The Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant was abuzz on Thursday with talk about selenium — an essential nutrient, plentiful in most fish, which just might be the get-out-of-mercury-free-card fish lovers have long hoped for. Chemical interactions between mercury and selenium have been documented for over 40 years (see pp 8-9 of our new report, “The Flip Side of Mercury“), and the debate over how it impacts human health was a hotly contested spectator sport.
The primary naysayer turned out to be Philippe Grandjean, the chief author of the only large study to find negative health effects from typical amounts of mercury in the human diet. Grandjean’s work, based in the Faroe Islands, is often criticized for relying on a population that gets most of its mercury from pilot whale meat, not fish. Whale meat is rife with other toxins, and it also ranks dead last among seafood choices for selenium.
Grandjean’s main quibble with the idea that selenium protects against mercury is that (he claims) the scientific proof has only been found in animals. But Dr. Laura Raymond of the University of North Dakota told a packed room that same day:
There have been numerous reports indicating that selenium supplementation counteracts the negative impact of mercury exposure. Numerous reports, I mean, there’s about 300 reports out there right now. And they all indicate – they don’t “suggest,” they do indicate it … And it’s also been shown in all investigated species: in mammals, birds, and fish, and even in humans. [emphasis added]