Friday, November 18, 2011

Mercury Reaches High Levels in Fish and a List of Safest Choices

This article comes from John Douillard's (Ayurvedic physician and one of my acclaimed teachers in nutrition school) most recent news letter. View entire article by following this link.

Did you know that a recent US geological survey found mercury in every fish sampled from 300 small streams? Two-thirds of these fish exceeded safe consumption levels established by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Fish sampled from lakes and reservoirs had an even more appalling turnout: more than half exceeded acceptable mercury levels.

The mercury levels gave gotten so high that 15% of all newborns in the US have dangerous levels of mercury in their blood, putting them at risk for neurological defects, according to the EPA in February of 2004. In that same year the FDA put out a Public Health Advisory stating that women of reproductive age should not consume swordfish, shark, mackerel, or tilefish due to levels of mercury deemed unsafe for human consumption.

Article at a glance:
  • Which fish are safe to eat?
  • What should you do if you love to eat fish?
  • What are the symptoms of mercury toxicity?
  • How can you find out if you have mercury toxicity?
  • Can mercury be cleaned out of the body?

Mercury in history
The term “Mad Hatter” was used to describe the behavior of hat-makers contaminated with mercury in the 19th century. At the time, a mercury solution was used in the curing of animal pelts. Poor ventilation meant the hatters were breathing in the fumes, and residues of this highly toxic metal accumulated in their bodies.

Mercury accumulates in the liver, kidneys, brain, and blood. Even very low levels can affect the development of a fetus or infant.* At high levels, it may cause kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, and genetic damage.*

Where is it coming from?

Nowadays, coal mine clouds blanket most of the United States. Seeping from coal and oil-fired electric plants, their smoke infiltrates the air, as well as our streams, lakes and rivers. Thus, humans and other living beings are exposed to mercury through the air we breathe and the water we drink—it even laces the best organic foods. We really cannot avoid this exposure. Amalgams and vaccinations are also sources of mercury exposure that need to be evaluated. The major source of contamination for humans, however, is the consumption of mercury-laden fish and seafood.

Some statistics

Are you a sushi lover? In 2010 the New York Times tested 44 pieces of sushi: they found 8 pieces that exceeded the legal action limit set by the FDA of 1.0 parts per million (ppm)—meaning they were not safe for consumption. That same year, did an undercover survey of fish being sold in sushi bars, supermarkets and farmers’ markets. The results were unsettling:
  • 1 in 3 fish purchased in supermarkets exceeded the legal action limit set by the FDA.
  • Almost 20% of tuna sold in sushi bars were over the legal action limit.
  • Almost 20% of all sushi sold was over the legal action limit.
  • Out of 184 samples of fish taken, all had detectable levels of mercury averaging 0.5 ppm.

Mercury toxicity in humans

Symptoms of low-level mercury poisoning can include:
  • Hair loss.*
  • Memory loss.*
  • Mental instability.*
  • Compromised immunity.*
  • Numbness in arms and legs.*
  • Learning disabilities.*
  • Central Nervous System Damage.*
  • Reduced motor skills.*
  • Depression, anxiety, and other psychological effects.*

How do you determine your mercury levels?

If you are an avid fish eater and have any of the symptoms mentioned above, get a blood test to confirm your mercury levels. Also, has a mercury finder that can help determine your potential risk according to your fish consumption (note this is not an accurate alternative to a blood test). It is also a great website to learn about the impact of mercury on wildlife and the environment.

Can mercury be removed?

If you have mercury poisoning, stop eating fish! Studies show that once we stop eating fish the mercury levels in the blood come down on their own. But mercury has a proclivity to store in the fat cells and in the brain, liver, and kidneys. So while the blood might show reducing levels it may still be hiding out in the fat cells. Thus, it is important to help chelate this stored mercury out of the fat cells and out of the body.*

Chelation: the process of removing heavy metals from the bloodstream by means of a chelate: a food or nutritional agent that attaches and removes heavy metals from the body.*

The best food-based chelators for mercury and other toxic metals are garlic, cilantro, andchlorella*. If you insist on eating fish or are concerned about mercury toxicity, include these foods regularly in your diet.

  • Garlic has been shown by researchers to be beneficial in the management of heavy metal toxicity—especially lead, cadmium, and mercury.*
  • Cilantro suppresses the deposition of lead and appears to aid in removing mercury from aqueous solutions.*
  • Chlorella is a green algae that has demonstrated the ability to uptake toxic metals and thereby decrease their re-absorption in the gut.*
Sometimes it is difficult to eat these foods consistently enough to reduce your heavy metal load. Oral chelators such as EDTA, DMSA, Alpha Lipoic Acid, and N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) are effective natural chelators of heavy metals.*

Protect yourself and your family: A consumer guide to mercury levels in fish
The list below details the amount of various types of fish that a woman who is pregnant or planning to become pregnant can safely eat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. People with small children who want to use the list as a guide should reduce portion sizes. Adult men and women who are not planning to become pregnant are less at risk for mercury exposure but may wish to refer to the list for low-mercury options.

Protect Yourself… and the Fish!

Certain fish, even some that are low in mercury, are poor choices for other reasons, most often because they have been fished so extensively that their numbers are perilously low. These fish are marked with an asterisk.
This list applies to fish caught and sold commercially. For more information about fish you catch yourself, check for advisories in your state.

Least mercury—Enjoy these fish:

Crab (Domestic)
Croaker (Atlantic)
Haddock (Atlantic)**
Mackerel (N. Atlantic, Chub)
Perch (Ocean)
Salmon (Canned)***
Salmon (Fresh)***
Shad (American)
Sole (Pacific)
Squid (Calamari)
Trout (Freshwater)

Moderate mercury
—Eat six servings or less per month:
Bass (Striped, Black)
Cod (Alaskan)**
Croaker (White Pacific)
Halibut (Atlantic)**
Halibut (Pacific)
Mahi Mahi
Perch (freshwater)
Tuna (canned chunk light)
Tuna (Skipjack)**
Weakfish (Sea Trout)

High mercury
—Eat three servings or less per month:
Mackerel (Spanish, Gulf)
Sea Bass (Chilean)**
Tuna (canned Albacore)
Tuna (Yellowfin)**

Highest mercury—Avoid Eating:
Mackerel (King)
Orange Roughy**
(Bigeye, Ahi)**

**Fish in trouble! These fish are perilously low in numbers or are caught using environmentally destructive methods. To learn more, see the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Blue Ocean Institute, both of which provide guides of fish to enjoy or avoid based on environmental factors.

***Farmed Salmon may contain PCB’s, chemicals with serious long-term health effects.

The data for this consumer guide comes from two federal agencies: the Food and Drug Administration, which tests fish for mercury—and the Environmental Protection Agency, which determines safety of mercury levels for women of childbearing age.

The consumer guide is categorized according to the following mercury levels in the flesh of tested fish:
Least mercury= Less than 0.09 parts per million.
Moderate mercury=From 0.09 to 0.29 parts per million.
High mercury=From 0.3 to 0.49 parts per million.
Highest mercury=More than .5 parts per million.

Sea Turtle Restoration Project:
Natural Resources Defense Council:

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