How prepared fish could be killing you
Rachel was at her wits’ end…. 38 years old, healthy lifestyle, healthy diet. But freshly diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and strange muscle spasms, she could no longer keep up with her family. She was tired all the time… Doctors said she was just getting older. She just couldn’t imagine how it happened so quickly…. With her family crumbling around her, Tom (her husband) sympathetically tried to pick up the slack, but with little avail. Finally, she made it to a doctor who tested her for mercury levels. Although she was very surprised, her doctor wasn’t when her tests came back off the charts. She had no idea that the salmon she enjoyed three times a week could actually be killing her……
“Here we go again–one more thing that’s killing us. Should we continue reading this, or just block it out with all the other background noise?”
I hate being paranoid as well. But this topic has changed the habits of my wife, myself, and many of my patients. If it wasn’t important, I wouldn’t share it.
Many years ago, prior to annoying things like pollution, and mass- industrialization of fish farming, fish was a healthy menu option. Someone could go out, catch something, and know that it would be packed with healthy nutrition.
Unfortunately, that has changed.
If you really want to know exactly why it has changed, you first must know this:
Mercury is one of the most bio-toxic substances on our planet. According to Environmental health (2009), it is a “potent neurological toxin”, and is “a danger to unborn children whose developing brains can be damaged if they are exposed to low dose micro gram exposure in the womb.” Just as much as it is dangerous to the developing baby, it’s also dangerous to adults. According to Jane Hightower and Dan Moore (2003), it can cause or make worse, several autoimmune diseases including, but not limited to chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, depression, and sinusitis.
Knowing this helps us when reports abound regarding the dangerously high levels in fish. Between the by-products from the burning of coal, to mining of mercury and gold, to the use of mercury in the manufacturing of certain products, mercury has found its way into our water supply. Fish become exposed to the mercury, and accumulate it from eating other fish that have mercury bound into their tissues. We in turn eat the fish, and the mercury accumulates in us.
“But Dr Mike, if this was really a problem, scientists would be all over this in a heartbeat.”
Funny that should come up, because they are:
According to Environmental Health (2009), recommendations are already out there from the American Academy of Pediatrics. They recommend minimizing any form of mercury exposure as a critical part of nervous system development in humans. Authors from Environmental Health Perspectives (2003) concluded that the consumption of food containing mercury (to a great degree, fish) has become a health risk. They furthered this by stating that “fish consumption was positively correlated with mercury elevations” And finally, they said that Consumers who “Consume large portion of their dietary protein from fish, especially if they choose large predators such as swordfish, sea bass, etc., would be at risk for exposure to mercury”. Many other studies compliment these sources. What they generally agree upon is the following:
1. Atlantic (farmed) are the type of fish that show these trends.
2. Since smaller fish accumulate and concentrate mercury, and then are eaten by larger fish that further concentrate those levels. Those larger fish generally show trends for having the highest levels of mercury.
“Thanks, Dr Mike. You’ve all but decreased my level of paranoia when it comes to eating fish. What can I do in order to stay healthy?”
Unfortunately, in addition to mercury contamination, this article didn’t even begin to address things like the imbalance of fatty acid ratios, and the contamination of PCB’s in Atlantic (farm-raised) fish, both subjects of high importance.
However, there are a couple ways you can protect yourself:
1. Realize that Atlantic is the same thing as farmed, and is at the highest risk category for containing mercury, and other dangerous substances.
2. Look for “Wild” (type of fish) to purchase. Wild-caught is generally much more expensive than farmed (Atlantic) caught fish.
3. If you must eat non-wild caught fish, try to avoid eating large fish (such as salmon, tuna, swordfish, and sea bass). Instead, stick with smaller fish like sardines, cod, trout, and tilapia (Env. Health, 2009).
PS: Rachel (over a period of many months), got her life back. With her decreasing levels of mercury, and her bounding energy, she recently ran a half-marathon. Her family is eternally grateful, and Tom has never loved a doctor more than the one who helped her.
Diana Cappiello. Environment (2009). Mercury-Tainted fish are pervasive, study says.
Renee Dufault, Blaise LeBlanc, Roseanne Schnoll, et al. (2009). Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: Measured concentrations in food product sugar. Environmental Health 8:2
Jane Hightower, Dan Moore (2003). Mercury Levels in High-End Consumers of Fish. Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 11, No. 4, pp.604-608.