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The inhibition of mercury absorption by dietary ethanol in humans: cross-sectional and case-control studies
  1. M D Martin,
  2. C Naleway
  1. Department of Oral Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Associate Professor M D Martin
 Dept of Oral Medicine, Box 356370, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA;


Background: Since the inhibition of mercury absorption by ethanol was serendipitously discovered in 1965,1 a limited number of small number studies with both animal and human subjects have reported results consistent with this finding.

Aims: To investigate this phenomenon in a large scale human study with low level Hg exposed dentists.

Methods: Data were collected for a sample of 1171dentists, and both cross sectional and case-control methods were utilised to examine the data.

Results: Abstainers (n = 345) had significantly higher urinary mercury concentrations (HgU) than drinkers (n = 826): 5.4 μg/l v 4.8 μg/l. Multiple linear regression showed a significant effect of ethanol dose on HgU after adjusting for potential confounders. A case-control analysis in which cases were defined as those individuals with urinary Hg concentrations of ⩾15 μg/l (≈ top 5%), and controls as those with concentrations of <1.0 μg/l (≈ bottom 5%), showed a clear protective dose-response relation; there was a decreasing risk of being a “case” (having an HgU ⩾15 μg/l) with increasing ethanol consumption. The significance of the adjusted model is p<0.001, and the χ2 test for trend across ethanol consumption categories in the adjusted model is p<0.05, confirming the dose-response relation.

Conclusion: We believe that this straightforward investigation provides the first specific confirmation in a large scale human study of the inhibitory effect of ethanol on urinary mercury concentration, and by inference, on mercury absorption.

  • human
  • ethanol
  • mercury
  • absorption

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