Mercury as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases

Mercury is a heavy metal that exists naturally in the environment. Major sources include the burning of fossil fuels (especially coal) and municipal waste incineration. Mercury can exist in several forms, with the most hazardous being organic methylmercury. In waterways (lakes, rivers, reservoirs, etc.), mercury is converted to methylmercury, which then accumulates in fish, especially in large predatory fish. Fish and fish products are the major—if not the only—source of methylmercury in humans. Mercury has long been recognized as a neurotoxin for humans, but in the last 10 years, its potentially harmful effects on cardiovascular diseases (CVD) have raised a cause for concern, mostly due to the proposed role of mercury in oxidative stress propagation. Some epidemiological studies have indeed found an association between increased levels of mercury in the body and risk of CVD. There are several plausible mechanisms to explain the association; these are discussed in this review. We also review the epidemiological studies that have investigated the association between mercury and CVD.