Mercury in fish


Our environment is changing and unfortunately we often neglect doing something about the long-term changes that might harm our children and their progeny. One of the most toxic chemicals that human beings have released into the environment is mercury. Since it is very toxic, small amounts of this metal suffice to create long-term health damages to not only adults, but also to unborn children, causing irreversible consequences for their mental health. Among the most common ways mercury is taken in by the body, is through the consumption of fish. One might reason that this fact turns fish into a two-edged sword: on the one hand, research shows that the regular consumption of fish has several benefits for health, including decreasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. However, on the other hand, regular mercury intake through fish is supposed to lead to neurologic and even mental disorders. So how can we deal with this situation?

Not all types of fish are affected. Fish that feed on other fish – predatory fish – were found to have high contents of mercury in their flesh. For example, Tuna, swordfish, halibut, pike, shark, jewfish, tilefish, snapper and gunnel have higher contents. Anchovy, sardine, shark, catfish and herring are among the recommended for consumption, and in the alpine region this extends to fish carp, trout and samlet fish. Moreover, salmon is also a good choice, but one has to take care that the salmon is wild and not a bred salmon. Bred salmon contains dioxins which also result in harming human health. The NGO Greenpeace has published a list of fish that should not be eaten, but also recorded the fish that are recommended for our current consumption. Furthermore, if one is also interested in preserving nature, it must be considered that many fish are at the edge of extinction – e.g. tuna, haddock, marlin and others. When one wants to consider this, a shopping guide is helpful (a link to the WWF seafood guide follows below).

 by MMag. Dr. Altenberger Tibor
Karagas MR, Choi AL, Oken E, Horvat M, Schoeny R, Kamai E, Cowell W, Grandjean P, Korrick S. Evidence on the human health effects of low-level methylmercury exposure. Environ Health Perspect 2012; 120:799–806.
Sheehan MC, Burke TA, Navas-Acien A, Breysse PN, McGready J, Fox MA. Global methylmercury exposure from seafood consumption and risk of developmental neurotoxicity: a systematic review. Bull World Health Organ. 2014 Apr 1; 92(4):254-269F.

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