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Nutrition Column

Is eating fish safe or dangerous?

New evidence suggests that low levels of mercury arenít dangerous.

Switching from red meat to fish or fowl has been recommended to increase the intake of healthier fats and decrease the intake of saturated fat. In fact, many medical organizations suggest eating fish several times a week due to the high levels of cardio-healthy, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Cardiac patients and fish lovers can relax and eat swordfish and tuna once in a while. While neurological damage is likely from eating too much fish high in levels of mercury, such as tuna or swordfish. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that low blood levels or mercury arenít dangerous.

A group of older urban adults (474 subjects, 50 to 70 year olds) who had typical eating patterns and average blood levels of mercury participated in the study. While certain performance measures were mildly impaired (visual memory)with increasing levels of mercury others were improved (manual dexterity). Overall, the data provided no evidence that elevated blood mercury levels were associated with impaired neurobehavioral performance in seniors. Collectively, recent research suggests that there is no clear link between low levels of mercury and problems with coordination, memory, or thinking.

Currently both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency agree that for most people eating fish occasionally isnít dangerous, and provides certain disease protective nutrients. Those advised to limit their fish intake to low-mercury seafood like salmon, shrimp and canned-light tuna are women who are or might get pregnant and children. Those with a family history of neurological impairment might also consider limiting their intake of large fish with relatively high levels of mercury.

So relax and enjoy that occasional piece of swordfish knowing you are not only doing your heart good but also not damaging your mental function.

Written by Dr. Sternlicht for on 09.25.05