Part of any healthy diet, meal plan, or favorite recipe always includes eating fish. There aren’t many foods that offer more health benefits than fish.
Different diets including low-carb diets and the Mediterranean diet recommend consuming foods rich in fatty acids. Fish, which makes up a huge part of the diet contains omega-3 fatty acids – a type of good fat.
Fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna, and salmon are rich sources of fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids have a wide range of benefits including improved brain function, improved immune system, and better cognitive ability. From enhancing your cognitive ability to lowering the risk of heart disease eating fish is key to leading a healthy living.
There are also numerous studies supporting the fact that the fatty acids lower triglyceride levels and stabilize blood pressure, which protects against potentially lethal heart problems.
These fatty acids, like monosaturated fats, fight inflammations, decrease liver fat, and reduce weight as the waist size. It has also been linked with other medical conditions like asthma and dementia.
Some diet guides recommend fish consumption at least two times a week regardless of whether it is fresh or water-packed.
But even with the government guidelines encouraging everyone to consider eating fish twice a week for heart and brain benefits, one is left to wonder, is eating too much fish good for your health? What happens when you consume fish every day?
Dangers of Too Much Fish
While savoring a baked salmon filet or a grilled snapper is seemingly a healthy way of living – which it is – there is no denying that eating too much fish can cause health problems. There are several concerns about the consumption of too much fish that are hard to ignore.
This is because of the high levels of methylmercury. Chances are you are eating too much mercury than the essential omega-3 fatty acids. There are also dangers of too much iodine.
Many dietary guidelines, a good example is the American Dietary Guidelines, which recommend that one eats about 12 ounces of seafood in a week. This amounts to three servings. However, certain organizations and nutritionists feel that this could be dangerous to some people.
The dangers of mercury poisoning are not a result of fish producing it but of the heavy pollution occurring across the globe. This type of heavy metal accumulates under the sea environment over time.
Usually, mercury occurs naturally and when deposited under the sea, the ocean bacteria convert it into methylmercury.
Gradually, the fish in these waters accumulate this compound, some at slow rates while others at alarming levels.
When you catch these fishes and consume them, the methylmercury is easily absorbed as a neurotoxin, which could affect the nervous system and brain function. The effect, however, largely depends on how much content you acquire from the food.
It is also worth noting that not all fish contain the same levels of mercury. Tuna, unfortunately, contains a high level of mercury. High consumption of this type of food is, therefore, not recommended. Only a serving of canned tuna is enough.
Some of the healthiest fish, the ones that contain low levels of mercury include clams, salmon, sardines, herring, shad, anchovies, trout, mussels, and scallops. But even so, you should have about two to three servings every week.
Sharks, bigeye tuna, tilefish, king mackerel, orange roughy, marlin, and swordfish contain relatively high amounts of mercury, and aiming for about 8 ounces in a week is manageable.
Side Effects of Too Much Mercury Consumption
Mercury poisoning may lead to depression, shyness, tremors, feelings of irritation, memory lapse, and numbness.
Although the poisoning may not instantaneously occur, toxicity could be accumulated over time. An apparent burst of its effect could be a result of it reaching acute levels. Calling your doctor immediately is recommended.
Some of the symptoms in adults include:
- Speech difficulties
- Hearing difficulties
- Muscle fatigue
- Nerve loss in the face and the hands
- Poor coordination
- Changes in vision
Mercury poisoning in children leads to delays in visual-spatial awareness, cognitive ability, fine motor skills, and speech and language development.
Far from the above symptoms, mercury poisoning leads to far more health complications. In some instances, it leads to long-term or permanent neurological problems.
These dangers are far worse in children, especially those who are still growing or infants. Pregnant women are the immediate group at risk. This is because unborn babies are still in the development stage. These women, should, therefore, avoid fish with high mercury content.
In adults, exposure to a lot of mercury can result in kidney damage or lifelong brain damage. Poor blood circulation can also be experienced. Should anyone be exposed to high amounts of methylmercury or show symptoms that are a cause for concern, they should seek medical attention immediately.
How do You Prevent Mercury Poisoning?
The easiest way to prevent mercury poisoning arising from dietary choices is by being mindful of the seafood you consume as well as the amounts you end up eating:
Other ways to keep safe include:
- Reduce your intake of large fish
- If you are pregnant, avoid fish with high amounts of mercury
- Follow the dietary guidelines for fish and seafood. Serving guidelines for children state that those who are younger than 3 years can eat 1 ounce of fish, while a serving size for children ages 4 to 7 is 2 ounces.
- Be mindful of your sushi choices. Most of the common sushi rolls are made with fish that contain mercury.
- If you fish your own fish, check if there are any advisories in the region – just to be on the safe side.
- Before conceiving, take a blood or urine mercury test.
- Always clean your hands, and do it the right way, if you think you have been exposed to mercury or any of its forms.
- Keep an eye out for household mercury spills. Some bulbs contain this liquid metal. Ensure that you manage the spill appropriately.
- Avoid activities that may expose you to mercury. Things such as gold extraction are good examples.
Mercury isn’t the only thing to worry about when consuming fish, there are also dangers to too much iodine. This element is found in small amounts in the body and is essential to produce thyroid hormones that regulate growth, metabolic actions, as well as other body functions.
Naturally, not many foods contain iodine. People add it to table salt as a way of preventing iodine deficiency.
Normally, adults require at least 150 micrograms of iodine in a day. However, the actual amount everyone requires largely depends on their age.
Consuming more than the recommended amounts for each age group could result in iodine poisoning. It could also lead to hyperthyroidism, although this would occur from supplementation of iodine for the enhancement of what the body needs, that is thyroid function.
But how is seafood related to iodine? For one, some fish contains iodine. Fishes such as cod, tuna, and shrimp all have iodine. Consuming large amounts of these fishes, therefore, could increase the intake of iodine above the daily recommended limit. This results in health complications.
Adults can tolerate up to 1,100 micrograms of iodine in a day. Going above this level confuses the same function the element is supposed to achieve or enhance. Too much thyroid hormone will be produced.
1. Side Effects of Too Much Iodine Consumption
Symptoms of iodine poisoning and its effects vary according to age. They range from mild to severe. Mild symptoms include:
- Burning sensation in the mouth
In extreme cases, iodine poisoning could lead to:
- Cyanosis (turning blue)
- Weak pulse
- Inflammation of the airways
People with existing hyperthyroidism experience fast heart rates, weight loss unexplainably, warm skin, and muscle fatigue when exposed to more iodine. It is particularly worse for individuals with a history of heart disease.
It comes highly commendable that one seeks medical attention should serious complications occur because of iodine poisoning. Most importantly, following the iodine consumption guidelines – not getting carried away and consuming way too much salt – is an absolute necessity.
Iodine has several risk factors as well. It might not take a lot of iodine to trigger lethal health concerns. Certain things leave you vulnerable to iodine poisoning.
Thyroid conditions like goiter, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and Grave’s disease may worsen your tolerance to iodine leading to serious health problems.
Similarly, people who’ve had thyroidectomy should always be on the lookout for what they consume to minimize iodine poisoning.
Bottom Line :
As harsh as these effects may seem, you shouldn’t be afraid to eat fish. It is still one of the healthiest meals ever. They are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and they provide other benefits such as improved brain activity and overall health. But to be on the safe side, it is generally recommended that you have at least two servings per week.