Fish factors into mercury's health effects.

Posted by Roxanne Karimi at Apr 01, 2011 07:00 AM |

An Associated Press article highlights new research showing there is no link between mercury exposure and heart disease or stroke. This is good news. The AP article accurately reports the study's main findings. However, it oversimplifies the implications by not addressing other health ramifications that can arise when adults consume too much mercury from eating seafood.

Eating fish is an important part of a healthy diet, in part due to heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids in many fish. Results from this new research demonstrate that the health benefits of eating fish outweigh health risks from mercury exposure in terms of cardiovascular health.

However, mercury and other contaminants in fish can cause numerous other health concerns when fish are consumed too frequently, and fish consumption in the United States is on the rise. Exactly how much is too much is actively debated and depends on the type of fish consumed. Those particularly sensitive to mercury exposure – such as a pregnant woman and developing fetus, children and sensitive adults – should take special care to avoid high mercury fish.

Research shows that subtle, subclinical health effects that do not manifest as overt symptoms are linked to mercury exposure in U.S. adults who frequently consume fish. These health effects include diminished concentration and memory, immune system responses, and increased blood pressure. While the recent study reported by the AP suggests that mercury itself does not cause a higher risk of heart attack or stroke, it does not address these other health effects.

While the article includes recommendations by the American Heart Association to eat fish at least twice a week, it does not suggest any upper limit, except for pregnant mothers and young children. Eating high-mercury fish – such as shark, swordfish and certain species of tuna – just once a week would put the average person at risk for elevated mercury exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Overall, the article brings to light this important research, but fails to put it into context with other research indicating that mercury can have negative health consequences when people eat fish.


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