Background: Mercury is a toxic heavy metal and is known to affect many diseases. However, few studies have examined the effects of mercury exposure on liver function in the general population. We examined the association between blood mercury concentrations and liver enzyme levels in the elderly.
Methods: We included 560 elderly participants (60 years or older) who were recruited from 2008 to 2010 and followed up to 2014. Subjects visited a community welfare center and underwent a medical examination and measurement of mercury levels up to five times. Analyses using generalized estimating equations model were performed after adjusting for age, sex, education, overweight, alcohol consumption, smoking, regular exercise, high-density lipoproteins cholesterol, and total calorie intake. Additionally, we estimated interaction effects of alcohol consumption with mercury and mediation effect of oxidative stress in the relationship between mercury levels and liver function.
Results: The geometric mean (95% confidence interval (CI)) of blood mercury concentrations was 2.81 μg/L (2.73, 2.89). Significant relationships were observed between blood mercury concentrations and the level of liver enzymes, including aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), after adjusting for potential confounders (P < 0.05). The odds ratios of having abnormal ALT levels were statistically significant in the highest mercury quartile compared to those with the lowest quartile. Particularly, regular alcohol drinkers showed greater effect estimates of mercury on the liver function than non-drinkers groups. There was no mediation effect of oxidative stress in the relationship between blood mercury concentrations and liver function.
Conclusions: Our results suggest that blood mercury levels are associated with elevated liver enzymes and interact with alcohol consumption for the association in the elderly.
Keywords: Aged; Liver function test; Mercury; Mercury alcohol interaction.