Thursday, October 05, 2006

Scared of Fish? Don't Be

When it comes to the decision to buy fish, most of us are pretty confused. It's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but doesn't it have mercury and other toxins from our increasingly polluted oceans?

Over at,
a column asks the experts about the risks and benefits of eating fish.

A Harvard professor told the Post that the benefits are "100-fold greater" than the potential harm that fish can bring. One researcher argues that the type of mercury in fish (methylmercury, which I'll explain below), is not toxic to humans.

However, it's not just mercury that you have to worry about in fish. Polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may also be found in fish. This stuff causes a whole host of problems for you skin, reproduction, liver and brain.

The good news is that just two servings of fish per week can bring health benefits. And there are many benefits. "Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy kind of fat, seafood is known to help protect the heart, the brain and the joints," reports the Post. The article also points out that fish can help protect against strokes and mental disorders.

Alas, mixed messages persist. One part of the government (The Department of Health) recommends two servings of fish per week while another (The Food and Drug Administration) recommends that young children and pregnant women limit some types of fish and avoid others all together, according to the Post.

So how does fish get contaminated in the first place? Mercury, which is naturally present in nature and produced by industrial emissions, goes into the atmosphere, then settles into bodies of water. Next, bacteria convert it to a toxic chemical called "methylmercury." This stuff is absorbed by fish.

Of course, the higher up the food chain you eat, the more mercury you get. So fish like tuna and swordfish is especially high in toxins.

More interesting takeaways from the article…
  • "Any potential problems of mercury contamination appear to be limited to children and to women of childbearing age."
  • Many Japanese have methlymercury levels higher than the EPA's limits, but there is not a mental health crisis in that country.
  • "No matter what kind of seafood you choose, skip anything deep-fried… [it] has few or no omega-3 fatty acids."


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Pound360 Archive

About Me

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.