Blood levels of lead and mercury and celiac disease seropositivity: the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2017 Mar;24(9):8385-8391. doi: 10.1007/s11356-017-8545-0. Epub 2017 Feb 9.


Celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune disease with increasing prevalence in the USA. CD leads to decreased absorption of many nutrients including certain divalent metals. On the other hand, recent cross-sectional studies suggest the associations between trace heavy metal exposure and autoimmunity. We aimed to determine if there is an association between CD autoimmunity and blood levels of heavy metals in the general US population. We used nationally representative data from National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009-2012. Our study comprised 3643 children (ages 6-17 years) and 11,040 adults (age ≥18 years). Children with CD seropositivity had significantly lower blood lead (0.56 versus 0.80 μg/dL, P = 0.001) and mercury levels (0.47 versus 0.64 μg/L, P = 0.001). In the linear regression model, CD seropositivity was associated with lower levels of blood lead and mercury in children (β = -0.14, P = 0.03 for lead and β = -0.22, P = 0.008 for mercury), but not in adults. These findings of CD-heavy metals association are, to our knowledge, novel, and we conclude that decreased levels of heavy metals in blood are most likely a consequence of CD in the US children.

Keywords: Celiac disease; Lead; Mercury; NHANES; National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey; Tissue transglutaminase IgA.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Celiac Disease / blood
  • Celiac Disease / immunology*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lead / blood*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Mercury / blood*
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Prevalence
  • United States
  • Young Adult


  • Lead
  • Mercury