Omega-3 Fats and Mercury Levels in Fish

Doc here: Just thought that I would divert away from the swine flu debacle. But just for this article for now. Even though I’m away from the office this week doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking of you all. I hope this will answer some questions regarding Omega-3 Fatty Acids, some good food sources, and the best fish to eat weekly to maximize the Omega’s while minimizing the amount of mercury poison in certain fish. As always, any comments and/or questions are welcome.

Omega-3 Fats are converted by the cells of the body into small hormones called prostaglandins. These prostaglandins reduce the risk of heart disease by opening the blood vessels and reducing the ‘stickiness’ of blood, so abnormal clots don’t form as easily. Other prostaglandins make our joints and tissues less prone to inflammation, a major benefit if you have some arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis.

This same prostaglandin also reduces the risk of cancer, as it signals our cells to replicate themselves at a slower rate. Slower replication reduces chances of genetic mutation occurring that may lead to cancer. Animal and human studies both demonstrate the anti-cancer effects of Omega-3 fats. It also makes the skin smooth and soft, and helps counter eczema problems. More recent studies have also shown that Omega-3 fats can also reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia as we age. So – it’s worth having a method of ensuring adequate Omega-3 fat consumption to derive these many health benefits.

Mercury, a mineral that exists naturally in the environment, is also released into the air by the tons through pollution and waste. The organic compound, methlmercury, is the poisonous form. It accumulates in streams and oceans and in the food chain, as each fish absorbs all the mercury of the smaller fish or organisms it has eaten. That is why the oldest and largest fish, such as shark or swordfish, have the highest levels. The effects of methylmercury poisoning or toxicity include paresthesias (a priking, tingling or creeping sensation on the skin), depression and blurred vision. Research also suggests that prenatal and infant exposure can affect attention span, language, visual-spatial skills, memory, and coordination.

Fish that contain more than 1,000 mg of Omega-3 Fats per serving (approximately 3 ounces) and are low in mercury include spongy dogfish, herring, sardines, pilchards, lake trout, Atlantic sturgeon, wild Pacific salmon, anchovies, sprats, bluefish and mullet. According to to U.S. agencies, five of the most commonly eaten fish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish. The best advice for anyone eating fish follows:

  • Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackeral or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury.
  • Consume up to 12 ounces (two average meals) a week of a variety of fish and shellfish lower in mercury.
  • Albacore (white) tuna, has more mercury than canned light tuna. Therefore, when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish per week, you may opt to eat up to 6 ounces (one average meal) of albacore tuna per week.

What about vegetarians? Well, some plant based foods also contain Omega-3 Fats. But, the Omega-3 in beans, seeds, grains, cereals, nuts, etc… is called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Fis contain EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which are the more widely known Omega-3 fats. EPA and DHA are famous because the former is converted by the body into mini-hormones that directly reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation and reduce cancer risk, while the latter is used to support brain function. The ALA can be converted into EPA and DHA by the body and thus provides similar benefits to consuming EPA and DHA from fish. So, the suggestion is to eat two servings of fish per week, take a daily supplement containing fish, flaxseed and borage seed oil, and provide additional Omega-3 fats to the body by regularly consuming plant-based foods that are rich sources of ALA:

  • Flaxseed Oil (Like Udo’s) – 2 Tbs
  • Pumpkin seeds – 1/4 cup
  • Walnuts – 1/2 cup
  • Salba or Chia seed – 2 Tbs

Small amounts are also found in kiwi fruit, black raspberries, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts, winter squash, turnip greens, spinach, kale, strawberries and mustard greens. Consuming these foods can further support your Omega-3 nutritional status, but on their own, are likely insufficient to produce major Omega-3 fat benefits.

So – the bottom line here is to eat at least two servings of fish per week, choosing fish that have the highest Omega-3 fat content (my favs are sardines and canned wild salmon) and the lowest mercury content. In addition, I prefer two Tbs of Udo’s Omega Oil daily (it can be easily added to a smoothie). Finally, ingest vegetarian foods that can boost your Omega-3 fat intake, keeping in mind that these sources contain ALA, not EPA and DHA.

Being a strong proponent of the Paleolithic Diet, I strongly suggest that all grains and their products, such as breads, cereals and pastas, be removed from the diet. There are just too many people who display sensitivity to grains in general and gluten in particular. I attribute this to the genetic modification (GMO) of our common foods today. Do your very best to avoid these.

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2 Responses to “Omega-3 Fats and Mercury Levels in Fish”

  1. Jeanne Mangual Says:

    I loved the comprehensive aspects of this article! Given the fact that there are several different initiatives being currently being implemented worldwide by “the powers that be” that attempt to implement a control on how we may purchase and consume supplements neccessary for health and well-being such as Codex Alimentarius , please see: Health Freedom Threats: Codex, FDA, Vaccinations, GMOs Health Freedom Threats: Codex, FDA, Vaccinations, GMOs
    among others
    I think we would do well to learn the health giving and healing properties inherent in the foods we already consume or should be consuming- as an adjunct to life as we can potentially live it- well, without reliance on
    supplements, should they become unavailable to us as we currently consume them. Dr. Hand is an excellent resource for this! His extensive education and experience as a licensed nutritionist and naturopthic healer can prove to be instrumental in our health as we continue down the road to natural health and realizing our full potential as human beings on this planet!

  2. Jeanne Mangual Says:

    Apologies for the typos in the previous comment! I am not a computer genius! Thanks for listening!

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