Elevated blood pressure in childhood is an important risk factor for hypertension in adulthood. Environmental exposures have been associated with elevated blood pressure over the life course and exposure to mercury (Hg) has been linked to cardiovascular effects in adults. As subclinical vascular changes begin early in life, Hg may play a role in altered blood pressure in children. However, the evidence linking early life Hg exposure to altered blood pressure in childhood has been largely inconsistent. In the ongoing New Hampshire Birth Cohort Study, we investigated prenatal and childhood Hg exposure at multiple time points and associations with blood pressure measurements in 395 young children (mean age 5.5 years, SD 0.4). Hg exposure was measured in children’s toenail clippings at age 3 and in urine at age 5-6 years, as well as in maternal toenail samples collected at ∼28 weeks gestation and 6 weeks postpartum, the latter two samples reflecting early prenatal and mid-gestation exposures, respectively. Five measurements of systolic blood pressure (SBP), diastolic blood pressure (DBP) and mean arterial pressure (MAP) were averaged for each child using a standardized technique. In covariate-adjusted linear regression analyses, we observed that a 0.1 μg/g increase in child toenail Hg at age 3 or a 0.1 μg/L urine Hg at age 5-6 were individually associated with greater DBP (toenail β: 0.53 mmHg; 95% CI: -0.02, 1.07; urine β: 0.48 mmHg; 95% CI: 0.10, 0.86) and MAP (toenail β: 0.67 mmHg; 95% CI: 0.002, 1.33; urine β: 0.55 mmHg; 95% CI: 0.10, 1.01). Neither early prenatal nor mid-gestation Hg exposure, as measured by maternal toenails, were related to any changes to child BP. Simultaneous inclusion of both child urine Hg and child toenail Hg in models suggested a potentially stronger relationship of urine Hg at age 5-6 with DBP and MAP, as compared to toenail Hg at age 3. Our findings suggest that Hg exposure during childhood is associated with alterations in BP. Childhood may be an important window of opportunity to reduce the impacts of Hg exposure on children’s blood pressure, and in turn, long-term health.
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