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Study Finds No Link Between Mercury Exposure and Cardiovascular Disease

Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., M.P.H., and Philippe A. Grandjean, M.D., Ph.D.
Harvard School of Public Health
NIEHS Grants R01ES014433 and R01ES013692

New research findings published by NIEHS grantees at the Harvard School of Public Health show no evidence that higher levels of mercury exposure are associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease or stroke. Previous research has shown the beneficial cardiovascular effects of eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but other studies suggested that mercury exposure from fish consumption may be linked to higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. The current findings may allay those fears.

The researchers analyzed data from two studies which included more than 170,000 men and women. Participants in both groups have answered questions every two years about their medical history, risk factors, disease incidence, and lifestyle. For the current analysis, the researchers measured mercury concentrations in stored toenail clippings in nearly 7,000 participants who did and did not experience a cardiovascular event during follow-up. Toenail mercury concentrations are an excellent biomarker of long-term mercury exposure. The researchers identified 3,427 new cases of coronary heart disease and stroke and matched them to 3,427 randomly chosen participants free of cardiovascular disease during follow-up.

After adjusting for age, gender, and other cardiovascular disease risk factors, the researchers found no association between mercury exposure and higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Trends toward lower risk with higher mercury levels were actually seen, which the researchers attribute to other beneficial effects of fish consumption.

Citation: Mozaffarian D, Shi P, Morris JS, Spiegelman D, Grandjean P, Siscovick DS, Willett WC, Rimm EB. Mercury exposure and risk of cardiovascular disease in two U.S. cohorts. N Engl J Med. 2011 Mar 24;364(12):1116-25.

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