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Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2010 Mar-Apr;32(2):240-5. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2009 Sep 2.

Intervention study on cardiac autonomic nervous effects of methylmercury from seafood.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine, 2-1 Seiryo-machi, Sendai 980-8575, Japan.


To scrutinize whether the provisional tolerable weekly intake (PTWI, 3.4 microg/kg body weight/week) of methylmercury in Japan is safe for adults, we conducted an intervention study using heart rate variability (HRV) that has been considered to reflect cardiac events. Fifty-four healthy volunteers were recruited and divided into experimental and control groups. The experimental group was exposed to methylmercury at the PTWI level through consumption of bigeye tuna and swordfish for 14 weeks, and HRV parameters were compared between the two groups. In the experimental group, mean hair mercury levels, determined before and after the dietary methylmercury exposure and after 15-week wash-out period following the cessation of exposure, were 2.30, 8.76 and 4.90 microg/g, respectively. The sympathovagal balance index of HRV was significantly elevated after the exposure, and decreased to the baseline level at the end of this study. Still, such changes in HRV parameters were not found in the control group with a mean hair mercury level of around 2.1 microg/g. In conclusion, the PTWI does not appear to be safe for adult health, because methylmercury exposure from fish consumption induced a temporary sympathodominant state. Rather, long-term exposure to methylmercury may pose a potential risk for cardiac events involving sympathovagal imbalance among fish-consuming populations.

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