Methyl mercury, but not inorganic mercury, associated with higher blood pressure during pregnancy

Ellen M. Wells, Julie B. Herbstman, Yu Hong Lin, Joseph R. Hibbeln, Rolf Halden, Frank R. Witter, Lynn R. Goldman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Prior studies addressing associations between mercury and blood pressure have produced inconsistent findings; some of this may result from measuring total instead of speciated mercury. This cross-sectional study of 263 pregnant women assessed total mercury, speciated mercury, selenium, and n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in umbilical cord blood and blood pressure during labor and delivery. Models with a) total mercury or b) methyl and inorganic mercury were evaluated. Regression models adjusted for maternal age, race/ethnicity, prepregnancy body mass index, neighborhood income, parity, smoking, n-3 fatty acids and selenium. Geometric mean total, methyl, and inorganic mercury concentrations were 1.40 µg/L (95% confidence interval: 1.29, 1.52); 0.95 µg/L (0.84, 1.07); and 0.13 µg/L (0.10, 0.17), respectively. Elevated systolic BP, diastolic BP, and pulse pressure were found, respectively, in 11.4%, 6.8%, and 19.8% of mothers. In adjusted multivariable models, a one-tertile increase of methyl mercury was associated with 2.83 mmHg (0.17, 5.50) higher systolic blood pressure and 2.99 mmHg (0.91, 5.08) higher pulse pressure. In the same models, an increase of one tertile of inorganic mercury was associated with −1.18 mmHg (−3.72, 1.35) lower systolic blood pressure and −2.51 mmHg (−4.49, −0.53) lower pulse pressure. No associations were observed with diastolic pressure. There was a non-significant trend of higher total mercury with higher systolic blood pressure. We observed a significant association of higher methyl mercury with higher systolic and pulse pressure, yet higher inorganic mercury was significantly associated with lower pulse pressure. These results should be confirmed with larger, longitudinal studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-252
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - 2017


  • Blood pressure
  • Inorganic mercury compounds
  • Mercury
  • Methylmercury compounds
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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