Friday, February 29, 2008

Mercury Rising

by Lourdes Castro

High levels of blood mercury in New Yorkers associated with eating fish.

Just last month an article appeared in the New York Times dining section warning readers of the dangers of eating too much fish. Yes – you read correctly – the article written by Marian Burros warned readers that eating more than three servings of fish per week, particularly sushi grade fish, would increase your blood mercury to dangerously high levels.

Needless to say Ms Burros’ article, which was based on a July 2007 report by the New York City Department of Health, drew quite a stir.

Many accused her of being an alarmist while others took her warnings to heart and abstained from eating sushi all together – a decision that resulted in a purported 20% decrease in business for sushi restaurants in NYC the week after the article ran.
Chilean sea bass contains high levels of mercury; anchovies are a small fish with very low levels of mercury.
Is there a real problem with eating too much fish? The original report issued by the NYC Department of Health concluded that 1 in 4 New York City adults has elevated blood mercury levels. Specifically, those with the highest levels are Asians and higher income New Yorkers. The reason ... they eat more fish.

The study also found that compared to the rest of the country’s population – New Yorker’s have higher blood mercury levels (a fact that may be due to our addiction to Japanese take out).
Very High Levels of Mercury

• Chilean sea bass
• Grouper
• King Mackerel
• Marlin
• Orange roughy
• Shark
• Swordfish
• Tilefish
• Tuna

Rule of thumb: The larger the fish, the more mercury it has accumulated from the smaller fish it has eaten.
Low Levels of Mercury

• Catfish
• Cod
• Crab
• Flounder
• Haddock
• Mackerel
• Mussels
• Perch
• Scallops
• Shad
• Sole
• Squid/Calamari
• Trout
• Whitefish
Very Low Levels of Mercury

• Anchovies
• Clams
• Crawfish
• Hake
• Herring
• Oysters
• Pollock
• Salmon
• Sardines
• Shrimp
• Tilapia
So what’s the problem with high levels of blood mercury? While mercury is an environmental pollutant – high blood mercury levels pose little, if any, health risks for most adults. The problem lies in the increased risk of cognitive delays for children whose mothers had very high mercury levels during pregnancy or while breast-feeding.

That’s the bottom line ... as far as the current research shows – high levels of blood mercury is a problem for women who are or may become pregnant as well as for young children. The actual problem – it increases the risk of cognitive delays in children – a risk that can present itself as early as in the fetal stage.

For everyone else ... a diverse and varied diet is always recommendable ... so don’t put down those chopsticks just yet.
Tuna contains very high levels of mercury.

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