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Tuesday
Oct062009

The Omega Dilemma: Could the Risks of Consuming Mercury Contaminated Seafood Outweigh the Benefits?

Fish are considered by many nutritionists to be part of a healthy diet; providing a low fat source of protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids.  However, concerns do exist about the presence of toxins (e.g. mercury and PCBs) in some seafood – marine pollutants can build up in the flesh of fish, which is then consumed by people.  This can be of particular concern for certain groups of people, including children and pregnant women.

Fears of seafood contamination sometimes overshadow the good associated with eating more fish. Conflicting information and studies further confuse the public and lead consumers to ask, “Is it really worth it?"

Omega-3 vs. Methylmercury 

Omegas

There are three major types of omega-3 fatty acids that are ingested in foods and used by the body: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA, the two types of omega-3 fatty acids more readily used by the body are primarily found in seafood. ALA, primarily found in plant sources (flaxseed, walnuts, soy and canola oil), is not known to provide the same health benefits as the body cannot convert it to the long-chain omega-3s (EPA & DHA) as efficiently. 

Mercury

Mercury is a liquid metal found in rocks, including coal. Typically power plants emit the most mercury pollution when burning coal. Forrest fires, volcanoes and other natural sources emit these elements in the atmosphere. When it lands in the water, aquatic microorganisms convert it to methylmercury, the form found in fish. It accumulates up the food chain and is most concentrated in larger and longer lived predators (e.g. sharks, marlin, swordfish).

Seafood is the major source of mercury in humans and could be potentially toxic to the development of a fetus or infant, as pregnant and nursing mothers exposed to large amounts of mercury could jeopardize their brain development. At the same time consuming fish during pregnancy can be protective against conditions such as asthma and eczema and some research shows that avoiding fish can be detrimental to a child’s health and development.

Selenium Solution

Selenium is a powerful antioxidant found primarily in seafood. It’s protective against the toxicity of heavy metals including methylmercury. It has the ability to bind to mercury, preventing its toxic effects and thus, protective against its detrimental effects.

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