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Your Environment. Your Health.

Publication Detail

Title: Traditional Tibetan Medicine Induced High Methylmercury Exposure Level and Environmental Mercury Burden in Tibet, China.

Authors: Liu, Maodian; He, Yipeng; Baumann, Zofia; Yu, Chenghao; Ge, Shidong; Sun, Xuejun; Cheng, Menghan; Shen, Huizhong; Mason, Robert P; Chen, Long; Zhang, Qianggong; Wang, Xuejun

Published In Environ Sci Technol, (2018 08 07)

Abstract: Highly elevated concentrations of total mercury (THg) and methylmercury (MeHg) were found in the municipal sewage in Tibet. Material flow analysis supports the hypothesis that these elevated concentrations are related to regular ingestion of Hg-containing Traditional Tibetan Medicine (TTM). In Tibet in 2015, a total of 3600 kg of THg was released from human body into the terrestrial environment as a result of TTM ingestion, amounting to 45% of the total THg release into the terrestrial environment in Tibet, hence substantially enhancing the environmental Hg burden. Regular ingestion of TTM leads to chronic exposure of Tibetans to inorganic Hg (IHg) and MeHg, which is 34 to 3000-fold and 0-12-fold higher than from any other known dietary sources, respectively. Application of a human physiology model demonstrated that ingestion of TTM can induce high blood IHg and MeHg levels in the human body. Moreover, 180 days would be required for the MeHg to be cleared out of the human body and return to the initial concentration i.e. prior to the ingestion of 1 TTM pill. Our analysis suggests that high Hg level contained in TTM could be harmful to human health and elevate the environmental Hg burden in Tibet.

PubMed ID: 30019578 Exiting the NIEHS site

MeSH Terms: China; Environmental Monitoring; Humans; Medicine, Tibetan Traditional; Mercury*; Methylmercury Compounds*; Tibet

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