I know that I was just touting how fab fish oil is: filled with Omega-3’s, DHA, and EPA. And it really is awesome for you, but if you eat a lot of fish, depending on the types you eat, you can be at risk for mercury poisoning. With every positive, there has to be a negative, right? Maybe not! As long as you are informed about the signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning and know what fish tend to be lower mercury fish, and steer clear, it can be all good!
What is mercury poisoning?
Basically, mercury poisoning is, by definition, a high level of mercury in your system. Normally humans have little to no mercury in their bodies, it is not something that we need to live or to survive, but it can be introduced into our systems from foods. The most common sources are fish (from the environmental circumstances) and some meats as well (due to poor living habits by the poor creatures before they are on your plate). There are all sorts of issues that can occur from high mercury levels depending on the dose and the amount of mercury in your system.
What are the signs and symptoms?
The signs and symptoms can vary based on the level present in your system. One of the most common first signs is peripheral neuropathy (either an itching, burning, or tingling in your fingers/hands or toes/feet), skin discoloration of the cheeks/fingertips/toes, heavily shedding skin, and swelling. Mercury can also effect the ability of the body to respond appropriately to epinephrine, it cannot stop epinephrine surges, so you can have high blood pressure, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), anxiety, profuse sweating, and increased saliva production. For children, the symptoms can vary a little in that they do get flushed cheeks, noses, and lips, along with losing hair, nails, and teeth. They can also get rashes that come and go randomly, muscle weakness, and increased sensitivity to light. Also, emotional irritability, insomnia, and memory impairment can also occur. Some of the symptoms can be very subtle, and it can be hard to tell that mercury poisoning is occurring…of course reading this, it seems like you would be able to tell right away, the sweating and saliva alone! Mercury poisoning can be diagnosed through blood levels (should be around 6ug/L but can be as high as 200ug/L), or through hair testing.
What is the treatment?
Chelation therapy is the standard treatment for mercury poisoning, along with removing mercury from the diet. Basically, chelation therapy is used to bind heavy metals and remove them from your system. Ethylene diamine tetraacedic acid (EDTA) is injected into the body, the EDTA then binds the heavy metal in the blood, it is brought through to the kidneys and leaves the body through urine. This is the only known treatment to decrease mercury levels.
What are mercury levels of fish?
The fish/seafood with the highest mercury levels are:
Mackerel, Whale, Shark, Swordfish, Dolphin (only eaten outside the US/EU), and tilefish
Anchovies, butterfish, shrimp, clams, salmon, cod, crab, haddock, lobster, mullet, scallops, tuna, trout, and tilapia.
*You can get full lists of fish mercury levels on the FDA’s website, in case I haven’t listed one of your favorites!
I fully encourage you to eat fish, just make sure that you are eating fish that is low in mercury and full of those yummy Omega-3’s! And if you do like to eat fish which is higher in mercury content, then just make sure to keep the signs of mercury poisoning in mind….it is better to be safe than sorry!
Yours in Good Health