Strong Positive Associations Between Seafood, Vegetables, and Alcohol With Blood Mercury and Urinary Arsenic Levels in the Korean Adult Population



Blood mercury and urinary arsenic levels are more than fivefold greater in the Korean population compared with those of the United States. This may be related to the foods people consumed. Therefore, we examined the associations between food categories and mercury and arsenic exposure in the Korean adult population. Data regarding nutritional, biochemical, and health-related parameters were obtained from a cross-sectional study, the 2008–2009 Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (3,404 men and women age ≥20 years). The log-transformed blood mercury and urinary arsenic levels were regressed against the frequency tertiles of each food group after covariate adjustment for sex, age, residence area, education level, smoking status, and drinking status using food-frequency data. Blood mercury levels in the high consumption groups compared to the low consumption groups were elevated by about 20 percents with salted fish, shellfish, whitefish, bluefish, and alcohol, and by about 9-14 percents with seaweeds, green vegetables, fruits and tea, whereas rice did not affect blood mercury levels. Urinary arsenic levels were markedly increased with consumption of rice, bluefish, salted fish, shellfish, whitefish, and seaweed, whereas they were moderately increased with consumption of grains, green and white vegetables, fruits, coffee, and alcohol. The remaining food categories tended to lower these levels only minimally. In conclusion, the typical Asian diet, which is high in rice, salted fish, shellfish, vegetables, alcoholic beverages, and tea, may be associated with greater blood mercury and urinary arsenic levels. This study suggests that mercury and arsenic contents should be monitored and controlled in soil and water used for agriculture to decrease health risks from heavy-metal contamination.


Arsenic Food Group Arsenic Exposure Arsenic Level Green Vegetable 
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Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Food and NutritionHoseo UniversityChungnam-DoSouth Korea
  2. 2.Institute of Environmental and Occupational MedicineSoonchunhyang UniversityChungnam-DoSouth Korea

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