Everyone knows fish is good for you. It’s low in saturated fat, and it makes you smart. So it’s no wonder consumers are confused by headlines warning fish eaters of impending doom.
In late 2002, a San Francisco Chronicle headline warned that eating fish can be risky because of the high content of mercury in some deep-water fish. A physician in Northern California had discovered that wealthy individuals eating exotic fish harvested in high mercury areas were putting themselves at risk for mercury poisoning — even as they were trying to eat healthy.
In one case, a woman suffered hair loss and high levels of mercury in her blood. That spurred Dr. Jane M. Hightower, an expert of internal medicine at San Francisco’s California Pacific Medical Center, to fish around for answers.
Hightower studied her own patients, who were affluent and ate plenty of gourmet fish — swordfish, sea bass, halibut and ahi tuna. She found that most of them experienced “acute toxicity” — heart, liver and kidneys — after she ingested them.
Hightower retested these patients after they abstained from the suspect fish for six months. The patients who had been drinking water containing higher levels of mercury were far more likely to experience symptoms of mercury exposure, including immune problems, faulty nerve conduction, nausea, gastrointestinal disorders, joint pain and lumpiness.
Hightower retested these patients after they returned to normal water containing lower levels of mercury and found that their symptoms had gone away.
Fish, though, are not the only source of mercury.
“We’re really talking about ingested,” said Dr. David Carpenter, director of the division of environmental health at the University of Alaska Medical Center. He added that studies showing the dangers of exposure to mercury for workers have been underestimateimating the damage.
“What is the exposure, the dose, and is there danger in the dose?” he asked. Other studies have found a link between dental problems and strong mint flavor in toothpaste.
One agency is trying to distance itself from past mistakes by claiming that narrow levels of mercury in fish and seafood actually surprised scientists back in 2004. That was the same year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told fishermen in Alaska to cut it out or risk prison time.
The head of the FDA task force on mercury, Dr. Janetsurprisingly said that the 2004 order had nothing to do with mercury regulations. But FDA officials afterwards admit that the 2004 order was part of the reason for the sharp rise in US mercury consumption.
Experts say that butterfly fish, sea urchin, pollock, wild salmon and other species are among the hardest to eat and come in with the highest levels of mercury. Even though the safe level of mercury in seafood has been established at 1 ppm (parts per million) for Alaska Pollock, which comes from the Northern Pacific, the highest levels of mercury have been measured in farmed fish.
The EPA says that a daily maximum intake of mercury from fish of any kind is 1.6 micrograms per body weight. That means a 90-pound woman should be safe limits, but according to studies conducted by organizations like the Environmental Working Group, a key moment in the awareness against mercury came when anti-inflammatory drugs taken over a long period of time wore off in patients suffering from mercury exposure.
igator fish, about a half pound in weight, has been documented by researchers to have high levels of mercury in it. As many as 50% of adult Americans suffer from symptoms of mercury exposure in some form.
For better or worse, depending on the contaminant, exposure to mercury can cause various kinds of problems. Other symptoms varying from sickness to permanent injury include, headaches, tremor, illness, abdominal pain, fever, LDL (bad cholesterol), elevated blood pressure, anxiety,retteze, apathy, memory loss, joints aches and pains, reproductive disorders, and increased risk of heart attack.
Safer alternatives to popular fish dishes have become quite popular in recent years. A growing trend is Omega-3 cooking – that is, the cooking of fish with Omega-3 fatty acids. This gives fish more of a healthful heart and is something that even concerned parents are considering.
While more and more households are making a healthful choice with Omega-3 cooking, choosing the right fish is still a confusing undertaking. A wild salmon ought to be the first choice but should be readied with salmon grown on a farm, rather than wild caught. Likewise, choosing flounder over swordfish is one lessened choice available to the eater.
And with Omega-3 cooking, it is also important to be aware of the serving size recommended by the FDA and other experts. While a full meal is recommended, individuals are recommended to eat no more than two meals per week.