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Occup Environ Med. 2004 Feb;61(2):e8.

The inhibition of mercury absorption by dietary ethanol in humans: cross-sectional and case-control studies.

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Department of Oral Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle 98195, USA.



Since the inhibition of mercury absorption by ethanol was serendipitously discovered in 1965,(1) a limited number of small number studies with both animal and human subjects have reported results consistent with this finding.


To investigate this phenomenon in a large scale human study with low level Hg exposed dentists.


Data were collected for a sample of 1171 dentists, and both cross sectional and case-control methods were utilised to examine the data.


Abstainers (n = 345) had significantly higher urinary mercury concentrations (HgU) than drinkers (n = 826): 5.4 microg/l v 4.8 microg/l. Multiple linear regression showed a significant effect of ethanol dose on HgU after adjusting for potential confounders. A case-control analysis in which cases were defined as those individuals with urinary Hg concentrations of > or =15 microg/l (approximately top 5%), and controls as those with concentrations of <1.0 microg/l ( approximately bottom 5%), showed a clear protective dose-response relation; there was a decreasing risk of being a "case" (having an HgU > or =15 microg/l) with increasing ethanol consumption. The significance of the adjusted model is p<0.001, and the chi2 test for trend across ethanol consumption categories in the adjusted model is p<0.05, confirming the dose-response relation.


We believe that this straightforward investigation provides the first specific confirmation in a large scale human study of the inhibitory effect of ethanol on urinary mercury concentration, and by inference, on mercury absorption.

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