Another popular myth is that mercury in fish presents a serious health risk to Americans. Actually, the truth is that the best science suggests that the tiny amounts of mercury in fish aren't harmful at all.
A recent twelve-year study conducted in the Seychelles Islands (in the Indian Ocean) found no negative health effects from dietary exposure to mercury through heavy fish consumption. On average, people in the Seychelles Islands eat between 12 and 14 fish meals every week, and the mercury levels measured from the island natives are approximately ten times higher than those measured in the United States. Yet none of the studied Seychelles natives suffered any ill effects from mercury in fish, and they received the significant health benefits of fish consumption.
In November 2005, The American Journal of Preventive Medicine published new research from Harvard University that put the risk from fish-borne mercury in its proper context. Dr. Joshua Cohen, the study's lead author, summed up the issue for MedScape Medical News: "[W]e're talking about a very subtle effect of mercury
changes that would be too small to measure in individuals."
Benefits outweigh the risk
Finally, consumers are falsely led to believe that the health risk from mercury outweighs the health benefits of eating fish. On the contrary, the opposite is true.
Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can decrease the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney disorders, Alzheimer's disease, breast cancer, prostate cancer, uterine cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, type-2 diabetes, low birth-weight, post-partum depression, and pre-term delivery. Partially because of the health scares surrounding mercury, Americans' intake of Omega-3 acids is 3 to 6 times lower than the levels recommended by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.
Harvard's Dr. Eric Rimm told The New York Times in 2004: "The message of fish being good has been lost, and people are learning more about the hypothetical scare of a contaminant than they are of the well-documented benefits."
A 2005 study published in Archives of Neurology showed that elderly people who eat fish at least once a week can slow their rate of mental decline by between 10 and 13 percent. Research published in the same journal in 2003 found that adults who consume fish once or more each week have a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. A 2004 study of children in Bristol, England showed that the children of pregnant women who consumed high amounts of fish scored higher on mental development tests. That same study found "no adverse developmental effects associated with mercury."
And studies published in the November 2005 American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that even eating small amounts of fish each week can result in a 17 percent lower risk of heart disease, a 12 percent lower risk of stroke, and (when eaten by pregnant women) a modest 1 to 8-point increase in children's IQ.