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High Mercury Exposure Increases Risk for Diabetes

Research shows a 65% increase for development of type 2 diabetes for young adults with high levels of mercury exposure….

Previous laboratory studies have suggested that exposure to methylmercury may induce pancreatic islet beta cell dysfunction. Therefore, He et al. performed a prospective cohort study consisting of 3,875 adults between the ages of 20-32 who were free of diabetes at baseline (in 1987). Patients were followed six times until 2005. Mercury levels were measured from the toenails and analyzed using instrumental neutron-activation.

Ironically, patients with the highest levels of mercury also appeared to have healthier lifestyles including increased exercise, smaller waist circumference, and lower BMI.

The author of the study also noted the importance of considering potential confounding factors associated with the health impact of fish, the most common source of mercury in humans, including contaminants or other nutrients. Accordingly, this study controlled for lifestyle factors and dietary factor such as omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and magnesium.

After 18 years of follow-up, a total of 288 incident cases of diabetes were reported. Multivariate analyses which controlled for the above mentioned factors led to the finding of high mercury exposure being an increased risk of 65% for developing type 2 diabetes. High exposure to mercury was reported as being in the highest quintile, which had a median value of toenail mercury of 0.607mcg/g. The lowest quintile had a median value of toenail mercury of 0.073mcg/g.

Diabetes Care, 2013; DOI: 10.2337/dc12-1842