Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that when it combines with other elements can create inorganic or organic compounds that may be harmful to humans. In water or soil, mercury may combine with microscopic organisms and convert to methymercury, which can accumulate in fish and shellfish. Mercury poisoning has long been associated with brain and kidney damage. New research in the February issue of Environmental Health Perspectives has uncovered that the mercury found in some seafood may pose additional threats, including autoimmune disorders among women during their childbearing years.
The author of the study, Dr. Emily Somers, suggested in an article on Health.com that scientists do not have a good understanding why people develop these diseases, which include multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, among others. The American Autoimmune Related Disease Association estimates that 50 million people in the United States live with an autoimmune disease, more than 75% of which are women.
Somers said in the article, “A large number of cases are not explained by genetics, so we believe studying environmental factors will help us understand why autoimmunity happens and how we may be able to intervene to improve health outcomes. In our study, exposure to mercury stood out as the main risk factor for autoimmunity.”[i]
The research identified swordfish, king mackerel and tile file as among the species with high amounts of mercury, while lower levels of mercury are found in shrimp, canned tuna and salmon.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have previously stated that pregnant women could safely consume up to 12 ounces of seafood a week. Somers however noted that the mercury-immune disorder connection raises concerns for women during their childbearing years.
The Health.com article stated: “the higher the exposure to mercury, the higher the rate of proteins called ‘autoantibodies.’ Such proteins are generated when a faulty immune system can no longer distinguish healthy cells from harmful ones, and their presence is considered an indicator and/or precursor of autoimmune disease.”[ii]
While the presence of these antibodies doesn’t mean someone will have an autoimmune disease, Somers does indicate that the presence of these autoantibodies “are significant predictors of future autoimmune disease, and may predate the symptoms and diagnosis of an autoimmune disease by years.”[iii]
Ironically, in the January 2015 issue of Medical News Today, there was a study that suggested the nutritional benefits of eating fish during pregnancy “outweigh the risks associated with mercury exposure.”[iv]
Teledyne Leeman Labs mercury instruments are used to test levels of mercury in seafood.For more information on these mercury instruments, be sure to visit Mercury Analyzers