mercury in prey animals (such as insects) can cause toxic effects in the predators that consume them.  The potential effects of this mercury toxicity include nerve impulse and reproductive disruptions, as well as thyroid dysregulation. In addition to this, recent studies provide evidence that fish with high inorganic mercury loads suffer from liver toxicity.



Quicksilver Scientific’s Blood Metals Test screens for a broad range of toxic and nutrient metals to show elevated exposure to toxic metals or imbalances of nutrient metals in whole blood.

This whole blood elemental metals analysis uses state-of-the-art inductively coupled plasma/mass spectroscopy.  The test measures levels for 15 metals, including beneficial nutrient metals and potentially toxic metals.  Find out if your levels of the “bad guys” are within acceptable parameters and whether or not your levels need to be supplemented with the “good guys.” Imbalanced mineral pairs, especially copper to zinc ratios, can often present clinically as heavy metal toxicity.  Excess copper is also synergistically toxic with heavy metals, such as mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead.

Nutritive ElementsCalcium, Copper, Lithium, Magnesium, Manganese, Molybdenum, Selenium, Zinc

Potentially Toxic ElementsArsenic, Cadmium, Cobalt, Lead, Mercury, Silver, Strontium  

Together with the mercury tri-test, we can objectively determine a person’s level of heavy metal  toxicity and monitor the effectiveness of treatment protocols.



(You can request for sample reports of the Quicksilver Scientific Mercury Tri-Tests and Blood Metals Panel.)