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Gimli gobblers Mercury scientists to conduct unique human experiment next week

Click here for a French version of this release.

A world-leading team of Canadian scientists thinks that diet may play a critical role in limiting the body's absorption of the toxic heavy metal mercury, and they're lining up to test the idea on themselves.

The scientists from the NSERC-funded Collaborative Mercury Research Network (COMERN) have identified dramatic differences in the extent to which mercury from eating fish is absorbed by people in a variety of small Canadian communities.

Since 2000, COMERN researchers have been working closely with communities in the Lac St-Pierre (on the shore of the St. Lawrence east of Montreal) and Abititi regions of Quebec, island communities in the Bay of Fundy, and Innu communities in Labrador, examining their exposure to mercury through the fish they eat.

The research has revealed a mysterious anomaly. Hair or blood samples of individuals in the communities with the highest mercury exposure actually revealed the lowest body mercury levels.

"There's a huge discrepancy between mercury exposure and the extent to which it's absorbed by people in these various communities," says Dr. Marc Lucotte, a biologist at the Universit du Qubec Montral and the lead researcher in COMERN.

What's responsible for this significant difference in uptake?

"We suspect there is something different in the food in some communities and that this is preventing individuals from absorbing mercury," says Dr. Lucotte.

That something, the researchers suspect, could be simply old fashioned tea. Tea-drinking Japanese communities known to be exposed to high levels of mercury through fish consumption have also shown unusually low levels of absorption. Tea is known to be a strong chelating agent it contains particles called flavonoids which bind with heavy metals to prevent their absorption by the body.

To test this tea
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Contact: Mike Paterson
lucotte.marc_michel@uqam.ca
204-781-7580
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
29-Oct-2004


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