Yesterday, a report was released by Environmental Health that got me re-thinking the few foods left in my home that still contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A pilot study was done to find out if high fructose corn syrup contains mercury, and the results of the study done on corn syrup samples taken from three different manufacturers did detect mercury.

The Washington Post had a quote from one of the study’s co-authors and a good summary of the information.

"Mercury is toxic in all its forms. Given how much high-fructose corn syrup is consumed by children, it could be a significant additional source of mercury never before considered. We are calling for immediate changes by industry and the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] to help stop this avoidable mercury contamination of the food supply," said the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy's Dr. David Wallinga, a co-author of both studies. In the first study, researchers found detectable levels of mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. The study was published in current issue of Environmental Health.
In the second study, the agriculture group found that nearly one in three of 55 brand-name foods contained mercury. The chemical was most common in HFCS-containing dairy products, dressings and condiments.
According to the USDA, the average American at 58.2 pounds of high fructose corn syrup in 2006, the most recent year data available. HFCS is abundant in the foods that children and teens will choose regularly – sodas, sweetened “fruit” juices, sugary cereals and treats, even the burger buns of many fast food restaurants. It’s not hard to imagine that many children are consuming more than that average 58.2 pounds a year.

How does mercury affect health? The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has some information on that.

Exposure to high levels of metallic, inorganic or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys and developing fetus. Effects on brain functioning may result in irritability, shyness, tremors, changes in vision or hearing, and memory problems. Short-term exposure to high levels of metallic mercury vapors may cause effects including lung damage, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, increases in blood pressure or heart rate, skin rashes, and eye irritation.

The evidence that HFCS is not a healthy ingredient in our foods was already mounting up before this study came out. Obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease have all been linked to high consumption of HFCS. Adding mercury to the list of evidence should give us one more reason to eliminate it from our cupboards and the FDA one more reason to question its use overall.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.