Hair mercury levels, intake of omega-3 fatty acids and ovarian reserve among women attending a fertility center

for the Earth Study Team

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5 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate the association of hair mercury (Hg) levels with antral follicle count (AFC), as a marker of ovarian reserve, and evaluate whether this relationship differed among women with high vs. low total intake of long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n3PUFA) from foods and supplements. Design: We included 353 women attending an academic fertility center (2007–2019) who had data on hair Hg levels, total n3PUFA intake, and AFC. Methods: Hair Hg levels were assessed using a Direct Mercury Analyser, total n3PUFA intake was estimated using an extensively validated food frequency questionnaire, and AFC was assessed by transvaginal ultrasonography. Poisson regression models adjusted for potential confounders were used to evaluate the association of hair Hg levels (divided into tertiles, and as above vs below EPA reference (1 ppm)) with AFC. Associations were also evaluated after stratification by median n3PUFA intake (≤0.124% vs. >0.125% calories/week). Results: Women's median hair Hg level was 0.60 ppm (range = 0.001–8.60 ppm), with more than 30% > 1 ppm (EPA reference level). Hair Hg was positively related to AFC after adjusting for age, BMI, smoking status, infertility diagnosis, and alcohol intake. However, associations became attenuated after adjustment for intake of total n3PUFA. The positive associations of hair Hg and AFC were observed only among women above the median total n3PUFA intake. Specifically, women who consumed >0.125% calories/week of total n3PUFA had mean AFCs of 11.9, 13.2 and 14.1, respectively, across increasing tertiles of hair Hg (p,trend = 0.004). Similar results were found when hair Hg was divided above vs below EPA reference (mean AFC = 12.7 vs. 14.1, p = 0.008). Conclusions: In these women, positive associations of hair Hg with AFC may be reflective of beneficial effects of n3PUFA on ovarian reserve rather than a beneficial effect of Hg per se. Our findings highlight the importance of considering diet when exploring Hg effects on women's reproductive health in urban settings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113825
JournalInternational Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Mercury
  • Omega3
  • Ovarian reserve


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