Is Fish Healthy?Sep 07, 2023
Are you wondering, “Is fish healthy?”
Well, probably not as much as you think. Many research studies show the benefits of fish containing omega-3 EPA/DHA fatty acids and as a source of protein. But what many researchers don’t cover in their studies are the other substances that can be harmful to your body.
The presence of contaminants in fish raises concerns about the risks associated with consuming this dietary staple. Contaminants can come from various sources, including household and industrial waste, polluted water, and even through cooking methods. In this article, we will explore the types of contaminants found in fish, their potential health risks, and some alternatives to consider.
Contaminants in Fish
Mercury is one of the most well-known contaminants in fish. It enters aquatic ecosystems through household wastes, industrial processes, and atmospheric deposition. In water bodies, bacteria transform mercury into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that accumulates in fish tissues. What happens is that the bacteria are eaten by plankton and small aquatic creatures, and then smaller fish are eaten by larger fish. The mercury builds up as it goes up the food chain through a process referred to as “bioaccumulation.” Consuming fish with high levels of methylmercury can lead to neurological and developmental issues, especially in pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children. Symptoms of mercury exposure include tremors, memory loss, and cognitive and motor dysfunction, among others.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs):
PCBs are synthetic chemicals that were once widely used in industrial applications. Although they have been banned in many countries, they persist in the environment and accumulate in fish. Some experts report that the accumulation of PCBs in fish “may be many thousands of times higher than in water.” Long-term exposure to PCBs is associated with various health problems, including cancer and developmental issues.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs):
POPs encompass a range of chemicals, including dioxins and furans, which are released into the environment through industrial processes, waste incineration, and combustion of fossil fuels. These chemicals can bioaccumulate in fish and pose health risks, including cancer, hormonal disruptions, and reproductive issues.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs):
PAHs are a group of chemicals formed during the incomplete combustion of organic matter, such as fossil fuels and wood. They can contaminate fish when water bodies are exposed to pollution sources like oil spills. PAHs can also develop with grilling fish on an open flame at high temperatures (300 F / 150 C and above). High levels of PAHs in fish are associated with cancer and other health problems.
Microplastics are tiny plastic particles that have infiltrated aquatic ecosystems. Fish can ingest microplastics, which can accumulate in their tissues. The long-term effects of microplastic consumption by humans are still being studied, but it raises concerns about potential health risks.
Health Risks Associated with Contaminants in Fish
Consuming fish contaminated with the above-mentioned substances can pose several health risks:
Neurological and Developmental Issues: Mercury, particularly methylmercury, can harm the nervous system, especially in developing fetuses and young children. It can lead to cognitive and motor function deficits.
Cancer Risk: PCBs, dioxins, furans, and PAHs have been classified as actual or potential carcinogens. Long-term exposure to these contaminants through fish consumption can increase the risk of cancer.
Hormonal Disruptions: Some contaminants, like PCBs and dioxins, can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to issues with the endocrine system.
Reproductive Problems: POPs and other contaminants can interfere with reproductive health, causing infertility or developmental abnormalities in offspring.
Gastrointestinal and Immune System Effects: Ingesting microplastics, although less understood, may have adverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract and immune system.
Alternatives to Consider
Consider swapping out the fish for whole plant foods. Add nori seaweed to your favorite pasta dish or salad to give it a seafood flavor. Check out these healthy, protein-rich, fish and seafood-inspired plant-based alternatives.
If you’re wondering about the omega 3 EPA and DHA fatty acids, check with your healthcare provider about supplementing with an algae-based EPA DHA. After all, fish get the omega 3s by eating the algae, so supplementing is skipping the “middleman” and getting it from the source.
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