Mercury and Autoimmunity
Scientific evidence suggests that exposure to mercury and other heavy metals may play a role in the initiation or exacerbation of autoimmune diseases. Mercury is known to adversely affect the immune system of animals. The extent of the effects of mercury may depend on genetic background, duration of exposure, and current or past infections.
Hemdan et al. (2007) reviewed the the animal and human evidence linking heavy metals, including mercury, to autoimmunity. While mercury is known to suppress the immune system (Selin et al. 2010), it is also linked to autoimmunity (Vas and Monestier 2008). . We can think of both immune suppression and autoimmunity as immune system dysfunction, and both are sometimes associated with the same chemical exposure.
Let’s look at some specific examples.
There is epidemiological evidence that shows associations between the autoimmune disease SLE (lupus) and an oil field waste site contaminated with mercury and petroleum products (Dahlgren et al. 2007).
In Brazil, a study found elevated autoantibody levels in gold miners (exposed to high levels of inorganic mercury), as well as in people who ate fish containing methylmercury, as compared to less exposed people (Silva et al. 2004). A further study from Brazil has found that gold miners not only had higher levels of autoantibodies, but also higher levels of inflammation that is associated with autoimmune disease than less exposed people (Gardner et al. 2010).
Exposure to mercury can induce autoimmunity as well as worsen ongoing cases in some strains of mice genetically susceptible to autoimmunity (Hemdan et al. 2007). Mercury has also been shown to induce autoimmunity even in mice that are not genetically susceptible to autoimmunity (Abedi-Valugerdi 2009). The effects of mercury in part depend on the type of mercury. Inorganic mercury, for example, can induce autoimmunity in genetically susceptible mice. Organic mercury leads first to immunosuppression and then to autoimmunity in these mice (Havarinasab and Hultman 2005).
McCabe et al. (2003) describe a mechanism by which inorganic mercury affects the immune system and thereby could contribute to autoimmune disease.
This information was compiled from the website www.diabetesandenvironment.org Please visit the site for additional studies and information.