According the Associated Press (AP), every single fish tested from nearly 300 streams in the US were found to be contaminated with the toxic metal mercury. However, “only about a quarter had mercury levels exceeding what the Environmental Protection Agency says is safe for people eating average amounts of fish”. The EPA states on their website that “a variety of fish and shellfish can contribute to heart health and children’s proper growth and development”. And then go on to say the following “women and young children in particular should include fish or shellfish in their diets due to the many nutritional benefits”. “For most people, the risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern.” “Yet, some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.” Finally they state the obvious – “The risks from mercury in fish and shellfish depend on the amount of fish and shellfish eaten and the levels of mercury in the fish and shellfish.”
Some more specifics of what the EPA has to say: “Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Eat up to 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury. Five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish. Another commonly eaten fish, albacore (“white”) tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna. So, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish, you may eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught by family and friends in your local lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. If no advice is available, eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) per week of fish you catch from local waters, but don’t consume any other fish during that week.”
Before I continue on the dangers of ingesting mercury, I want to mention how mercury winds up in fish to begin with. Basically, it is from coal-burning power plants that emit smoke stacks of pollution. These emissions obviously get into the air and then settle into the oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and ground near this water. Oh wait, I presume the mercury in that pollution must also get into our reservoirs, but I haven’t seen that mentioned. Perhaps because people are focusing on fish, when it comes to mercury. Anyhow, the legislation that was supposed to be implemented forcing companies to control those emissions has been disgustingly delayed. About.com had an article stating this: “By law the Environmental Protection Agency is obligated to require power plants to cut roughly 90 percent of their emissions of mercury and other toxic pollution by 2008. Instead, in March 2005 the agency let polluters off the hook, requiring much smaller reductions and giving electric companies more than two decades to accomplish them. What’s more, the agency essentially allowed polluting companies to do nothing for the next 12 years.” Please see the link as there are more facts about fish and not just the politics behind the pollution.
Mercury is known to be extremely toxic to the nervous system in particular. The EPA states that mercury can cause harm to the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system in people of all ages. For fetuses, infants, and children the major effect is impaired neurological development. Lastly, the EPA says (and I can’t get over this one!): “In addition to the subtle impairments noted above (referring to the previous sentence), symptoms of methylmercury poisoning may include; impairment of the peripheral vision; disturbances in sensations (“pins and needles” feelings, usually in the hands, feet, and around the mouth); lack of coordination of movements; impairment of speech, hearing, walking; and muscle weakness. People concerned about their exposure to methylmercury should consult their physician.” Bold type-face, underlining, and statement in parentheses added by me.
OK, now I’ll comment. How does the EPA know what’s safe for you? What symptoms must occur for certain amounts to be considered unsafe? Also, I unfortunately can’t find information on how they determined safe levels, and of course, the state of the health of those people (presuming tests were done on humans?). Please comment if you know. But regardless, do they know the toxic burden (of all toxins) that already exists in you? Do you know? Remember, we ALL have some level of a toxic burden of chemicals and metals in us; from simply breathing the air, consuming conventionally grown foods, etc….the list is endless. Do you have all the necessary nutrients to drive the kidney detoxification pathways? We often think of the liver as the main detox organ, however, toxic metals are water-soluble and will be excreted through the kidneys into the urine. As an aside, any time I find a patient’s most “stressed” organ(s) to be the kidneys or bladder, I think toxic metals first.
My points above are meant to reflect the concept that you probably won’t experience the above OVERT and OBVIOUS symptoms of mercury toxicity as reported by the EPA, by consuming fish alone. That is from my personal experience with patients. The problem arises when people have sub-clinical symptoms from mercury toxicity. These might include fatigue, irritability, “foggy-headedness”, depression, anemia, hypothyroidism, digestive complaints, and more. Sub-clinical mercury (or other toxic metal) toxicity often results in the scenario of: “Mr./Mrs. Smith, all of your tests came back normal”. Let me expand on this. It will be extremely uncommon for a person to have mercury levels elevated in their blood. To date, out of literally hundreds of patients of I’ve seen with mercury-related symptoms, or other toxic metals, ONLY 1 actually showed elevated levels on blood tests. And this is how conventional doctors often go about checking for it. The problem is often that the metals get lodged into the cell/soft tissues and don’t get fully released into the bloodstream. When in the cells/soft tissues, they can cause impairments of normal functioning leading to the above symptoms. Fortunately, there are functional lab tests (especially urine) that can be used to detect levels of metals in the soft tissues. Even though urine is a reflection of blood, the test involves “provoking” the metals out of the cells to get an accurate measurement of total body burden in the soft tissues.
The amount of mercury-laden fish you can consume without harm or causing symptoms will depend on a variety of factors; mainly your current “toxic-burden” and detoxification abilities. And as you know, your symptoms may already be stemming from mercury (or other toxic metal) exposure; so perhaps you shouldn’t consume any fish at all. It would be prudent to have functional (in-office and lab) tests performed to find out! Lastly, I have helped many patients with symptoms related to toxic metal exposure by correcting simple and easily identifiable nutrient deficiencies, and education on avoiding further exposure.
I still can’t understand why some practitioners in the dental community consider it OK to put mercury in their patients’ mouth!!! By the way, there is a right way and a wrong way to have mercury amalgams removed. It can be more harmful to have mercury fillings removed, when done “improperly”. Feel free to e-mail me if you have concerns about that.
One more thing. You may go “MAD” if you are exposed to too much mercury. The phrase “mad as a hatter” comes from the hat-making industry dating back to the 1800’s when some hat-makers apparently went “mad” because of breathing mercury fumes from a solution they used to make fur into felt.
Dr. Robert D’Aquila – NYC Chiropractor – Applied Kinesiology