Fish can be an excellent addition to a healthy diet, especially if you are enjoying fatty fish like wild-caught Alaskan salmon loaded with heart and brain healthy omega-3’s. But is there such a thing as too much fish? Unfortunately the answer is yes, since not all fish are created equal when it comes to health benefits. In fact, some fish may be more harmful to your health than helpful. Fish high in mercury and bottom feeding shellfish are examples of the types that you can easily over consume in your diet.
Here is what you need to know about how much fish you should be eating, and why mercury poses such a health risk.
What is Mercury?
First, it’s important to understand something about mercury when it comes to eating fish. Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is released into the environment. Things like coal burning as well as coal mining contribute to the mercury we are exposed to on a daily basis. So how does this mercury get into our food sources? When mercury is released into our environment, it actually dissolves in water. This is how mercury finds its way into the aquatic food chain, including the fish we eat.
Then there’s “methylmercury” which happens to be one of the most dangerous forms of mercury. It is estimated that 75-90% of the mercury found in fish is methylmercury. This is why taking a closer look at the fish you eat is so important.
When mercury is consumed through a food source, it will enter into the intestinal wall and then into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, it can travel throughout the body. Some of the areas of the body that tend to hold onto the mercury include the kidneys and the thyroid. However, there are other organs that can be affected by too much mercury exposure as well.
In addition to harming certain organs in the body, pregnant women need to be really careful about how much fish they eat, and more importantly what types of fish they eat, because too much mercury can lead to neurological issues for their growing babies.
Symptoms of Mercury Poisoning
Mercury poisoning happens gradually after years of mercury exposure, and consuming too much fish can ultimately lead to a mercury toxicity issue. Here are some of the common symptoms that occur when you expose your body to too much mercury.
- Memory issues
- Hearing changes
- Personality changes
- Vision issues such as blindness
- Shaking & tremors
- Walking difficulties
- Hair Loss
- Muscle coordination issues in children
- Miscarriage in pregnant women or birth defects in babies
How Much Fish is Too Much?
Fish is healthy and delicious, so we’re not saying it should never be consumed. So, how much fish is too much fish? While some choose to stay away from fish completely, the recommendation is to enjoy no more than 2-3 servings of fish per week, and preferably wild or sustainably raised low mercury fish. These fish contain important health benefits as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids to help combat inflammation, as well as help promote brain and heart health.
Here are the types of fish that are both high and low in mercury:
High Mercury Fish to Stay Away From:
- King Mackerel
- White Albacore Tuna
Low Mercury Fish to Enjoy:
- Fresh and Canned Salmon
- North Atlantic Mackerel
How to Reduce Your Mercury Exposure?
In addition to reducing your high mercury fish intake and limiting the amount of fish you consume to two or three 8-12 ounce servings per week, many people look to remove their amalgam dental fillings to reduce their exposure. This is especially important if you suffer from kidney or thyroid issues, as mercury tends to accumulate in these organs and can cause widespread health issues.
Are There Other Fish You Should be Avoiding?
In addition to fish high in mercury, you will also want to avoid too much shellfish, as these fish are bottom feeders. Bottom feeders hold the risk of carrying parasitic infections, so they are often treated with antibiotics and are more often than not, farm raised. Tilapia also happens to be farm raised and shouldn’t be your first choice. The water environment farm-raised fish live in is commonly treated with chemicals you would not want to expose your bodies to.
The question as to whether or not fish is healthy is very controversial. While fish can hold some great health benefits due to the omega-3 fatty acid content, fish is a big source of mercury and can lead to mercury build up in the body if consumed in excess.
The bottom line is that if you enjoy fish, and you include it in your diet to boost your omega-3 fatty acid intake, it’s okay to keep doing so. Just be sure to stay away from the fish that are notoriously known to be very high in mercury, and stick with the lower mercury options. You should also choose wild-caught fish to avoid added toxin exposure, and limit your intake of bottom feeding fish, too. No matter what type of fish you enjoy, stick to 2-3 serving per week. By following these guidelines, you can stay within the safe limits for fish intake and still reap some of their health benefits.