Mercury interferes with the the synapses of the brain, as most metals in the bloodstream might. Mercury is poisonous however, so it does a lot more damage, and can even be linked with dementia. Old hatters used Mercury to stiffen the hats that they crafted; thus, making them eventually go crazy. Hence the Mad Hatter character in Lewis Carroll’s (real name Charles Dodgeson) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Exposure to mercury can be lethal, causing problems such as rashes, birth defects in pregnant women’s fetuses, and even death. Children or fetuses of pregnant women are mostly at risk. Almost all people have traces of mercury in their systems due to consumption of fish and shellfish, and the health effects of mercury depend several factors: the chemical form the mercury takes place in, the amount of mercury intake, age of person (fetuses are most susceptible), how long the person was exposed to the mercury, and the method of exposure (inhalation, consumption, skin contact, etc.?).
Methylmercury poisoning (the type of mercury poisoning that happens when consuming fish) can result from a pregnant mother’s consumption of fish or shellfish, and negatively affects the fetus’s brain development (memory, attention, language, cognitive thinking, etc.). Symptoms may include: impaired peripheral vision, muscle weakness, lack of coordination in movements, and impaired speech. Methylmercury seems to negatively affect babies more than it affects adults.
In conclusion, most people have nothing to be worried about when it comes to mercury poisoning through eating fish. It is the pregnant women who need to be careful, as to not harm their fetuses.
Fish and shellfish are important parts of a healthy diet. Some of the nutritional benefits derived from this food source are high-quality protein, Omega-3 fatty acids, and low saturated fat content. It is estimated that 95% of Americans are not getting enough of this very versatile Omega-3 nutrient found in its most potent and effective form in fish oil and often labeled as DHA and EPA. Fish oil is a natural anti-inflammatory, is crucial in aiding brain function, imperative for normal growth and development, and helps reduce risks for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and cardio vascular disease. So does this mean one should indiscriminately add fish and shellfish to their daily diet? The answer is NO. Mercury, consumption dangers of which were touched on in the above answers, is the main reason as to why. Based on various research surrounding mercury it is clear that adults consuming too much of it can succumb to mercury poisoning. So, I would strongly disagree with the above conclusion that: “most people have nothing to be worried about when it comes to mercury poisoning through eating fish”. Primarily, toxic exposure to mercury comes from consumption of mercury-contaminates fish and mercury spills. Methylmercury, an organic compound of mercury, is considered to be its most toxic form, minimal exposure to which can result in severe neurological damage and death. Cited by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the November 2009 study on mercury and methylmercury contents in various fish species provided quite a large variation of the metal’s presence. Typically the bigger the fish, the higher the mercury content: bigger fish eat smaller fish that in turn eat even smaller fish, creating a snowball effect of mercury accumulation. Staying away from species of fish higher on the food chain comes highly recommended. The biggest offenders listed in the class of their own by the FDA are shark, king mackerel, swordfish, and tile fish (Gulf of Mexico). According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish are some of the more safe alternatives among popular seafood items. Not all tuna is created equal however: bluefin and bigeye tuna, often used in sushi restaurants, can grow very large and are certainly near the top of the food chain. In recent studies conducted in Japan, previously considered safe mercury level species like salmon, have been found to have higher than historical levels. It appears that species like trout have become the popular go-to seafood due to its small content of mercury.
In general, the EPA recommends consumption of 2 servings of low-mercury content seafood per week, with no more than 1 serving per week of the higher-mercury content species (e.g. if eating albacore / white tuna instead of canned light tuna).
Link to the Mercury content findings cited by the FDA in 11/19/09
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