Researchers in Taiwan say they have established for the first time, that the mercury compound which is present as a contaminant in some seafood can actually damage insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
In their experiments, Shing-Hwa Liu and colleagues exposed cell cultures of insulin-producing beta cells to methylmercury. They used concentrations of methylmercury at about the same levels as people would consume in fish under the U. S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommended limits.
Previous studies have shown that methylmercury is toxic to various cells. Liu and colleagues now have added pancreatic beta cells to that list.
“Altogether, our data clearly indicate that methylmercury-induced oxidative stress causes pancreatic beta-cell apoptosis (programmed cell death) and dysfunction,” they said in a report scheduled for the Aug. 21 issue of the ACS journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology.
Liu added in an interview: “Although there was lack of a firm clinical basis, some cellular and animal studies implied that methylmercury may have [the] ability to injury the pancreatic beta cells. The present study supplied the direct evidence of basic research that methylmercury-induced oxidative stress causes pancreatic beta cell apoptosis and dysfunction. Further research is needed on whether methylmercury exposure increases the risk of diabetes in humans.”