Environmental contamination has exposed humans to various metal agents, including mercury. It has been determined that mercury is not only harmful to the health of vulnerable populations such as pregnant women and children, but is also toxic to ordinary adults in various ways. For many years, mercury was used in a wide variety of human activities. Nowadays, the exposure to this metal from both natural and artificial sources is significantly increasing. Recent studies suggest that chronic exposure, even to low concentration levels of mercury, can cause cardiovascular, reproductive, and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, nephrotoxicity, immunotoxicity, and carcinogenicity. Possible biological effects of mercury, including the relationship between mercury toxicity and diseases of the cardiovascular system, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease, and myocardial infarction, are being studied. As heart rhythm and function are under autonomic nervous system control, it has been hypothesized that the neurotoxic effects of mercury might also impact cardiac autonomic function. Mercury exposure could have a long-lasting effect on cardiac parasympathetic activity and some evidence has shown that mercury exposure might affect heart rate variability, particularly early exposures in children. The mechanism by which mercury produces toxic effects on the cardiovascular system is not fully elucidated, but this mechanism is believed to involve an increase in oxidative stress. The exposure to mercury increases the production of free radicals, potentially because of the role of mercury in the Fenton reaction and a reduction in the activity of antioxidant enzymes, such as glutathione peroxidase. In this review we report an overview on the toxicity of mercury and focus our attention on the toxic effects on the cardiovascular system.
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