Is there Mercury in High-Fructose Corn Syrup?
I knew that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was bad. But when I stumbled upon a mention of high-fructose corn syrup having detectable amounts of mercury, I had to do some Googling to see whether this was true and how serious this was.
The answer is that it was true back then, but not anymore.
It was true back in the early 2000's when some high-fructose corn syrup was still being produced by using the outdated mercury cell choloralkali process. Apparently, some trace mercury residue was able to get into the HFCS produced and hence in some of the foods that contains HFCS as among the top three ingredients.
But that was back then. Fortunately, this mercury-based method has been phasing out and newer mercury-free methods are being used today (September 2012).
According to SweetSurpise.com ...
"No mercury or mercury-based technology is used in the production of high fructose corn syrup in North America. High fructose corn syrup is safe and does not contain quantifiable levels of mercury."
Hence, the remainder of this article is of a historical perspective.
How it Used to be back then...
If you do a web search of "mercury high fructose corn syrup", you may find various reports about mercury being detected. However, if you look at the dates of these reports, you will find that they are quite old. And much of the information is outdated and no longer true.
According to the WashingtonPost reported back in 2009, half of the tested commercial high-fructose corn syrup have been found to contain mercury.
Hence it was not surprising that mercury were found in some of processed food and beverages that contain high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup (such as those where high-fructose corn syrup where in the top three ingredients).
To see how much mercury was in some processed food back in 2009, see report by Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (published in January 2009).
What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
High fructose corn syrup are used in many sugary beverages, sodas, breads, cereals, baked goods, lunch meats, yogurts, soups, condiments, other processed foods.
It is used as a sweetener and helps to extend the shelf life of processed foods.
Even if there is no mercury in HFCS, that is still not a reason to consume it.
We already know that excessive sugar leads to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity. If not, read my article on why sugar is so bad. Sugar is half glucose and half sucrose.
It is the fructose part that is the bad part. The most commonly used form of HFCS used is contains either 55% fructose or 42% fructose.
Let's do a bit of math...
Based on investigation by Environmental Health and FDA in 2004, mercury was detected in 9 out of the 20 samples of HFCS (consisting of both the 55% and the 42% fructose variety). Using the data provided (table here), the average mercury level of of the 20 samples turns out to be 0.113 micrograms of mercury per gram of HFCS -- where zero was used for those samples whose mercury level was below the detectable limit of 0.005 micrograms of mercury per gram.
Since a microgram is one millionth of a gram, 0.113 micrograms is about 0.1 parts per million. This concentration of mercury is more than what you would find in typical salmon, sardine, tilapia, or trout. It is on the same order of magnitude as the mercury found in lobster, snapper, and halibut.
Although the amount of mercury is small, with the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, this amount should be taken into account.
Back then, the average American consume about 12 teaspoons of high-fructose corn syrup a day -- which is 12 teaspoons too many. Other indications is that the average person in the United State consumes 50 grams of high fructose corn syrup each day.
Doing a bit of math, that means that on average, a person would consume 5.6 micrograms of mercury per day from the high fructose corn syrup back then.
For comparison: a serving of a three-ounce salmon is 85 grams at 0.015 parts per million of mercury. So this serving of salmon contains only 1.3 micrograms of mercury.
Note that this is a very rough calculation. The amount of mercury in HFCS and salmon is highly variable. And your consumption of each may also not be typical of the number used in this example.
Environmental Health makes a similar calculation that comes to ...
"we can estimate that the potential average daily total mercury exposure from HFCS could range from zero to 28.4 μg mercury"
How Toxic is Mercury?
Mercury is a heavy metal neuro-toxin. It is among the most toxic elements to the human body, especially the brain.
Mercury is so toxic that any spill (including breakage of mercury thermometer) requires special cleaning procedures by experts to avoid exposure and dispersal.
Mercury toxicity have been suspected as an possible contributing factor in Alzheimer's Disease in the old as well as autism in the young.
An individual susceptibility to mercury varies depending on genetics and nutritional status. Some genetically susceptible individual may have sub-optimal ability to detoxify mercury. Nutritional status is also important as mentioned in Dr. Russel Balylock's book Health and Nutrition Secrets ...
"if you practice poor nutrition and as a result have poor antioxidant defenses before being exposed to mercury, you are more likely to suffer greater toxicity than someone with adequate antioxidant protection and good general nutrition. Certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and E, magnesium, zinc, alpha-lipoic acid, and selenium, are especially important: they not only act as powerful antioxidants, but some can actually remove mercury from tissues." [page 51]
He also writes that ...
"Minute exposures occurring over long periods of time can accumulate in the nervous system, and because the brain is so energy-dependent, this small amount of mercury can produce significant neurological problems". [page 53]
Article written September 2012 and is only opinion at the time of writing. Information is based on reports on the Internet dating back in the early 2000's. By the time you are reading this, the information may no longer be true.
-  Study Finds High-Fructose Corn Syrup Contains Mercury
Almost half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) contained mercury, which was also found in nearly a third of 55 popular brand-name food and beverage products where HFCS is the first- or
-  Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar
-  Mercury Levels in Fish | NRDC
NRDC: Eating fish contaminated with mercury, a poison that interferes with the brain and nervous system, can cause serious health problems, especially for children and pregnant women.
-  Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish
-  FAQs - SweetSurprise.com