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Sci Total Environ. 2005 Apr 1;341(1-3):45-52.

Methyl mercury exposure in Swedish women with high fish consumption.

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  • 1Division of Metals and Health, Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Box 210, SE-171 77, Stockholm, Sweden.


We studied the exposure to methyl mercury (MeHg) in 127 Swedish women of childbearing age with high consumption of various types of fish, using total mercury (T-Hg) in hair and MeHg in blood as biomarkers. Fish consumption was assessed using a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ), including detailed information about consumption of different fish species, reflecting average intake during 1 year. We also determined inorganic mercury (I-Hg) in blood, and selenium (Se) in serum. The average total fish consumption, as reported in the food frequency questionnaire, was approximately 4 times/week (range 1.6-19 times/week). Fish species potentially high in MeHg, included in the Swedish dietary advisories, was consumed by 79% of the women. About 10% consumed such species more than once a week, i.e., more than what is recommended. Other fish species potentially high in MeHg, not included in the Swedish dietary advisories, was consumed by 54% of the women. Eleven percent never consumed fish species potentially high in MeHg. T-Hg in hair (median 0.70 mg/kg; range 0.08-6.6 mg/kg) was associated with MeHg in blood (median 1.7 microg/L; range 0.30-14 microg/L; rs = 0.78; p < 0.001). Hair T-Hg, blood MeHg and serum Se (median 70 microg/L; range 46-154 microg/L) increased with increasing total fish consumption (rs = 0.32; p < 0.001, rs = 0.37; p < 0.001 and rs = 0.35; p = 0.002, respectively). I-Hg in blood (median 0.24 microg/L; range 0.01-1.6 microg/L) increased with increasing number of dental amalgam fillings. We found no statistical significant associations between the various mercury species measured and the Se concentration in serum. Hair mercury levels exceeded the levels corresponding to the EPA reference dose (RfD) of 0.1 microg MeHg/kg b.w. per day in 20% of the women. Thus, there seems to be no margin of safety for neurodevelopmental effects in fetus, for women with high fish consumption unless they decrease their intake of certain fish species.

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