Background: Even though previous studies have suggested an association between high fish intake and reduced coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality, men in Eastern Finland, who have a high fish intake, have an exceptionally high CHD mortality. We hypothesized that this paradox could be in part explained by high mercury content in fish.
Methods and results: We studied the relation of the dietary intake of fish and mercury, as well as hair content and urinary excretion of mercury, to the risk of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and death from CHD, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and any cause in 1833 men aged 42 to 60 years who were free of clinical CHD, stroke, claudication, and cancer. Of these, 73 experienced an AMI in 2 to 7 years. Of the 78 decreased men, 18 died of CHD and 24 died of CVD. Men who had consumed local nonfatty fish species had elevated hair mercury contents. In Cox models with the major cardiovascular risk factors as covariates, dietary intakes of fish and mercury were associated with significantly increased risk of AMI and death from CHD, CVD, and any death. Men in the highest tertile (> or = 2.0 micrograms/g) of hair mercury content had a 2.0-fold (95% confidence interval, 1.2 to 3.1; P = .005) age- and CHD-adjusted risk of AMI and a 2.9-fold (95% CI, 1.2 to 6.6; P = .014) adjusted risk of cardiovascular death compared with those with a lower hair mercury content. In a nested case-control subsample, the 24-hour urinary mercury excretion had a significant (P = .042) independent association with the risk of AMI. Both the hair and urinary mercury associated significantly with titers of immune complexes containing oxidized LDL.
Conclusions: These data suggest that a high intake of mercury from nonfatty freshwater fish and the consequent accumulation of mercury in the body are associated with an excess risk of AMI as well as death from CHD, CVD, and any cause in Eastern Finnish men and this increased risk may be due to the promotion of lipid peroxidation by mercury.