To evaluate whether a public health intervention using focused dietary advice combined with a hair-mercury analysis can lower neurotoxic methylmercury exposure among pregnant women without decreasing their overall intake of seafood.
A total of 146 pregnant women were consecutively recruited from the antenatal clinic at a Danish university hospital at their initial ultrasound scan. Dietary advice was provided on avoiding methylmercury exposure from large predatory fish and a hair sample from each participant was analysed for mercury, with the results being communicated shortly thereafter to the women. A dietary questionnaire was filled in. Follow-up three months later included a dietary questionnaire and a repeat hair-mercury analysis.
In the follow-up group, 22% of the women had hair-mercury concentrations above a safe limit of 0.58 µg/g at enrolment, decreasing to 8% three months later. Average hair-mercury concentrations decreased by 21%. However, the total seafood intake remained at the same level after three months.
Increased exposure to methylmercury among pregnant women is an important public health concern in Denmark. The observed lowering of hair-mercury concentrations associated with dietary advice corresponds to a substantial public health benefit that probably makes such an intervention highly profitable.