When Dominick Cardone earned his IFBB Pro status in 2014, he knew the road to achieve glory was going to be a long one, but you don’t win a show like the NPC Nationals without having potential to achieve greatness. So, Cardone was excited about the journey that laid ahead, and he was giving all he had to the sport. However, that journey began with the unfortunate passing of his mother while he was preparing for the New York Pro.

“My mother got real sick, and I was in the hospital with her. She passed away three weeks out, and I went ahead and competed. That show was a disaster, and that’s why I fell off the grid for a few years,” he said.

Dominick Cardone had been trying to make a return to the stage, and he had great guidance in the form of seven-time Olympia 212 champion Flex Lewis. Lewis was a mentor and training partner for Cardone, and he was going all in on returning to the stage. His nutrition was on point as well, eating fish as one of his main protein sources because of how lean it is. It turned out that what he thought was a calculated strategy was doing more harm than good.

“In early 2020, it started with some gut issues – stomach pain, irregular bowel movements, and then it became skin issues,” said Cardone. “Then, I started losing weight and getting no pumps in the gym, no matter what I did.”

Dominick Cardone skin issue and deformity due to mercury poison from eating too much fish
Courtesy of Dominick Cardone

Dominick Cardone was trying to figure out what was going on by speaking to doctors, but he also wanted to stay on track. So, he pushed on with training and the diet throughout all of 2020.

“I just kept getting worse, and no doctors could provide answers, Now, I have a lot less energy – lethargy all day,” he detailed. While the physical toll it took could be seen, it was the issues that couldn’t be seen that were the worst for Cardone.

“The mental part of it, it got worse every day. It felt like a rollercoaster. Severe depression, focus issues, if I wasn’t depressed, it was just ‘blah,’ he said. “I just couldn’t get happy, and by 2021 I started experiencing suicidal thoughts. I would just sit on the couch and start thinking of ways to end my life.”

Lewis had expressed concern throughout this process, and connected Cardone to a gut specialist that ran several tests with stool, blood, and urine samples. This was March of 2021, and Cardone had been dealing with this problem for over one year. It was at this point that the answer was finally revealed.

“The mercury levels were through the roof,” Cardone said. “It was just through the roof.”

When asked why no other doctors were able to come up with the cause, Cardone said it was because all options weren’t considered.

“No one thought to check for metal levels,” he shared. Now that he knew what the cause was, it was time to come up with a solution.

“Obviously, I stopped eating fish,” he said. Among the fish he ate the most of were tuna, yellowtail, and mackerel. “I had been eating tuna several times a week, pounds of it.” He also disclosed that he had ate a lot of sushi after he moved to Las Vegas. There was some progress once he cut all the fish out of his diet.

“Two months went by, and there was some improvement, but it was pretty much just getting by.” Cardone reached out to another IFBB Pro bodybuilder who had experience with mercury poisoning, Jason Huh.

“Jason told me what kind of doctor to look for, what type of treatments were effective for him and his wife. He took a million pounds off my back.”

After reaching out to the doctor Huh suggested, Cardone was put on several treatments including pills, IV, and other forms of therapy. He also learned a lot about mercury and mercury poisoning. One misconception is that there is an “acceptable” amount that the body can handle. According to WebMD, mercury is in the environment naturally, and it can be released through pollution. It can fall and build up in bodies of water and become methylmercury, which is how fish obtain it. Levels vary by the amounts that fish have.

“There is actually no use for mercury in the body. It’s a heavy metal, it’s toxic, and the body has no use for it,” said the 28-year-old. “The high point on the test was .004. I was at about 20.4. I was completely off the charts, literally.”

After several months of treatments, Dominick Cardone has finally seen noticeable progress. While he isn’t 100 percent yet, he’s considerably better than he was before his initial appointment with the gut specialist. He does still have some issues that he is struggling with.

“The only thing that I really need to work on is my memory,” he said. “My short-term memory did take a big hit from the mercury. I do still need to work on my speech. I can put my thoughts together, and I’m not stuttering as much.”

From an awareness perspective, Cardone wants to turn this negative into a positive by helping other people learn how to prevent going through the issues he did.

“Know what you’re eating and definitely limit the fish you eat, and know the mercury levels,” he said clearly. “You can go online and look up the mercury content easily. Tuna, swordfish, and yellowtail are going to be on the top of that list.”

He also advocated seeing more than one physician if you can’t find an answer to whatever is bothering you.

“If you feel you’re dealing with high metal levels, get in touch with a functional medicine doctor, and have them test you. They can guide you through how to move forward. Metal doesn’t leave the body naturally. It will break your body down physically and mentally.”

From a bodybuilding standpoint, he’s back in the gym, and he recalled the first noticeable pump he felt in a long time.

“It was mid-January 2022, and we were training legs. I had seen my legs blew up in a way I hadn’t seen in years,” he recalled. “That feeling of relief made me so euphoric. It made me think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s famous quote about the pump. It was the most euphoric feeling I had in a long time.”

While Dominick Cardone has reflected on his journey and wants to use it to help others, he is a forward thinker, and he’s now focused on returning to his sport in a competitive way.

“I’m coming back. That’s a definite. My goal is to win the Mr. Olympia. Now that I’m healthy, my fire is back. I’m going to let Flex help me pick a show. Again, he’s guiding me along the way. Right now, I’m having so much fun growing. People can definitely expect to see me onstage either late this year or early next year.”


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