How Much Milk For 11 Month Old At Each Meal Health Hazards of Mercury

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Health Hazards of Mercury

Many of my patients like fish, just like me. It’s a good source of protein, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and delicious! Living in an area surrounded by water, fresh fish is abundant. However, I would like to share with you an important pitfall of eating fish too often – mercury (Hg) levels.

So far, no cases of mercury poisoning due to fish consumption have been reported in the United States. However, concern about this happening has grown over the past 10 years. Although most US fish is safe to eat, many states issue health advisories limiting the consumption of certain types of fish.

As I like to tell my patients, you can safely enjoy fish and seafood. The key words are avoidance of certain fish and moderation with others.

Let me explain how mercury gets into our food and who is at risk. I’ll also give you some tips on what you can do to prevent mercury from becoming a toxic problem.

How does mercury enter our environment?

Mercury enters our air through the burning of coal, wood or oil. Rain and/or snow washes them into the ground, grasses, our oceans, lakes, rivers and streams. It can also enter water from medical engineering wastes containing Hg that could be dumped into the ocean or lakes.

In the water, the mercury then becomes the highly toxic compound methylmercury which is readily absorbed by fish through their gills or by the marine life they eat. The cooking process does not get rid of it, so whenever we eat fish or seafood, we can get traces of mercury.

As a physician, I worry about my patients’ potential chronic exposure to dietary mercury because it stores in the tissues. Research shows that most people are exposed to mercury by eating fish. However, the amount of Hg you absorb depends on the fish you eat and where it comes from.

Who is at risk?

Although everyone, men, women, children, of all ages is at risk for dietary mercury toxicity, women (especially pregnant women) and newborns are most at risk. In a recent study, 10% of American women were at only 1/10th of toxic levels of Hg!

By eating tuna even twice a week, a woman may have too high levels of mercury stored in her tissues before becoming pregnant. Mercury can pass to the newborn and cause severe neurological damage and even fetal death.

Breastfed children can also be exposed through breast milk. Young children are also at greater risk because their brains and nervous systems are not fully developed until around age 11. They should consume no more than 12 ounces of low-mercury fish per week.

Are all fish at equal risk from mercury?

The short answer to this question is no. Some lake fish like largemouth bass and walleye, fish at the top of the food chain, can have levels of mercury (and other toxins) a million times higher than those in the water! If you enjoy sport fishing, be aware that these types of lake fish can be high in toxins.

The longest answer to this question is yes, maybe. Almost all fish and seafood contain mercury, and light to moderate consumption of fish should not be a health concern. As I tell my patients, your risk of Hg toxicity increases with the amount and type of fish you eat regularly.

Here’s what the US EPA and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recommend people do to reduce mercury exposure from eating fish:

• Avoid shark, king mackerel, swordfish, tilefish, grouper, marlin, orange roughy, lake bass, walleye – these have the highest Hg levels.

• Limit albacore tuna to 18 oz per month – it contains more Hg than light tuna.

• Limit salted bass, croaker, halibut, bluefin tuna, sea trout and Maine lobster to 18 oz per month. These have moderate levels of Hg.

• Limit carp, mahi-mahi, crab, snapper, perch, cod and burbot to 24 oz per month. These have lower levels of Hg.

• Shrimp, sardines, canned light tuna, wild Alaskan salmon, pollock, whitefish and catfish, black cod – these have the lowest Hg levels. You can enjoy up to 12 ounces per week.

* Please visit the NDRC website for a more comprehensive list and their mercury calculator to get a personal recommendation using which fish you like and how much to eat, at http://www.nrdc.org

What else can I do about mercury exposure?

The good news is that although Hg is stored in body tissues, it is also released. You can eliminate it from your body in about 6 to 12 months if:

• Faster – You avoid eating fish containing mercury altogether.

• Slower – You limit your fish/seafood intake to the lower Hg levels listed above.

Here are some other natural suggestions to help protect you from toxic levels of mercury:

• Drink sufficient amounts of water daily to flush toxins from your body tissues. Half of your weight should be consumed every day. If you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water.

•Avoid high fructose corn syrup – two recent studies suggest it may contain Hg.

•Avoid vaccines or contact lens solutions that contain thimerosal – it is a preservative derived from mercury.

• Dental fillings – if you have old mercury fillings, replace them with newer, mercury-free, tooth-colored fillings. Your teeth will look great and you will be freed from the source of mercury.

•Add fermented foods to your diet – things like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, help remove toxins from your body by creating good gut bacteria.

•Adequate amounts of vitamins C and E – help prevent the harmful effects of mercury.

•Add natural chelators to your diet – things like garlic, selenium, coriander and chlorella. These substances bind to toxins like mercury and flush them out of your body.

• Adequate fiber intake – is important for good health and for reducing levels of mercury accumulation.

• If you have old mercury thermometers, replace them with digital thermometers. Be sure to get rid of old Hg thermometers and toxic waste like old paint.

• Energy efficient light bulbs – or CFLs, contain minute amounts of Hg. If they break, open windows for 15 minutes to disperse the fumes. Keep children and pets away to avoid inhaling or dispersing dust. DO NOT vacuum as this will disperse the dust. Wear rubber gloves and cover your nose and mouth to avoid inhaling dust. Tape or a damp cloth will help pick up the particles. Used ones should also be disposed of as toxic waste.

Exposure to mercury is something we should all avoid as much as possible in our diets and our environment. It can have very bad effects on our brain and kidneys and cause a whole list of symptoms and conditions, including depression, fertility problems and even Alzheimer’s disease!

With a little common sense, however, by following the guidelines listed here, we can still enjoy eating the seafood we love so much without worrying about toxicity!

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