UK doctors say contamination fears shouldn't cut fish consumption
by Randy Hartnell
Doctors concerned about the effect of nutrition on health and healthy aging face a distressing dilemma. They want people to eat more fish, but must also communicate their concerns about contamination of certain specific species without turning people away from fish altogether.
The author of a recent article in the British press summarized physicians’ fears: “…while there have been recent scare stories about toxins found in both sea and fresh water fish, evidence suggests these are nothing compared to the dangers of cutting fish out of our diet altogether… experts are warning that too many people are not including enough fish in their diet.”
The article also quotes Professor Michael Crawford, director of the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition at London Metropolitan University, who summarized the situation succinctly: "The benefits of eating seafood and fish far outweigh the disbenefits."
Dr. Crawford misstated the situation a bit, since the benefits of eating fish may well be outweighed by the dangers of eating risky species. (Fortunately, Vital Choice wild Alaskan salmon and our young, low-weight albacore tuna are among the safest fish available.)
Omega-3s: The key reason seafood is so healthful
The human body requires omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids to funcition properly. In fact, they were once collectively called "vitamin F." Most people actually over-consume omega-6s, which are abundant in common cooking oils and processed foods.
In contrast, omega-3s are scarce in the average American diet. They are found in certain plant foods—primarily nuts, seeds, and their unrefined oils—but the body converts only 10-15 percent of plant-derived omega-3s into DHA and EPA: the only types of omega-3s it can use.
Clinical research continues to highlight the importance of DHA and EPA—which are found only in fish—to human health at all stages of life. The benefits of these fully usable, “pre-formed” omega-3s stems mainly from two categories of physiological effects, which in turn produce specific health benefits.
Brain development and mental health
Omega-3s and other flexible fatty acids—especially DHA from fish oil—constitute twenty percent of the brain, and are essential to proper brain cell function.
- Omega 3s are found in human breast milk and are critical to pre-natal and infant brain development.
- Omega 3s appear to help prevent Alzheimer’s, and combat schizophrenia, manic depression, and dyslexia. (In dyslexic adults, higher omega-3 blood levels correlate with improved reading skill. Among reform school inmates, consumption of fish oil capsules reduced recidivism by 30 percent.)
- Omega-3 deficiencies are associated with behavioral problems in children and depression in adults. (One study found that among 120 primary school children with learning and behavior deficits, omega 3s produced a 40 percent improvement in concentration, reading, writing, and behavior.
Antiinflammatory effects with anti-cancer, anti-aging benefits
DHA and EPA exert strong anti-inflammatory effects, with positive implications for prevention or reduction of major diseases:
- DHA and EPA appear to help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and associated angina. Fish oil also helps to protect the heart against arrhythmia—one of the most common triggers of heart attacks—lower blood pressure, and help repair artery walls damaged by fatty, sclerotic deposits.
- High fish consumption is associated with a decreased risk of Crohn’s disease (chronic inflammation of the gut).
- DHA and EPA appear to inhibit development of many common cancers, including leukemias, and enhance the immune system’s ability to respond to developing breast tumors.
- DHA and EPA appear to help reduce the risk and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
- Fish consumption appears to reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
Tossing the bathwater: Sidestep risky species
According to the U.S. EPA, it makes sense to avoid or strictly limit consumption of shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. The EPA also says that shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish are typically low in mercury.
Farmed salmon is another risky choice, as it is high in PCBs. As one recent review put it, “Risk analysis indicates that consumption of farmed Atlantic salmon may pose health risks that detract from the beneficial effects of fish consumption.”
Saving the baby: Safe choices include all Vital Choice offerings
Experts agree that wild Alaskan salmon and young, low-weight albacore tuna—the only salmon and tuna choices we offer—are among the very safest fish available. While EPA says that albacore ("white") tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna, this applies only to the older, bigger albacore found in most brands. Regular independent lab tests show that our small, young albacore are very low in mercury, and are therefore as safe or safer than the five low-mercury species EPA recommends.
So by all means keep enjoying fish... just be aware of what you're eating!
- Hites RA, Foran JA, Carpenter DO, Hamilton MC, Knuth BA, Schwager SJ. Global assessment of organic contaminants in farmed salmon. Science. 2004 Jan 9;303(5655):226-9.
- Jacobs MN, Covaci A, Schepens P. Investigation of selected persistent organic pollutants in farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar), salmon aquaculture feed, and fish oil components of the feed. Environ Sci Technol. 2002 Jul 1;36(13):2797-805.
- Daniels JL, Longnecker MP, Rowland AS, Golding J; ALSPAC Study Team. University of Bristol Institute of Child Health. Fish intake during pregnancy and early cognitive development of offspring. Epidemiology. 2004 Jul;15(4):394-402.
- What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish: 2004 EPA and FDA Advice for Women Who Might Become Pregnant, Women Who are Pregnant, Nursing Mothers, andYoung Children. http://www.epa.gov/waterscience/fishadvice/advice.html.
- Bucher HC, Hengstler P, Schindler C, Meier G. N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Med. 2002 Mar;112(4):298-304.
- American Heart Association, Inc. Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Web site page as of March 10, 2004. http://22.214.171.124/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4632.
- Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N, Schneider J. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol 2003 Jul;60(7):940-6.
- Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology 2003, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., May 4-9, 2003, program numbers 811, 2111, and 2112.
- Jho DH, Cole SM, Lee EM, Espat NJ Role of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in inflammation and malignancy. Integr Cancer Ther. 2004 Jun;3(2):98-111.
- Larsson SC, Kumlin M, Ingelman-Sundberg M, Wolk A Dietary long-chain n-3 fatty acids for the prevention of cancer: a review of potential mechanisms. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Jun;79(6):935-45. Review.4