Skip Navigation

Your Environment. Your Health.

Mercury Deposition And Elimination In Humans After Eating Fish

Matthew Rand, Ph.D.
University of Rochester
P30ES001247, R21ES024859

NIEHS grantees have developed a new way to measure how methylmercury changes in the body and how it is eliminated. Methylmercury exposure from fish consumption is a public health concern, and this new method is a step toward better understanding of different responses to methylmercury.

Researchers coupled laser ablation, a sampling method, with inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry, an advanced laboratory technique, to measure levels of methylmercury along the length of a single human hair. This method enabled them to detect the rate at which a person eliminated mercury from their body following even a single meal of fish.

They were also able to estimate demethylation status, or the rate at which methylmercury transforms into inorganic mercury, which is thought to be an integral step in removing mercury from the body. Because as much as 90 percent of mercury is excreted via feces, researchers measured mercury in feces and correlated it to the methylmercury elimination rate from their hair.

Elimination of methylmercury from the body occurs slowly and is a major determinant of the body burden of mercury resulting from fish consumption. This simplified and noninvasive approach can improve the understanding of mercury metabolism and elimination status, shedding light on genetic and dietary factors that influence methylmercury exposure.

Citation: Rand MD, Vorojeikina D, van Wijngaarden E, Jackson BP, Scrimale T, Zareba G, Love TM, Myers GJ, Watson GE. 2015. Methods for individualized determination of methylmercury elimination rate and de-methylation status in humans following fish consumption. Toxicol Sci; doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfv241 [Online 15 November 2015].