Fish can provide you with a ton of amazing health benefits. For example, most oily fish contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help reduce the risk of heart disease and support cognitive health. The omega-3s in fish may also reduce the risk of depression and help improve mental health. However, even though fish contains many health benefits, it can also increase your exposure to mercury. Indeed, according to Environmental Health Perspectives, fish consumption accounts for more than 90% of mercury exposure in the United States, with tuna being one of the top varieties of fish with mercury levels. But even though we know that tuna and other types of fish contain mercury, is it really possible to get mercury poisoning from eating too much of it?
Let’s first look at the general mercury content of tuna
Consumer Reports (CR) recently published a report in which they examined the levels of mercury, a neurotoxin, contained in five different brands of tuna: Wild Planet, Bumble Bee, StarKist, Chicken of the Sea and Safe Catch. In addition to investigating specific brands, they also looked at different types of tuna, such as albacore, light and skipjack.
They found that all five brands had mercury levels in their tuna, but on average, albacore varieties from all brands had three times more mercury than light or skipjack. Still, all varieties and brands contained some level of mercury, and Consumer Reports researchers were concerned that the spikes they found in some cans could be potentially harmful.
Even though some varieties of tuna are known to have less mercury than others (for example, light tuna has less than albacore on average), some cans have been found with unexpected mercury spikes. In fact, the researchers found that six out of 30 cans (20%) exhibited these toxin spikes. With this unpredictability, the experts of CR suggest that pregnant women avoid tuna altogether if possible, and that other adults should consume it in moderation.
“From can to can, mercury levels can rise unpredictably and endanger the health of a fetus,” James E. Rogers, PhD, and Director of Food Safety Research and Testing To CRwould have said CR in a study report.
But even with this new information about mercury levels in specific brands and types of tuna, as well as the suggestion for pregnant women to steer clear completely, there’s still more to know about the risks of average adult when it comes to consuming tuna and mercury, specifically whether or not too much tuna can give you mercury poisoning.
Why does tuna contain mercury?
According consumer reports, you can’t really eat seafood without also consuming some levels of mercury. This is because it is so ubiquitous in the oceans, both because it is a natural mineral, but also because it also comes from human-made pollution. Generally, larger fish are known to have higher mercury levels because they feed on smaller fish and absorb their mercury as well.
An article by Research on biological trace elements states that not only do tuna get their mercury by feeding on other fish, but this mineral also builds up over time in the tuna’s tissues because they cannot easily get rid of it. This combination of factors makes mercury a big problem specifically for tuna.
What harm can mercury do to your body?
According to the EPA, mercury is considered a neurotoxin that can cause negative health side effects if consumed in higher amounts, such as loss of brain cells and motor skills, deterioration of memory, feelings anxiety and an increased risk of heart disease. Specifically, methylmercury is the type of mercury found in seafood and fish, such as tuna, and high levels of it can potentially lead to poisoning.
The EPA also states that symptoms of methylmercury poisoning include impaired speech or hearing, loss of peripheral vision, muscle weakness, and a feeling of pins and needles in your body. But how do you know when to stop or how much mercury can lead to real poisoning?
Unfortunately, there’s no clear gauge for how much tuna you can eat before you risk mercury poisoning, especially considering how Consumer report‘s new canned tuna findings often contain unexpected and inconsistent mercury spikes. But, the FDA has some basic guidelines you can follow to reduce your risk of poisoning.
What the FDA says
The FDA says adults should be okay with low-mercury fish about once or twice a week, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding should limit their fish intake to these low-mercury types. and keep their portions to around 4 ounces just two or three times a week. However, it is important to remember that consumer reports released their new suggestion that pregnant women avoid tuna altogether due to the inconsistency of some cans and their mercury levels.
If you’re someone who regularly eats a lot of tuna, be sure to pay attention to some of the potential signs of mercury poisoning in the body and speak to your doctor if you’re worried about how much you’re consuming.
Low-Mercury Seafood Suggestions
It’s important to remember that anytime you eat seafood, you’re more than likely putting some level of mercury into your body. However, there are types of fish and shellfish that contain less mercury on average than something like tuna. According consumer reports, there are lower levels of mercury in things like crab, shrimp, squid, tilapia, cod, salmon, oysters, and lobster. If you’re looking for canned items that you can grab and store that aren’t exposed to as much mercury as canned tuna, try something like anchovies or sardines, both of which are considered of the “low mercury” category. .
While you can’t predict exactly how much tuna can lead to mercury poisoning, it’s safe to say that higher levels of mercury can certainly have a potentially harmful impact on your health. But even if you can’t predict poisoning, you can be aware of the symptoms of mercury poisoning and try to stick to the recommended servings of fish each week to avoid too much exposure.
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