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Facts About Mercury Toxicity and Fish

First we heard, “Eat more fish!” Then we were told “Eating fish may not be safe!” Such conflicting recommendations have confused consumers. As a registered Dietitian, I advise people to eat more fish because of heart health and other potential benefits.  But in the same breath, Health Authorities have warned that contaminants found in fish can be toxic-especially for children and pregnant women. So what is a health-conscious consumer to do? With wise choices, you can have your fish and eat it too!
Three of the most health-threatening contaminants in fish are mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) and dioxins, especially in excessive amounts. And while agencies like Health Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the World Health Organization have set safe standards for contaminants in fish many health professionals are concerned that some of these standards are not strict enough. In fact, Health Authorities warns that some consumers-namely children and pregnant women-should totally avoid certain kinds of fish because of high mercury levels.
Mercury from coal-burning power plants is released into the air and eventually ends up in streams, rivers, bays and oceans. While smaller fish don’t accumulate much mercury, large fish like tunas and sharks that eat the smaller fish can accumulate quite a bit. When people eat mercury-laden fish, this heavy metal builds up in the body, possibly causing neurological damage. Children, pregnant and lactating women and women who are planning to become pregnant, should avoid eating more than 341 g (12 oz) of light tuna or 170g (6oz) of albacore tuna a week. The EPA recommends that pregnant women and children completely avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. Smaller species and farmed fish are often lower in mercury, but in the case of farmed salmon it can be higher in two potential cancer causers: PCB’s and dioxins. Oceans Alive, a non-profit organization, recommends the following fish as safe for consumption with regard to mercury, PCB and dioxins content:
Farmed Bass
Farmed Catfish
Farmed Clams
Farmed Mussells and Oysters
Wild Alaskan Salmon
Farmed Tilapia
Farmed Trout
Other types of fish can be eaten safely in moderation-some as often as once a week. The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends two 3-ounce servings of fish a week to reap heart health benefits. For most healthy adults, this amount would most likely not lead to toxic doses of mercury, dioxins and PCB’s when wise choices are made.   There is also the option of getting you healthy omega 3 fat from fish oil supplements.   I choose to take Omega 3 fish oil supplements which contains the essential DHA ( docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic). Usana Health Sciences has a pharmaceutical grade fish oil –called Bio-Omega which I highly recommend – it is double distilled so no contaminants.
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