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Mercury exposure during pregnancy

A recent study has analysed the mercury present in the hair of pregnant women as a marker of mercury exposure and investigated its association with fish and seafood consumption.

Mercury pollution has been a worldwide public health issue due to its detrimental consequences on human health. Mercury exposure during pregnancy has an adverse impact on brain development.

In a recent study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, researchers used a questionnaire method and hair samples from 229 participants to determine the amount of mercury exposure during pregnancy. The questionnaire consisted of demographic data, obstetric history, the amount of fish and seafood intake, and participants’ knowledge of the effects of mercury. Hair samples were collected and sent to the lab for analysis.

The study found that the average total hair mercury concentration in women was either lower or similar to what has been reported by previous studies. Additionally, the data found that the hair mercury concentration was highest in the following groups: well-educated women, women with a first pregnancy, Asian women, and women over 33 years of age. Those who ate seafood once a week or more in the last three months had a much higher total hair mercury concentration than those who did not consume any seafood in the last three months.

The researchers reported that mercury exposure during pregnancy was highest in those who consumed seafood three times per week.

The researchers also reported that 89% of pregnant women knew that fish can be contaminated with mercury and 85.5% knew that an increasing level of mercury could be detrimental to the fetus.  Although most pregnant women knew about the effects of mercury, the average mercury concentration found in the hair was slightly increased in women who did not know about the risk of mercury as compared to those who knew.

Due to public health education, there has been an increased knowledge on the risks of mercury and mercury exposure during pregnancy but in this study, the average hair mercury concentration did not show much difference between pregnant women who knew about the effects and risks of mercury and those who did not. These results suggest that more education is needed to decrease hair mercury concentration in women.

As epidemiologist Adam M. Schaefer stated, “In view of the serious consequences of prenatal exposure to high concentrations of mercury, continued education on safe sources and species of seafood is warranted,” “Educational efforts must provide a balanced approach to include information regarding the benefits of fish consumption while minimizing risk by avoiding locally caught seafood or fish species known to contain high levels of mercury.”



  1. Schaefer, Zoffer, Yrastorza, Pearlman, Bossart, Stoessel, & Reif. (2019). Mercury Exposure, Fish Consumption, and Perceived Risk among Pregnant Women in Coastal Florida. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 16(24), 4903. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16244903
  2. Fish consumption and mercury exposure in pregnant women in coastal Florida. (2019). Retrieved 17 December 2019, from


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