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      Dietary Predictors of Maternal Prenatal Blood Mercury Levels in the ALSPAC Birth Cohort Study

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          Background: Very high levels of prenatal maternal mercury have adverse effects on the developing fetal brain. It has been suggested that all possible sources of mercury should be avoided. However, although seafood is a known source of mercury, little is known about other dietary components that contribute to the overall levels of blood mercury.

          Objective: Our goal was to quantify the contribution of components of maternal diet to prenatal blood mercury level.

          Methods: Whole blood samples and information on diet and sociodemographic factors were collected from pregnant women ( n = 4,484) enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The blood samples were assayed for total mercury using inductively coupled plasma dynamic reaction cell mass spectrometry. Linear regression was used to estimate the relative contributions of 103 dietary variables and 6 sociodemographic characteristics to whole blood total mercury levels (TBM; untransformed and log-transformed) based on R 2 values.

          Results: We estimated that maternal diet accounted for 19.8% of the total variation in ln-TBM, with 44% of diet-associated variability (8.75% of the total variation) associated with seafood consumption (white fish, oily fish, and shellfish). Other dietary components positively associated with TBM included wine and herbal teas, and components with significant negative associations included white bread, meat pies or pasties, and french fries.

          Conclusions: Although seafood is a source of dietary mercury, seafood appeared to explain a relatively small proportion of the variation in TBM in our UK study population. Our findings require confirmation, but suggest that limiting seafood intake during pregnancy may have a limited impact on prenatal blood mercury levels.

          Citation: Golding J, Steer CD, Hibbeln JR, Emmett PM, Lowery T, Jones R. 2013. Dietary predictors of maternal prenatal blood mercury levels in the ALSPAC birth cohort study. Environ Health Perspect 121:1214–1218;  http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1206115

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          Most cited references 48

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          ALSPAC--the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. I. Study methodology.

           J. Golding,  T. J. Jones,   (2000)
          ALSPAC (The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, formerly the Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood) was specifically designed to determine ways in which the individual's genotype combines with environmental pressures to influence health and development. To date, there are comprehensive data on approximately 10,000 children and their parents, from early pregnancy until the children are aged between 8 and 9. The study aims to continue to collect detailed data on the children as they go through puberty noting, in particular, changes in anthropometry, attitudes and behaviour, fitness and other cardiovascular risk factors, bone mineralisation, allergic symptoms and mental health. The study started early during pregnancy and collected very detailed data from the mother and her partner before the child was born. This not only provided accurate data on concurrent features, especially medication, symptoms, diet and lifestyle, attitudes and behaviour, social and environmental features, but was unbiased by parental knowledge of any problems that the child might develop. From the time of the child's birth many different aspects of the child's environment have been monitored and a wide range of phenotypic data collected. By virtue of being based in one geographic area, linkage to medical and educational records is relatively simple, and hands-on assessments of children and parents using local facilities has the advantage of high quality control. The comprehensiveness of the ALSPAC approach with a total population sample unselected by disease status, and the availability of parental genotypes, provides an adequate sample for statistical analysis and for avoiding spurious results. The study has an open policy in regard to collaboration within strict confidentiality rules.
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            Cognitive deficit in 7-year-old children with prenatal exposure to methylmercury.

            A cohort of 1022 consecutive singleton births was generated during 1986-1987 in the Faroe Islands. Increased methylmercury exposure from maternal consumption of pilot whale meat was indicated by mercury concentrations in cord blood and maternal hair. At approximately 7 years of age, 917 of the children underwent detailed neurobehavioral examination. Neuropsychological tests included Finger Tapping; Hand-Eye Coordination; reaction time on a Continuous Performance Test; Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised Digit Spans, Similarities, and Block Designs; Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test; Boston Naming Test; and California Verbal Learning Test (Children). Clinical examination and neurophysiological testing did not reveal any clear-cut mercury-related abnormalities. However, mercury-related neuropsychological dysfunctions were most pronounced in the domains of language, attention, and memory, and to a lesser extent in visuospatial and motor functions. These associations remained after adjustment for covariates and after exclusion of children with maternal hair mercury concentrations above 10 microgram(s) (50 nmol/g). The effects on brain function associated with prenatal methylmercury exposure therefore appear widespread, and early dysfunction is detectable at exposure levels currently considered safe.
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              Blood organic mercury and dietary mercury intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 and 2000.

              Blood organic mercury (i.e., methyl mercury) concentrations among 1,709 women who were participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) in 1999 and 2000 (1999-2000 NHANES) were 0.6 microg/L at the 50th percentile and ranged from concentrations that were nondetectable (5th percentile) to 6.7 microg/L (95th percentile). Blood organic/methyl mercury reflects methyl mercury intake from fish and shellfish as determined from a methyl mercury exposure parameter based on 24-hr dietary recall, 30-day food frequency, and mean concentrations of mercury in the fish/shellfish species reported as consumed (multiple correlation coefficient > 0.5). Blood organic/methyl mercury concentrations were lowest among Mexican Americans and highest among participants who designated themselves in the Other racial/ethnic category, which includes Asians, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders. Blood organic/methyl mercury concentrations were ~1.5 times higher among women 30-49 years of age than among women 16-29 years of age. Blood mercury (BHg) concentrations were seven times higher among women who reported eating nine or more fish and/or shellfish meals within the past 30 days than among women who reported no fish and/or shellfish consumption in the past 30 days. Blood organic/methyl mercury concentrations greater than or equal to 5.8 microg/L were lowest among Mexican Americans (2.0%) and highest among examinees in the Other racial/ethnic category (21.7%). Based on the distribution of BHg concentrations among the adult female participants in 1999-2000 NHANES and the number of U.S. births in 2000, > 300,000 newborns each year in the United States may have been exposed in utero to methyl mercury concentrations higher than those considered to be without increased risk of adverse neurodevelopmental effects associated with methyl mercury exposure.

                Author and article information

                Environ Health Perspect
                Environ. Health Perspect
                Environmental Health Perspectives
                National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
                28 June 2013
                01 October 2013
                : 121
                : 10
                : 1214-1218
                [1 ]Centre for Child and Adolescent Health, University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
                [2 ]National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, Maryland, USA
                [3 ]National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service, National Seafood Inspection Laboratory, Pascagoula, Mississippi, USA
                [4 ]Inorganic and Radiation Analytical Toxicology Branch, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
                Author notes
                Address correspondence to J. Golding, Centre for Child and Adolescent Health, School of Social & Community Medicine, Oakfield House, Oakfield Rd., Bristol BS8 2BN, UK. Telephone: 44 (0) 117 331 0198. E-mail: jean.golding@ 123456bristol.ac.uk

                Publication of EHP lies in the public domain and is therefore without copyright. All text from EHP may be reprinted freely. Use of materials published in EHP should be acknowledged (for example, “Reproduced with permission from Environmental Health Perspectives”); pertinent reference information should be provided for the article from which the material was reproduced. Articles from EHP, especially the News section, may contain photographs or illustrations copyrighted by other commercial organizations or individuals that may not be used without obtaining prior approval from the holder of the copyright.


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