Associations of environmental exposures to methylmercury and selenium with female infertility: A case–control study

Eri Maeda, Katsuyuki Murata, Yukiyo Kumazawa, Wataru Sato, Hiromitsu Shirasawa, Takuya Iwasawa, Kimiko Izumo, Nozomi Tatsuta, Mineshi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Terada

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20 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Methylmercury exposure is a common health risk resulting from daily fish intake. However, studies addressing the link between methylmercury and infertility are limited and also inconsistent. In addition, no previous epidemiological studies have accounted for the interaction between methylmercury and selenium. We aimed to investigate the association between environmental exposures to metals and female fertility. Methods: This case-control study included 98 infertile women receiving fertility treatment (infertile group) and 43 female workers in their thirties (control group) who provided blood samples and returned a questionnaire on lifestyles and dietary characteristics. Blood levels of mercury, lead, cadmium, arsenic, manganese, zinc, and selenium were compared between the groups. Spearman correlation analyses between anti-Müllerian hormone and the metals were conducted. Results: The mean selenium level in blood (± SD) and the selenium/mercury molar ratio were significantly lower in the infertile group (189 ± 25 μg/L and 94.6 ± 44.3, respectively) than in the control group (200 ± 25 μg/L and 118.4 ± 70.5). By contrast, blood mercury levels after adjusting for blood selenium and age were significantly higher in the infertile group than in the control group. Multiple logistic regression analyses with the adjustment for the other metals and potential confounders confirmed significant associations of infertility with elevated mercury and reduced selenium levels. No significant correlations were observed between anti-Müllerian hormone and metals. Conclusions: Methylmercury and selenium exposures appear to have adverse and protective effects on female fertility, respectively. This is the first report to suggest the antagonistic interaction between methylmercury and selenium in relation to human female fertility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-363
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - 2019 Jan


  • Female fertility
  • Heavy metals
  • Interaction
  • Methylmercury
  • Selenium


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