OBJECTIVES: The Arctic diet is partly constituted by traditional food characterized by top predator animals such as whales, walrus, and seals with high mercury content. Mercury exposure has been associated with glucose intolerance in Western populations. We studied the association between whole blood mercury and glucose intolerance in a highly exposed non-Western population
METHODS: Cross-sectional study of 2640 Inuit (18+ years) with information on ancestry, smoking, waist circumference, total energy intake, and physical activity. Mercury, fasting- and 2-h plasma glucose, insulin, and c-peptide were measured in blood. Fasting participants without diabetes were classified into normal glucose tolerance, impaired glucose tolerance, impaired fasting glycemia, or type 2 diabetes. We calculated hepatic insulin resistance with homoeostatic model assessment - insulin resistance index, peripheral insulin sensitivity by ISI0,120., and relative beta cell function by c-peptide/insulin ratio. We conducted adjusted linear- and logistic regression analyses.
RESULTS: For an increase in whole blood mercury of 5µg/L we found a positive association with fasting glucose [% change=0.25 (95% CI: 0.20; 0.30); p<0.001], and 2-h glucose [% change=0.23 (95% CI: 0.05; 0.40); p=0.01]. Mercury was weakly associated with impaired fasting glycemia [OR=1.03 (95% CI: 1.02; 1.05)], and type 2 diabetes [OR=1.02 (95% CI: 1.01; 1.04)].
CONCLUSION: While the study found a weak but statistically significant association between whole blood mercury and both impaired fasting glycemia and type 2 diabetes, no associations were found with measures of underlying disturbances in glucose homoeostasis.