One Fish, Two Fish… Good Fish, Toxic Fish?

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals published in 2010 recognized that everyone is carrying toxins in their body — many of which are quite harmful and have been linked to chronic disease, behavior and mood disorders, and even birth defects. Much research has been done on the harmful effects of single chemical toxins, but little investigation has been performed on how the combination of toxins in our bodies affect our health. This is a new phenomenon, too. Your great grandparents didn’t have this issue or concern — It’s a concern of present and future generations. Some of these toxins are flushed from the system quickly, while others find a home in the fat cells of our body and accumulate over months and years, eventually impacting our ability to produce energy and heal appropriately.

After spending over a decade in the health world, I have realized that it’s nearly impossible to be in PERFECT health and avoid all toxic exposure (sad, but true). The billion dollar health industry banks on this fact and is one reason it has become one of the most profitable empires in the world. In light of this fact, my aim as a health care professional is not to help people achieve perfect health, it’s to help people create better health. One of the ways we can do this is to reduce our toxic burden or load.

Over the next couple of months, you will probably be hearing a lot from me regarding toxins and what we can do about them in our daily lives. I am also currently fascinated by hormone disruptors and adrenal fatigue, but more on that later…

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In this article, I want to specifically address the issue of fish consumption. Specifically as it pertains to mercury and PCB exposure.

Let’s first define what PCB’s and mercury are and why they are not good for us…

Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCB’s for short, comprise a very large family of industrial chemicals found throughout the world today. This might be surprising to hear because, in 1977, production of PCB’s ceased due to the negative health effects that were discovered as a result of their ubiquitous use in the industry (1). Despite the cessation of production, they still linger in our environment, bio-accumulating in our soils and eventually ending up in our food supply.  PCB’s are easy to find in fish (the subject of this article) but also have contaminated milk, eggs and poultry to name a few. Unfortunately, PCBs are not going away anytime soon, so we have to take steps to avoid them, namely by eating more organic foods and eating wild and sustainably raised fish when possible.

The dangers of mercury are probably a bit more well understood and recognized. It has long been a concern of pregnant and nursing mothers to avoid exposure to mercury because of the potential negative effects on the mother and fetus (1). Whether or not you are pregnant, mercury exposure is a significant concern. Mercury exposure, at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system to name a few. It is commonly found in fish, but can also be found in some products we use at home, at the dentist, or in schools. Regular, seemingly insignificant small exposures of mercury can add up in the body and take their toll so it’s prudent to minimize exposure where you can.

There are many things you can do to avoid mercury exposure, but the focus of this article is on mercury content in fish. Fish is a great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s and other health promoting compounds so it’s important for us to understand the benefits versus risks of fish consumption. The take-away after reading this article should not be to avoid all fish consumption and is quite the contrary. The benefit of regular fish consumption is probably underrated. Instead, we need to stay abreast of which fish are the safest to eat and lowest in mercury. The details of which are listed below with supported links for those of you wishing to dive deeper.

What fish are high in mercury and should be avoided?

The FDA’s Top 10 Best and Worst Mercury Containing Fish (2)

Best to Buy

  1. Clams
  2. Ocean Perch
  3. Alaskan Salmon (canned)
  4. Shrimp
  5. Whiting
  6. Tilapia
  7. Oyster
  8. Alaskan salmon (fresh/frozen)
  9. Hake
  10. Sardine

Worst to Buy – Best to Avoid

  1. Tilefish
  2. Shark (who eats that anyways?!)
  3. Swordfish
  4. King Mackerel
  5. Bigeye Tuna (fresh or frozen)
  6. Orange Roughy
  7. Marlin
  8. Grouper
  9. Mackerel, Spanish
  10. Tuna (fresh/frozen)

(**Also high in mercury include chilean bass, bluefish, lobster, croaker, scorpion fish, weakfish, halibut, sablefish, bass, and snapper)

Full results on the exact mercury levels in fish can be found here.

The EPA currently recommends pregnant and nursing women to safely consume 8-12 ounces (2-3 servings) of fish that are lower in mercury every week. This recommendation is the same for most adults. More recommendations from the EPA can be found here.

I hope this article briefly introduced you to the concept of toxic burden and provides one way of managing the load via fish consumption.

In Health and Vitality,

~Beth