Scientist have long known that mercury in seafood poses health risks, especially for pregnant women and young children, but a recent study suggests that it may be linked to even more problems than had previously been believed. The study, conducted at the University of Michigan, found that women who had been exposed to high levels of mercury were more likely to show early signs of autoimmune disease.
The researchers used health data on 1,352 women between 16 and 49 years old, collected between 1999 and 2004 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that female subjects who had high levels of mercury biomarkers in their hair, blood or urine also had higher levels of autoantibodies, which are produced by people with autoimmune disorders and attack healthy cells in the person's own body, mistaking them for harmful bacteria and viruses.
This study represents a breakthrough in determining the risk factors for autoimmune disorders, which are much more common among women than men and number among the 10 leading causes of death in women.
Lead author Emily Somers, Ph.D., Sc.M, of the University of Michigan said in the study's release, "A large number of [autoimmune disease] cases are not explained by genetics, so we believe studying environmental factors will help us understand why autoimmunity happens and how we may be able to intervene to improve health outcomes. In our study, exposure to mercury stood out as the main risk factor for autoimmunity."
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