Dangerous Waters

No fish are free of mercury pollution according to a recent federal study. The study revealed that from the nearly 300 streams tested across the country,  every single fish sample had the toxic substance present.
Mercury pollution is now widespread. While the study found traces of contamination in all fish, the number of fish that had mercury levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard for safe was about 25 percent.
So what's the concern about mercury? Consistently consuming mercury-contaminated fish can add up and may lead to mercury poisoning. Mercury poisoning can damage the nervous system of developing fetuses and young children. It can also increase the risks for developing learning disabilities. Make sure you are conscious of your family's mercury intake. Mercury poisoning in adults may cause numbness in fingers and toes, memory and vision loss and tremors.
Mercury risk from fish depends on the type of fish, age of fish and the total amount of fish consumed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA have advised women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children to avoid some types of fish and eat fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.

Here are the
FDA and EPa
suggestions:
1.  Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel or tilefish because they contain high  levels of mercury.
2.  Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury.
• Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock and catfish.
• Another commonly eaten fish,
albacore (white) tuna, has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.
3.  Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don't consume any other fish during that week.

The main culprit of mercury contamination from the majority of tested streams was emissions from coal-fired power plants. Mercury is produced both naturally from the environment and also from industrial pollution. Then it gathers in streams and oceans where it is converted to methylmercury–a form that allows the toxin to wind its way up the food chain into fish. Since mercury is a heavy metal it can be toxic to both your brain and body tissues.
So are you scared to eat fish now? You shouldn't be. There's no question that consuming fish is an essential component of a healthy diet.  High in lean protein, low in "bad" saturated fat and one of the best sources of skin-, hair- and heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, fish is a nutritional super food! However, if you eat fish several times a week I would definitely suggest you ask your doctor for a mercury test just to be sure. I've had clients who had no idea they had mercury poisoning until being tested. I would also suggest you discuss fish oil supplementation from a pure source with your physician.
So how much should you eat? Eating fish two to three times a week is an excellent alternative to eating animal meat. The good news is that not all fish are created equal.  Some fish contain higher levels of PCB and mercury, as well as other contaminants, that may be present in their fat and tissue.  Consuming these toxins on a regular basis can cause serious health risks including cancer and the other risks previously mentioned.

Simple ways you can reduce your risk:
•    Avoid the worst fish picks in the list above.
•    Before cooking, remove skin and surface fat where most
chemicals are found.
•    Eat a wide variety of fish to decrease the harmful effects
of pollutants.
•    Forget frying:  Frying can trap hazardous toxins found in
the fatty parts of fish (grilling or broiling allows fat
to drain away).
•    Contact local authorities for local contamination information in your area.
•    Download the "Mercury in Fish" iPhone Application
http://iphoneapplicationlist.com/2009/08/07/mercury-in-fish/

words by Mitzi Dulan, RD CSSD

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