Methyl mercury and inorganic mercury in Swedish pregnant women and in cord blood: influence of fish consumption

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Apr;111(4):637-41. doi: 10.1289/ehp.111-1241457.


We studied exposure to methyl mercury (MeHg) in Swedish pregnant women (total mercury [T-Hg] in hair) and their fetuses (MeHg in cord blood) in relation to fish intake. The women were recruited at antenatal care clinics in late pregnancy to participate in an exposure study of environmental pollutants. Fish consumption was evaluated using food frequency questionnaires including detailed questions on fish consumption. In addition, we determined inorganic mercury (I-Hg) and selenium (Se) in cord blood. On average, the women consumed fish (all types) 6.7 times/month (range 0-25 times/month) during the year they became pregnant. They reported less consumption of freshwater fish--species that might contain high concentrations of MeHg--during than before pregnancy. T-Hg in maternal hair (median 0.35 mg/kg; range 0.07-1.5 mg/kg) was significantly associated (R2 = 0.53; p < 0.001) with MeHg in cord blood (median 1.3 microg/L; range 0.10-5.7 microg/L). Both hair T-Hg and cord blood MeHg increased with increasing consumption of seafood (r = 0.41; p < 0.001 and r = 0.46; p < 0.001, respectively). Segmental hair analysis revealed that T-Hg closer to the scalp was lower and more closely correlated with MeHg in cord blood than T-Hg levels in segments corresponding to earlier in pregnancy. We found a weak association between Se (median 86 microg/L; range 43-233 microg/L) and MeHg in cord blood (r = 0.26; p = 0.003), but no association with fish consumption. I-Hg in cord blood (median 0.15 microg/L; range 0.03-0.53 microg/L) increased significantly with increasing number of maternal dental amalgam fillings.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Dental Amalgam
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / chemistry*
  • Fishes
  • Food Contamination*
  • Humans
  • Maternal-Fetal Exchange*
  • Mercury / pharmacokinetics*
  • Methylmercury Compounds / pharmacokinetics*
  • Pregnancy
  • Seafood*
  • Sweden


  • Methylmercury Compounds
  • Dental Amalgam
  • Mercury