High Fructose Corn Syrup May Contain Mercury


A recent study published in the journal Environmental Health in the US found that much of the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that is replacing sugar in processed foods is tainted with mercury.

Mercury is neurological toxin – toxic to humans.  It is a metal that causes  kidney and liver damage and white blood cell imbalance.  It is related to underactive thyroid for its ability to displace iodine in the thyroid glands.  Significant amounts in the body can produce insomnia, dizziness, fatigue, depression, memory loss, dermatitis, and hair loss.

How does mercury get into the food supply?  Mercury cell chlor-alkali products are used to produce thousands of other products including food ingredients such as citric acid, sodium benzoate, and high fructose corn syrup.  HFCS is used as a sweetener to enhance the shelf life of food products.

The problem lies in the realization that mercury residue may be found in all products produced by the mercury cell chlor-alkali industry.  In 2003 the Environmental Protection Agency reported in the Federal Register that on average approximately seven tons of mercury were missing from each plant in the year 2000.  There are 8 plants in the US, each containing as much as 8,000 pounds of mercury, and every year, unaccounted for mercury losses are reported to the EPA.

Mercury grade caustic soda and hydrochloric acid are primarily used by the HFCS industry.  Several chemicals are required to make HFCS, including caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, alpha-amylase, gluco-amylase, isomerase, filter aid, powdered carbon, calcium chloride, and magnesium sulfate. 

If mercury grade caustic soda, hydrochloric acid, or sodium hypochlorite are used in the milling process that turns the corn and the cornstarch molecule into HFCS, it just may end up in your food.  Environmental Health Officers and researchers at National Institute of Standards and Technology found low levels of total mercury in foods they tested.  Researchers found mercury in nearly 50% of samples of commercial HFCS tested in 2005.

In 2007, the average daily consumption of HFCS in the US was 49.8 g per person according to the US deparment of Agriculture website.  But there are those who consume much more that this amount when you account for the amount of soda some people consume, while others consume none at all.

You may notice HFCS as one of the first ingredients on product labels.  Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, which means that if HFCS is the first ingredient on a label, there is more HFCS than any other ingredient in that product.  And if HFCS is one of the first few ingredients, there is a chance that it is accompanied by traces of mercury, if it was manufactured with mercury grade chlor-alkali chemicals.

Since mercury is an accepted neurotoxic heavy metal, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommends that we minimize any form of mercury exposure to our children to ensure optimal child health and nervous system development.  I would add to avoid mercury exposure especially during pregnancy – a time when mothers think it acceptable to indulge their sweet tooth – perhaps to the detriment of their unborn child.

Mercury isn’t the only reason I suggest avoiding HFCS.  High doses of unnatural sugars (and even the natural ones) go straight into the bloodstream and attack the walls of the arteries while spiking blood sugar in a manner that sends the whole body into an unbalanced frenzy.

Choose natural sugars wherever possible such as unpasteurized honey, agave syrup, daikon root syrup, and real maple syrup in small amounts.  Avoid commercial processed foods and simply look to food labels for some added motivation to avoid them!  Simply now knowing what chemicals go into the processing of HFCS is a good enough reason to avoid anything containing it, that’s for sure!


“Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar.”
Renee Dufault, Blaise LeBlanc, Roseanne Schnoll, Charles Cornett, Laura Schweitzer, Lyn Patrick, Jane Hightower, David Wallinga, Walter Lukiw. Environmental Health 2009, 8:2 (26 January 2009).  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-8-2

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