Consuming fish for beneficial omega 3 fatty acids may be more harmful to your health than you think. Ideally, you would be able to get all the omega-3s you need by eating a diet that included fatty fish once or twice per week. Unfortunately, studies show that eating fish can potentially expose you to a high degree of contamination with industrial pollutants and toxins such as mercury.
A recent report titled, “Mercury in the Global Environment” evaluated the amount of mercury in fish species around the world and suggested that levels of the toxin previously deemed “safe” are probably not. The Biodiversity Research Institute in Maine compiled the report. The institute has been studying mercury levels for more than 15 years. It assesses emerging threats of mercury and uses its findings to raise awareness as well as inform decision makers.
The Institute’s data shows two things: mercury contamination of seafood is global in scope, and that negative health effects from methylmercury in seafood are occurring at levels below what was considered safe just a few years ago.
“The more we look at mercury, the more toxic it is,” said David Evers, executive director of the institute. “Threats from mercury are greater at lower levels than we have thought in the past.”
Mercury “affects the immune system, alters genetic and enzyme systems, and damages the nervous system, including coordination and the senses of touch, taste and sight,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey’s fact sheet on the neurotoxin. “Methylmercury (the organic form of mercury that most easily builds up in organisms and persists for long periods of time) is particularly damaging to developing embryos, which are five to ten times more sensitive than adults.”
Within the report, an epidemiological study on the effects of mercury on brain development stressed that consumption of “everyday” amounts of fish with higher mercury levels can be damaging to the health of children and the developing fetus in a pregnant woman. Put bluntly, mercury can negatively affect the way children think, walk and talk. Unfortunately, it is impossible to remove mercury from fish.
The dilemma is that our bodies need the omega 3 fatty acids contained in fish. Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids. We need them for our bodies to function properly. Because essential fatty acids (ALA, DHA, EPA) are not produced in the body or are inefficiently converted from ALA to EPA and DHA, the only way to get them is from our diet.
The answer may come from a small shrimp-like creature called krill. Krill live in the pristine waters of Antarctica and are the primary diet of the great whale. They do not contain unsafe accumulations of mercury or other toxins. In fact, they are among the best sources of omega 3s because pure krill oil carries omega-3s in the form of phospholipids that deliver the fatty acids directly to your body’s cells.
The most predominant phospholipid in pure krill oil is phosphatidyl choline, which is partially composed of choline. Numerous studies have demonstrated the importance of choline in brain development, learning and memory. Krill oil also contains astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant.
The authors of the mercury report insist that are not trying to convince people to stop eating fish. In fact, they agree that fish can be highly beneficial for one’s health. What is needed, they contend, is for consumers to be “better educated and more aware of which fish to choose.” When looking for an omega-3 supplement, they suggest a krill oil supplement versus fish oil.
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