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Mercury levels and the risk of RA in women

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It is common knowledge that consuming fish with high levels of mercury can lead to nerve damage and can harm a developing fetus. A new study by researchers from the University of Michigan now claims that mercury exposure can be a risk factor for autoimmune disorders among women of childbearing age.

The research team, led by Dr. Emily Somers – an associate professor in the departments of Internal Medicine, Environmental Health Sciences and Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan Medical and Public Health Schools recently published its findings in the journal ‘Environmental Health Perspectives’. According to Dr. Somers and her team, for women of reproductive age, consuming fish even at low levels recommended by the FDA and the EPA may pose another harm to health; it could raise the risk of autoimmune disorders, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, in which the immune system attacks and damages the body’s own tissues.

Details of the Study

The researchers assessed data of 1,352 women aged 16-49 years who were part of the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). They assessed the levels of mercury present among participants by analyzing hair and blood samples and found that the higher the levels of mercury among the women, the higher the levels of autoantibodies – proteins that are a characteristic of autoimmune diseases. Autoantibodies are made when an individual’s immune system is unable to distinguish between healthy tissues and potentially harmful cells.

“The presence of autoantibodies doesn’t necessarily mean they will lead to an autoimmune disease,” Dr. Somers notes. “However, we know that autoantibodies are significant predictors of future autoimmune disease, and may predate the symptoms and diagnosis of an autoimmune disease by years.”

The researchers found that methylmercury was the strongest driver for autoantibodies. “Notably,” they add, “a dose-response relationship was observed for low methylmercury exposure levels in the range generally considered safe for women of childbearing potential by regulatory agencies.”

Women and autoimmune disease

According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, around 50 million people in the US are living with an autoimmune disease. Of these, more than 75% are women. Women are three times more likely to develop an autoimmune disease than men.

With these statistics and their findings in mind, the researchers say women of reproductive age should consider the amount of seafood they are consuming. Dr. Somers adds: “In our study, exposure to mercury stood out as the main risk factor for autoimmunity. For women of childbearing age, who are at particular risk of developing this type of disease, it may be especially important to keep track of seafood consumption.”

#RheumatoidArthritis #Lupus #AutoimmuneDisease #Mercury #Methylmercury

#Arthritis #JointPain #Flexibility #HandExercises #Physiotherapy #RheumatoidArthritis

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