Background: Exposure to methylmercury from fish consumption has been linked to a potentially increased risk of cardiovascular disease, but evidence from prior studies is equivocal. Beneficial effects of the ingestion of fish and selenium may also modify such effects.
Methods: Among subjects from two U.S. cohorts (a total of 51,529 men and 121,700 women) whose toenail clippings had been stored, we prospectively identified incident cases of cardiovascular disease (coronary heart disease and stroke) in 3427 participants and matched them to risk-set-sampled controls according to age, sex, race, and smoking status. Toenail mercury and selenium concentrations were assessed with the use of neutron-activation analysis. Other demographic characteristics, cardiovascular risk factors, fish consumption, and lifestyle habits were assessed by means of validated questionnaires. Associations between mercury exposure and incident cardiovascular disease were evaluated with the use of conditional logistic regression.
Results: Median toenail mercury concentrations were 0.23 μg per gram (interdecile range, 0.06 to 0.94) in the case participants and 0.25 μg per gram (interdecile range, 0.07 to 0.97) in the controls. In multivariate analyses, participants with higher mercury exposures did not have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. For comparisons of the fifth quintile of mercury exposure with the first quintile, the relative risks were as follows: coronary heart disease, 0.85 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.69 to 1.04; P=0.10 for trend); stroke, 0.84 (95% CI, 0.62 to 1.14; P=0.27 for trend); and total cardiovascular disease, 0.85 (95% CI, 0.72 to 1.01; P=0.06 for trend). Findings were similar in analyses of participants with low selenium concentrations or low overall fish consumption and in several additional sensitivity analyses.
Conclusions: We found no evidence of any clinically relevant adverse effects of mercury exposure on coronary heart disease, stroke, or total cardiovascular disease in U.S. adults at the exposure levels seen in this study. (Funded by the National Institutes of Health.).