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Frequently Asked Questions

 


Have you changed the amounts or types of fish you eat as new information becomes available regarding the mercury content of fish?

This is a good question. The short answer is "yes", particularly in regards to the type and amount of tuna I consume. I used to consume approximately 3-6 ounces of canned albacore tuna on a weekly basis as a good source of both protein and the important omega-3 fatty acids. However, as information continues to unfold regarding the mercury content of certain fish and the potential for health problems associated with mercury accumulation, I consider it prudent to reduce the amount of foods with known higher amounts of mercury.

Recent information released by the FDA and EPA has shown that some cans of albacore tuna have 3-4x more mercury than *light tuna* (Skip-jack or Yellow-fin tuna) because albacore tuna comes from bigger fish higher up on the food chain, thus have concentrated larger amounts of mercury contained in the smaller fish that they ate. While most concern has been raised regarding potential long-term health consequences of the effect of mercury on the developing nervous system of an unborn child and young children, I consider this issue to be one of those with some "loose ends". We simply don't know enough about affects of chronic mercury consumption on adults.

Here is what I consume now to obtain my omega-3 fatty acids, which are so important to good general health in addition to having many anti-cancer activities:

(1) Consume 1 serving (6-8 ounces) of Alaskan salmon weekly. All salmon is considered to be very low in mercury content, however to reduce my exposure to other contaminants, including PCB's, and to encourage fish-farming businesses to improve their practices, I purchase Alaskan salmon and ask for it in restaurants. It is more expensive fresh or frozen than farmed salmon, but it is also available less expensively as canned salmon for casseroles, salmon patties or salmon salad.

(2) Consume tuna only if I know that it is not albacore (ask at restaurants).

(3) Consume fish oil supplements (approx 0.5-1.0 gm/day of omega-3 fatty acids from the supplements) - important to purchase a brand that has been tested to be free of mercury and other contaminants (hint: can find this information at www.consumerlab.com or call the company).

(4) Continue to consume 1-2 Tbsp/day of ground flaxseed (highest source of the plant version of omega-3 fatty acids)

(5) Avoid fish with the highest content of mercury (shark, swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel)

(6) In addition, it is important to know the recommendations for your state regarding the safety of eating locally caught fish. This information, which is called "States Advisories", can be found at the following web site http://map1.epa.gov/scripts/.esrimap?name=Listing&Cmd=StContacts: - scroll down to your state and click on your state's web site for specific recommendations regarding the safe consumption of locally caught fish. My state has advisories regarding the mercury content of fish caught from all inland lakes.

A very interesting recent article has shown that people living in the Amazon who eat larger amounts of tropical fruit have reduced levels of mercury in their body. The mechanism(s) involved are unknown, but once again, benefits of consumption of a plant-based diet are multi-fold.

Recipe Hint: Make your favorite tuna salad recipe using white beans instead of the tuna. Just slightly mash them and then mix with the other ingredients. For added zip and color, fold in a small amount of diced fresh mango or papaya. This will give you more fiber, lots of phytochemicals and antioxidants, and less worry about the mercury! Enjoy :-)

An upcoming annual meeting of scientists to discuss this issue in more depth is scheduled:
National Forum on Contaminants in Fish, January 24-28, 2004, in San Diego, CA

In addition, it is also very important to advocate that sources (coal-burning electric power plants) of mercury in our foods be reduced at the point of production. It is not enough to simply decrease our consumption of these fish.

Further reading:

Web site with mercury content (ppm) of various fish species

Environ Res. 2003 Oct;93(2):123-30.
Eating tropical fruit reduces mercury exposure from fish consumption in the Brazilian Amazon.
Passos CJ, Mergler D, Gaspar E, Morais S, Lucotte M, Larribe F, Davidson R, de Grosbois S.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, July 2003
FDA and EPA Development of a Joint Advisory for Methylmercury-containing Fish Consumption for Women of Childbearing Age and Children.

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2003 Dec;127(12):1603-5.
Measurement of mercury levels in concentrated over-the-counter fish oil preparations: is fish oil healthier than fish?
Foran SE, Flood JG, Lewandrowski KB.

Environ Health. 2003 Jun 4;2(1):8. Epub 2003 Jun 04.
Low level methylmercury exposure affects neuropsychological function in adults.
Yokoo EM, Valente JG, Grattan L, Schmidt SL, Platt I, Silbergeld EK.

Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Apr;111(4):604-8.
Mercury levels in high-end consumers of fish.
Hightower JM, Moore D.

JAMA. 2003 Apr 2;289(13):1667-74.
Blood mercury levels in US children and women of childbearing age, 1999-2000.
Schober SE, Sinks TH, Jones RL, Bolger PM, McDowell M, Osterloh J, Garrett ES, Canady RA, Dillon CF, Sun Y, Joseph CB, Mahaffey KR.

Adverse Drug React Toxicol Rev. 2002;21(4):219-29.
How natural are 'natural herbal remedies'? A Saudi perspective.
Bogusz MJ, al Tufail M, Hassan H.

faq posted 1/04


Back to Main Qand A Page

Fish

Fish What are some alternatives to eating farmed salmon in order to still obtain omega-3 fatty acids from seafoods? posted 9/02
Fish Is eating salmon healthy for our environment? updated 6/02, 7/02  
Fish Have you changed the amounts or types of fish you eat as new
information becomes available regarding the mercury content of
fish?
posted 1/04

 


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These questions and answers are intended to be of a general informative nature. Please consult with the Registered Dietitian in your cancer center or your health care provider for nutritional advice that can be individualized to your specific medical condition.

Contact Information:
Phone/Fax: 734/996-9260

P.O. Box 130221, Ann Arbor, MI  48113

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