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The latest scoop on mercury in our fish

October 14, 2010 - Kathie Evanoff
An interesting tidbit of information came from the National Science Foundation last week when a new study slated to be published in a forthcoming science journal “Ecotoxicology,” revealed information concerning the levels of mercury in fish.

We all know, or at least we should, that mercury, a toxic chemical that occurs naturally, is heightened by emissions from factories that operate along our riverbanks. Higher levels of the chemical are found in larger fish species, where it is stored in the muscle. Larger fish consume smaller fish, which adds to the mercury buildup in fish predators, such as largemouth bass, tuna and shellfish.

New findings by a research team out of North Carolina University has found that mercury levels in fish living near coal-fired power plants are lower than those of fish living 30 kilometers – or just over 18 miles – away from the plants. Fish living further away, it was discovered had more than three times the amount of mercury than those living closer. But don’t get excited and start fishing the waters around power plants. There is a downside to the news as well.

Researchers, funded by the Water Resources Research Institute, and part of the university’s college of agriculture and life sciences, also discovered the fish, largemouth bass and bluegill to be exact, while lower in mercury, were high in levels of selenium.

You might think that’s a good thing and while selenium is one of the major antioxidants found in our vitamins, like everything else, high doses can have adverse effects on our bodies.

Selenium is found naturally in corn, wheat, beef, turkey, eggs and some nuts. It is particularly high in Brazil nuts.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, we should be getting a maximum of 70 micrograms of selenium a day, although they claim it is difficult to establish a set RDA for that particular supplement. But high levels of the chemical can cause problems that include gastrointestinal upsets, hair loss, fatigue and even mild nerve damage.

Why is it important to know this? Well for one thing, the information is important for fisheries, the Department of Natural Resources and other agencies that could be affected in these communities. In addition, knowledge is power and we should know what is in our food, no matter where it comes from.

Seafood, particularly fatty varieties such as salmon and tuna, contain higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower bad cholesterol (LDL), while raising good cholesterol (HDL). To get enough of these Omega-3s, we should be consuming three servings of fish per week according to the FDA, but not more due to the high levels of mercury. I t should be mentioned that eggs and meat from organic grass fed animals also contain high levels of Omega-3s, so feed yourself accordingly.


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