Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Precarious Balance: Methylmercury, Selenium, and Cardiovascular Health

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Precarious Balance: Methylmercury, Selenium, and Cardiovascular Health

Article excerpt

Inuit people living in Canada's Nunavik region consume large doses of methylmercury through their traditional diet, mostly from sea mammal meat. A new study set out looking for evidence of links between these native communities' exposure to the toxic metal and heart diseases [EHP 119(8):1077-1083; Ayotte et al.]. The results suggested an inhibitory effect of methylmercury on paraoxonase 1 (PON1), an enzyme whose activity may protect against cardiovascular problems. They also hinted unexpectedly that dietary nutrients, especially selenium, may counteract effects of methylmercury on PON1 activity. PON1 breaks down the oxidized lipids that may promote atherosclerosis.

The researchers collected blood plasma samples from nearly 900 people living in about 500 households in different communities across Nunavik. Each person provided biological samples and completed surveys on their medical history, diet, and lifestyle habits.

A simple correlation analysis indicated that higher blood mercury was associated with higher PON1 activity, contrary to findings from earlier in vitro studies. So the researchers turned to multivariate statistics to untangle other factors that might confound the mercury/PONl relationship. These include intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) and selenium, important nutrients provided by the traditional Inuit diet.

In the multivariate model, higher blood mercury levels were associated with decreased PON1 activity whereas higher blood levels of n-3 PUFAs and selenium were associated with increased PON1 activity. …

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