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Mercury in the Food Supply

Studies have shown that consumption of certain food ingredients leads to mineral imbalances such as zinc and selenium loss or deficiency (1, 2, 3).   These minerals are essential elements important in disease prevention because they are key factors in preventing cell destruction and tissue damage.  Zinc plays an important role in gene expression (4).  Gene expression is a double edged sword required for the formation of proteins needed by our bodies to maintain healthy development and also unfortunately for the development of chronic disease conditions such as cancer (5, 6, 7).  The foods we eat determine how and whether or not certain genes are expressed within the nucleus of each cell.   

In addition to the dietary factors discussed above, gene expression is altered by exposure to toxic substances found in our environment such as mercury (8).  Some products contain an ingredient historically known to contain mercury and its consumption by humans leads to mineral imbalances such as zinc loss.  An example of such an ingredient is high fructose corn syrup.   Consumption of high fructose corn syrup leads to mineral imbalances in humans and it has historically contained and probably still does contain mercury (1, 9, 10).  The article about finding mercury in high fructose corn syrup was published in the free access Environmental Health journal in January 2009.  This article explains how the historical use of mercury cell-chlor alkali chemicals in the manufacture of high fructose corn syrup is likely the reason why the product contains mercury (9).   Canadian government researchers duplicated these findings and reported them on line in July 2010 as a comment on the original study (10).

Mercury cell-chlor alkali caustic, HCL, KOH, and Cl are commonly used in food processing and all of these mercury cell-chlor alkali chemicals contain mercury residue (9, 11).   If these products are used to manufacture processed food, then there is a possibility that the final food product will contain mercury residue. Such residue will contribute to consumer mercury exposure.  Although the use of mercury cell-chlor alkali chemicals is thought by many to enhance product shelf life, safer alternatives are available and should be used by food manufacturers (12).   Consumers are aware that mercury exposures in humans accumulate over time with consumption of mercury contaminated food and exposure to mercury contaminated air.  Inorganic mercury deposition within the human body is a cumulative process, increasing with age and in the population over time (13).  Inorganic mercury levels in U.S. women have increased significantly. While only 2% of 6,174 women in a CDC study group had detectable levels of inorganic mercury in their blood in 2000, 30% of the women in the group had detectable levels of inorganic mercury by 2006 (13). Increasing inorganic blood mercury levels in women of child-bearing age does not bode well for future generations from an epigenetic perspective.  Mercury exposure has been linked to the development of neurological developmental disorders (14, 15).  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reducing exposure to all forms of mercury in pregnant women and children (16). A cohesive and conscious effort by food processors to end the use of mercury cell-chlor alkali chemicals and other unhealthy ingredients in food manufacturing must be made or consumers will continue to take matters into their own hands with their purchasing power.


(1). Ivaturi R, Kies C, 1992. Mineral Balances in Humans as Affected by Fructose, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, and Sucrose.  Plant Foods for Hum Nutr, 42(2):143-151.

(2). Ward NI, Soulsbury K, Zettel VH, Colquhoun ID, Bunday S, Barnes B, 19990. The Influence of the Chemical Additive Tartrazine on the Zinc Status of Hyperactive Children-A Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Study. J Nutr Med, 1:51-57.

(3). Ward NI, 1997. Assessment of Chemical Factors in Relation to Child Hyperactivity. J Nutr Environ Med, 7:333-342.

(4). Hambidge M, 2000. Human Zinc Deficiency. J Nutr 2000 May;130(5S Suppl):1344S-9S.

(5). University of Utah, Genetic Science Learning Center. 2010.  Nutrition and the Epigenome.

(6). Edwards TM, Myers JP, 2007. Environmental Exposures and Gene Regulation in Disease EtiologyEnviron Health Perspect 115(9):doi:10.1289/ehp.9951

(7). Ramos RG, Olden K, 2008. Gene-Environment Interactions in the Development of Complex Disease Phenotypes. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 5(1), 4-11.

(8) Herbert MR, 2010. Contributions of the Environment and Environmentally Vulnerable Physiology to Autism Spectrum Disorders. Current Opinion in Neurology, 23(2):103-110.

(9). Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, Hightower J, Patrick L, Lukiw, WJ, 2009.  Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar.    Environmental Health, 8:2.

(10). Dufault R, LeBlanc B, Schnoll R, Cornett C, Schweitzer L, Wallinga D, Hightower J, Patrick L, Lukiw, WJ, 2009.  Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar.    Environmental Health, 8:2

(11). KA Steel Chemicals Inc., 2010. Product Specification Sheet for Sodium Hydroxide Mercury Cell Grade.

(12). Chlorine Free Products Association, 2010.

(13) Laks DR, 2009.  Assessment of Chronic Mercury Exposure within the U.S. Population, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2006. Biometals, 22(6):1103-1114.

(14). Dufault R, Schnoll R, Lukiw, WJ, LeBlanc B, Cornett C, Patrick L, Wallinga D, Gilbert S, Crider R, 2009. Mercury Exposure, Nutritional Deficiencies and Metabolic Disruptions May Affect Learning in Children. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 5:44. doi:10.1186/1744-9081-5-44

(15.) Palmer R, Blanchard S, Stein Z, Mandell D, Miller C, 2006. Environmental Mercury Release, Special Education Rates, and Autism Disorder: An Ecological Study of Texas. Health Place, 12:203-209.

(16). Goldman LR, Michael W. Shannon MW, and the Committee on Environmental Health, 2001. Technical Report: Mercury in the Environment: Implications for Pediatricians. Pediatrics, 108: 197-205.

Copyright by Food Ingredient and Health Research Institute.

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