Fish had become a large part of Daphne Zuniga's diet. She was eating what she described as "your average Hollywood stay-in-shape diet, a ton of fish and low carbs."
"I was eating tuna four times a week," said Zuniga, who stars in the ABC Family series "Beautiful People." "I would go out for sushi and think, 'Oh great, at least we're not going for Italian, with all the oil and carbs.'"
She was also experiencing an array of mysterious health problems. In addition to severe headaches, she had cramping in her fingers and feet. She also frequently felt "a sort of tingling, as if someone was tickling you, all up and down my body and on my legs, and it got more and more pronounced," she said.
Mercury poisoning can also affect your cognitive functioning, and Zuniga, 43, found that she was unable to remember her lines -- even if she had learned them the night before.
"I had crying spells, low-grade depression, loss of memory and brain fog, which is where I would be talking to you and I would get disoriented," she said.
Then, in February 2004, after eating sushi four times in one week, Zuniga broke out into an itchy rash all over her body that landed her in the emergency room. She saw all sorts of doctors, but no one mentioned mercury poisoning.
In October, Zuniga asked her doctor about whether she might have mercury poisoning after she read an oft-quoted statistic from an EPA study: that one in six women of childbearing age has elevated mercury levels. Sure enough, the level of mercury that showed up in a blood test revealed that she was significantly over the safe level.
Road to Recovery
Zuniga immediately stopped eating seafood, and has no plans to start again.
She also embarked on treatment to rid her body of the mercury. Her doctor gave her regular chelation injections, which helps the body excrete heavy metals through urine. She also took supplements she found at the health food store that contain natural chelating ingredients. [It's important to note, however, that taking chelating supplements on your own and not under a doctor's care can be dangerous.]
Six months later, her symptoms of cramping and tingling were gone. Her mind was much clearer and her mood had improved.
Zuniga still drinks shakes with protein powder that contains glutathione, a protein that binds to toxins like mercury and helps the body get rid of them.
Despite her ordeal, Zuniga still encounters her share of skeptics.
"People don't want to acknowledge the effects of mercury; [they] will say things like, 'Oh, that's our society, we're so overstimulated,'" she said.
"I have experienced the difference between the disconnected brain fog and the clarity," added Zuniga, who is working with the Turtle Island Restoration Network, a California environmental group, on their campaign to inform the public about mercury. Right now, this group is trying to get the national supermarket chain Safeway to post signs in all of its supermarkets warning about the dangers of mercury in fish.