Associations between mercury exposure and the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in US adolescents

Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2019 Oct;26(30):31384-31391. doi: 10.1007/s11356-019-06224-5. Epub 2019 Aug 31.


Little is known regarding the effects of environmental mercury (Hg) exposure on liver dysfunction in adolescents. We aimed to explore the association between Hg exposure and the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in the adolescent population. The cross-sectional associations between blood Hg concentrations and serum alanine aminotransferase (ALT) levels, a surrogate for suspected NAFLD, were evaluated using data from adolescents (aged 12-17 years old) who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1999-2014. A final sample of 6389 adolescents was analysed. Elevated ALT was defined as > 25 IU/L and > 22 IU/L for boys and girls ≤ 17 years old, respectively. Odds ratios (ORs) of Hg levels in association with serum ALT levels were estimated using a logistic regression after adjusting for gender, age, ethnicity, serum cotinine, body mass index, the poverty income ratio, and NHANES cycles. The median blood Hg level was 0.73 ± 0.91 μg/L amongst US adolescents. In the adjusted model, the ORs of elevated ALT levels of those in the 4th quartile were higher amongst non-Hispanic white adolescents (OR = 1.76, 95% CI 1.20, 2.59; P = 0.035) and those who were normal or underweight (OR = 1.41, 95% CI 1.08, 1.85; P = 0.020). No association was observed for the other variables. Our results indicate that the positive association between blood Hg exposure and the risk of NAFLD in US adolescents is the highest amongst non-Hispanic white and those who are normal or underweight, regardless of ethnicity. More research is necessary to confirm this association and to clarify the potential mechanisms.

Keywords: Adolescent; Alanine aminotransferase; Mercury; NHANES; Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Alanine Transaminase / blood
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mercury / blood*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / epidemiology*
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Odds Ratio


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Alanine Transaminase
  • Mercury