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Review Article - Circumpolar Special Issue: Human health at the ends of the earth

Biomonitoring in Greenland: human biomarkers of exposure and effects – a short review

Submitted: 31 October 2009
Revised: 14 January 2010
Published: 18 June 2010

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Author(s) : Bonefeld-Jorgensen EC.

Eva Bonefeld-Jorgensen

Citation: Bonefeld-Jorgensen EC.  Biomonitoring in Greenland: human biomarkers of exposure and effects – a short review. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2010; 10: 1362. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Context:  Since 1997 the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) has produced integrated assessment reports on the status of and trends in environmental persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the Arctic ecosystem. Three reports on biomonitoring POPs and their health risks for Arctic populations were published in 1998, 2002, and 2009.
Issue:  The present review summarizes data from Greenland on human monitoring of biomarkers of POP exposure and bioaccumulation and the determination of biomarkers for POP effects. The review focuses on hormone disruptive potentials and some genetic sensitivity biomarkers. The overview covers Greenlandic studies from 2000 to 2006.
Lessons learned:  The Greenland biomonitoring studies showed general geographical and gender differences of bioaccumulated serum POP levels, which were primarily related to diet and lifestyle. A high intake of traditional Greenlandic diet (eg seal, whale, polar bear, and seabirds) together with smoking caused higher blood concentrations of POPs. The highest POP values were found on the east coast of Greenland. The receptor effect studies showed a general inverse relationship between high serum POP concentration and estrogen receptor (ER) and Ah-receptor (AhR) transactivity; in addition for men in the two West Greenlandic districts, Nuuk and Sisimiut, a trend towards increased induced AR activity was found. An observed trend to an opposite direction between the dioxin-like AhR and ER activity supports the perception of that dioxins exert an antiestrogen effect. In conclusion, the actual mixtures of serum POPs in Greenlandic Inuit have an endocrine disrupting potential. Comparisons between European and Greenlandic male serum POP levels showed significantly higher levels in Inuit; however, in the same study Inuit had significantly lower sperm DNA damage. Further studies are required to elucidate whether the serum POP related effects on hormone receptors and/or AhR are explanatory factors. ‘The Arctic dilemma’ is that along with the intake of the Greenlandic traditional diet that contains POPs, there are also a number of important nutrients, such as trace elements/antioxidants and marine unsaturated fatty acids which have favorable effects on health. However, a number of studies suggest that an increase in Western food items in the diet can lead to other health risks, such as the metabolic syndrome and its sequels increase in weight, hypertension, diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, including breast cancer. To elucidate these aspects further studies are required, including those into biomarkers for exposure and effects, epigenetic contexts and the determination of relevant genetic polymorphisms, case-control as well as generation studies. Finally, there is a need for the development of new biomarkers to study the potential POP effects that inhibit the immune system and affect the development of the central nervous system.

Key words: androgenecity, Arctic, biomonitoring, effect biomarker, exposure biomarker, Greenland, serum dioxin-like bioactivity, human, serum estrogenecity.

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