The Lowdown on Mercury and Health Part I - Rancho La Puerta
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The Lowdown on Mercury and Health Part I

By our Ranch nutritionist, Yvonne Nienstadt.

We all live on a poisoned planet, so all of us are toxic to one degree or another.  Fish is no exception.  In fact, fish is causing some alarms to sound.  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the FDA’s current seafood safety program is failing.  Seafood is leading the cause of reported food-borne illness outbreaks.  And because of mercury content, pregnant and nursing women are now warned to avoid certain fish completely and the rest of us are being told to cut back on our fish consumption to twice per week.

What is the source of mercury contamination?  Most mercury in the air comes from coal-burning power plants, municipal waste combustors, medical incinerators, and hazardous waste combustors.  The particulates land in soil and water.  Additional mercury from industrial wastes is dumped directly into waterways and accumulates in the fish we eat.  The FDA allows 480 mcg of menthyl-mercury per pound in fish, which many environmental and health experts consider too high.  They suggest that ideally, we should have no more than 5 mcg of mercury per liter in our blood or consume more than 5-7 mcg daily for a 100-154 lb. person.  To check your mercury status visit:

Limits Set on Fish Eaten in a Week:  The Washington State Department of Health recently recommended the following limits on fish consumption per week based on body weight.  As you can see, this is not a whole lot for a weekly allotment.  Just 1 Tbs. for 25 lbs, 3 oz. for 75 lbs, 5 oz. for 100 lbs, 6 oz. for 125 lbs, 8 oz for 150 lbs, 9 oz. for 175 lbs, and 10 oz. per 200 lbs.

A Happier Solution – Eat Low Metal Fish:  Now, it is quite obvious that we cannot completely avoid toxins such as mercury.  So, it is reasonable for most adults to continue to eat fish, but to minimize exposure by eating fish with the lowest levels of detectable mercury.  And this is the conclusion of the editor of Health News January 2003 a publication of the Massachusetts Medical Society and the publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine.  Interestingly, a study conducted by scientists from the University of Rochester Medical Center tracked pregnant women in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean who ate 12 fish meals per week (about 10 times as much as the average American).  Even though the fish contained how levels of mercury, various tests indicated the babies suffered no adverse cognitive, behavioral, or neurological problems at 5 years of age.  The study didn’t say what the women ate besides fish, but I know they consumed many protective vegetables, legumes, and fruits, typical of the native diets in the region.  You can read about the study here.

What are the best fish that are not over-fished?  According to E: The Environmental Magazine Sept/Oct 2003 Issue, the following are the best picks: Abalone (farmed), Anchovies, Catfish (farmed), Caviar (farmed), Clams (farmed), Crab, Crawfish, Herring, Hoki, Rainbow trout (farmed), Salmon (wild Alaskan), San dabs, Sardines, Squid (Pacific), Striped bass (farmed), Sturgeon (farmed), Tilapia (farmed), Trout (farmed).  Because of strict controls in the U.S., Swordfish stocks have rebounded off our waters.  Internationally, swordfish are still endangered.  At the Ranch, we purchase only fresh, non-endangered fish as listed by The Monterey Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

Stay tuned for Part II where Yvonne discusses where else to watch out for mercury in daily life…