The Journal of nutrition

Dietary advice on Inuit traditional food use needs to balance benefits and risks of mercury, selenium, and n3 fatty acids.

PMID 23616502


Elevated concentrations of mercury (Hg) are commonly found in the traditional foods, including fish and marine mammals, of Inuit living in Canada's Arctic. As a result, Inuit often have higher dietary Hg intake and elevated Hg blood concentrations. However, these same traditional foods are excellent sources of essential nutrients. The goals of this study were 1) to identify the traditional food sources of Hg exposure for Inuit, 2) to estimate the percentage of Inuit who meet specific nutrient Dietary Reference Intakes and/or exceed the Toxicological Reference Values (TRVs), and 3) to evaluate options that maximize nutrient intake while minimizing contaminant exposure. A participatory cross-sectional survey was designed in consultation with Inuit in 3 Canadian Arctic jurisdictions (Nunatsiavut, Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region). Estimated intakes for EPA (20:5n3) and DHA (22:6n3) met suggested dietary targets, and estimated selenium (Se) intake fell within the Acceptable Range of Oral Intake. Estimated intakes of Hg (rs = 0.41, P < 0.001), Se (rs = 0.44, P < 0.001), EPA (rs = 0.32, P < 0.001), and DHA (rs = 0.28, P < 0.001) were correlated with their respective blood concentrations. Mean estimated Hg intake (7.9 μg · kg(-1) · wk(-1)) exceeded the TRV of 5.0 μg · kg(-1) · wk(-1), with 35% of the population above this guideline. Because the estimated intakes of each of the nutrients were strongly correlated (Se: rs = 0.92, P < 0.001; EPA: rs = 0.82, P < 0.001; DHA: rs = 0.81, P < 0.001) with estimated Hg intake, efforts to decrease Hg exposure must emphasize the overall healthfulness of traditional foods and be designed to prevent concomitant harm to the nutrient intakes of Inuit.

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