Blood inorganic mercury is directly associated with glucose levels in the human population and may be linked to processed food intake

Integr Mol Med. 2015;2(3):10.15761/imm.1000134. doi: 10.15761/imm.1000134.


Background: The goals of the study were (1) to determine the impact of inorganic mercury exposure on glucose homeostasis; and (2) to evaluate the effectiveness of two community-based interventions in promoting dietary changes among American Indian college students to reduce risk factors for Type-2 Diabetes including fasting glucose, insulin, and mercury levels, weight, and body mass index.

Methods: To accomplish goal one, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) dataset was analyzed using a previously published method to determine if there is a relationship between inorganic blood mercury and fasting glucose. To accomplish goal two, ten college students were recruited and randomly assigned to a group receiving the online macroepigenetics nutrition course and the support group for eliminating corn sweeteners. Participants in both groups were assessed for diet patterns, weight, body mass index (BMI), fasting glucose, insulin, and mercury levels. The interventions were implemented over a 10-week period.

Results: Analysis of the NHANES data (n=16,232) determined a direct relationship between inorganic mercury in blood and fasting glucose levels (p<0.001). The participants who took the online macroepigenetics nutrition intervention course significantly improved their diets (p<0.01), and fasting blood glucose levels (p<0.01) while having lower levels of inorganic mercury in their blood compared to the subjects in the group who eliminated corn sweeteners from their diet and participated in the support group. The trend in lower blood inorganic mercury was strong with p=0.052. The participants in the support group who eliminated corn sweeteners from their diet achieved significant weight loss (p<0.01) and reduced their body mass index (p<0.01).

Conclusion: Total blood mercury levels may be influenced by dietary intake of highly processed foods and lower inorganic mercury levels are associated with lower fasting glucose levels. Alternative community-based interventions emphasizing the role food ingredients and toxic substances play in gene modulation and the development of diseases can result in significant dietary improvements and reductions in risk factors associated with type-2 diabetes. A healthier diet can be promoted among community members using a novel online nutrition course. Consumption of corn sweeteners may be a risk factor in the development of obesity.

Keywords: NHANES; corn syrup; diabetes; diet; fructose; glucose; macroepigenetics; mercury; online.