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Benefits of Eating Fish Outweighs Mercury Risk

Updated on October 26, 2012

Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, cod, and herrings have good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for human nutrition.

Omega-3 fatty acids are unsaturated fats that help reduce the risk of heart disease. It helps lower blood pressure, lower triglycerides, and decrease inflammation.

Fish consumption is associated with a lower risk of stroke, depression, and mental decline. Omega-3 fatty acids consists of ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and EPA (eicosapentanoic acid). They are necessary for good brain health. Your brain is mostly fat with 60% of it being made of DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most important building blocks for your brain.

Omega-3 is also important for eye health. Omega-3 consumption is associated with decrease risk of macular degeneration and chronic dry eye.[6]

Food sources of omega-3

The human body cannot synthesize omega-3 fatty acids (although to a limited ability they can form EPA and DHA from ALA). That is why we need to get our omega-3 from our foods. There are only very few foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids.Fish is one of them. Cold-water oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herrings, halibut, and black cod are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fat as essential for the brain. Pregnant woman who ate fish (other than the high mercury fish) had child with higher IQs. And children with developing brains should also be getting into the habit of eating fish. It is believe that humans evolved our large brain during the period when humans started eating seafood.

Eggs from hens fed a rich diet in omega-3 will produce eggs that contain a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Some omega-3 fortified eggs can be found at your supermarket.

Other sources of omega-3 are from seaweed, algae (that is where fish get their omega-3), walnuts, flaxseed, soybean, canola oil, and spinach.

Fish is anti-inflammatory food

Omega-3 fatty acids is also anti-inflammatory. It helps decrease and control inflammation.

Fish is listed in Dr. Andrew Weil's Anti-inflammation food pyramid. I wrote another article about the anti-inflammation pyramid.

World's Healthiest Foods websites says ...

"Research on fish intake and joint protection has shown that EPA from fish like salmon can be converted by the body into three types of closely-related compounds that work to prevent unwanted inflammation."[6] list wild salmon as one of the top anti-inflammatory foods.[7]

Other Benefits of Fish

Besides omega-3, fish is also a good source of protein, vitamin D, and selenium.

Protein are long chains of amino acids that play different important roles in the body. Protein is one of the basic building blocks of cell membranes and is needed to keep membranes healthy.

Vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins and is primarily generated by the sun's UVB rays hitting the skin. Vitamin D is protective against certain cancers. Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium which is needed for strong bones.

Selenium is needed for proper functioning of immune system and regulation of the thyroid functions.[reference] It also help builds glutathione, the body's chief antioxidant.

You can see some of the nutritional elements of salmon in The World's Healthiest Foods website.

Reader's Digest have a chart showing the amount of omega-3 contained in various types of fish.

What about Mercury?

The fish do not generate the omega-3 themselves, they get their omega-3 by eating algae. Therefore wild salmon that have to swims and consumes algae will have higher levels of omega-3 and lower levels of unhealthy fats. Whereas farmed salmon will have lower levels of omega-3 because they are fed fish meals. Farmed salmon sometimes are also injected with antibiotics that may raise a concern for people consuming the fish.

Large predatory fish can contain higher levels of mercury contaminants. As a good rule of thumb, the smaller the fish, the lower is the mercury. So you want to eat fish that can fit whole within a frying pan. Limit the consumption of large fish such as tuna and swordfish.

Fish also may contain other toxins such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) -- the amounts of which depends on where the fish is caught.

For quality seafood and wild salmon, see They were mentioned on page 300 of The UltraMind Solution.

Benefits Outweighs the Risk

In any case, the benefits of eating fish out weighs the risk of any risks -- as reported by The Washington Post and Journal of the American Medical Association.

Chris Kresser writes that it is safer to eat fish than not and that ...

"The benefits of eating fish regularly far outweigh the potential risks, which are neglible"

This is because most commercially sold species of fish contain selenium which protects against mercury toxicity. Mercury has a strong affinity to selenium and binds to it whenever selenium is around. The reason why mercury is dangerous is because knocks out the beneficial selenium in the body. There are elite antioxidant enzymes that protect the body from oxidation damage -- especially the brain and the heart which has a high oxygen consumption rate. These enzymes depend on selenium to work. Mercury does harm by binding up selenium and hence disabling these selenium-dependent enzymes.

However, if you have more selenium than mercury. The selenium and mercury binds and renders the mercury less harmful, while still leaving enough selenium for the antioxidant enzymes to work.

Most species of fish has more selenium than mercury. So that is a good thing. The few exception are sharks, pilot whale, whale meat, and possibly swordfish. Take a look at this chart by which show selenium in relation to mercury of the various ocean fish.

For those who want to get into the technical details of selenium and mercury interaction, take a look at the paper Selenium Health Benefit Values as Seafood Safety Criteria by Nicholas Ralston. Or you can hear Ralston explanation on Chris Kresser's podcast.

Also watch the below documentary Fish, Mercury, and Nutrition: The Net Effects produced by Prairie Public Broadcasting in collaboration with Environmental Research Center. It explains why fish is actually good for the brain.

The book Doctor Chopra Says: Medical Facts and Myths Everyone Should Know writes ...

“based on the amount of mercury currently found in fish it would be very difficult for anyone to eat enough of it to be at risk for mercury poisoning." [page 47]

and that ...

" … the decreased risk of heart disease gained from eating fish more than offsets any potential increased risk of mortality from mercury poisoning, cancer, or other ailments.” [page 48]

According to the book, a moderate amount (such as twice a week) is fine, unless you are pregnant, breast feeding, or young child -- in which case you want to avoid those fish that are high in mercury. Avoid Shark, Swordfish, Whale, King Mackerel, or Tilefish since they are higher in mercury in relation to selenium.

The benefits that you could get from a fish also depends on how it is cooked. Deep frying a fish is not a healthy way to prepare it. Deep-fried fish from fast food restaurants are not particularly healthy and they have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

You can get more of the nutritional benefits by baking, or steaming, or broiling the fish.


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