In The News: Consuming Mercury from Fish Poses No Heart Risk

| 6/28/2011 12:18:12 PM

S.McCabeBy analyzing the toxin levels in toenail clippings, researchers have determined that mercury exposure from eating fish does not raise the risk of heart disease or stroke, according to a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Fish ingest mercury that is in the water as an industrial by-product, and until now, doctors were undecided if the negative effects of the mercury in fish could offset the positive. These results could help put to rest this debate on the benefits and consequences of increased fish consumption, and it should definitely ease some doctors’ uncertainty when recommending fish as a heart-healthy alternative to red meat. 

6/28/11 Salmon
Some mercury content is found in almost all fish. However, salmon
generally contains a very low amount of mercury in comparison to other fish.
Photo by Khairil Zhafri/Courtesy Flickr

The new research involved a study of toenail clippings from 174,000 health professionals, some who had sent their toenail clippings in decades before, when the work had started. Toenails are an odd-sounding but effective way to measure toxin content in the body, and they are much easier to collect and store than blood samples. After about 11 years, 3,500 participants had developed heart disease or suffered strokes. Adjusting for alternative health factors such as gender, age and smoking, researchers concluded that there was no real link between mercury exposure and cardiovascular problems, even at high levels of exposure up to 1 microgram (more than twice the recommended limit for pregnant women). In fact, the participants with the highest levels of mercury exposure appeared to have slightly less risk of stroke and heart attack, probably because of the heart benefits of fish consumption than the actual mercury itself.

Not only is the mercury in fish relatively safe to eat, but fish has other great benefits, as well. Fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which is shown to ward off heart disease, reduce blood pressure, help prevent arthritis and promote healthy brain function. It is also loaded with vitamins and minerals such as riboflavin, calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc and potassium, all which support your body’s general health. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat fish at least twice a week.

So don’t let fears of mercury keep you away from a piece of fish for supper. Just make sure to balance your fish consumption with plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

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