After decades of research supporting the cardiovascular benefits of eating fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, health experts recommend eating fish at least two times a week. However, eating fish isn’t without some risk due to the presence of mercury and PCBs in some fish. Currently pregnant women and children are advised by the U.S. Food and Administration (FDA) to avoid eating certain species of fish that may have the highest levels of these contaminates. For others, fish consumption has been encouraged as it was thought that the benefits of fish far outweighed the risks.
Now a new study raises concerns that we might need to reassess the risks of eating fish and take measures to reduce our exposure to mercury.
Researchers from Syracuse University found that even a slight increase in mercury from fish was associated with hormone disruption and increased markers of systemic inflammation.
The study measured fish consumption, blood lipids, total blood mercury, cortisol levels and inflammation markers in children ages 9 to 11. While children consuming fish had significantly better lipid profiles, they had higher levels of mercury in their blood. Increasing levels of mercury was significantly associated with lower cortisol levels and proteins suggestive of systemic inflammation.
Excessive inflammation over long periods has been linked to serious health conditions including autoimmune disorders, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Study authors concluded that their results call for greater caution. “Without a better understanding of the long-term consequences of an atheroprotective lipid profile relative to blunted diurnal cortisol and systemic inflammation, a determination of the risk-benefit ratio for fish consumption by children is not possible.”
Reducing Mercury Exposure
The safest way to get the benefits of fish without the risk of mercury is a high quality fish oil supplement.
We stipulate “high quality” as there are significant differences in the quality and potency of fish oil supplements on the market. The best quality fish oil supplements are made from smaller fish that typically contain little or no mercury and PCBs to begin with. Then the oil is purified and concentrated to provide high amounts of EPA and DHA. And finally, as fish oil can spoil, a high quality fish oil supplement will contain an antioxidant to preserve freshness and prevent rancidity (spoilage).
Adults who want to continue eating fish can reduce their risk of mercury by avoiding certain species that tend to contain higher amounts of mercury:
Fish that contains the least amount of mercury while still providing a good source of EPA and DHA include:
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