Mercury in fish: What you can do

You’ve probably heard a lot lately about the dangers of mercury in fish. This environmental issue is quickly becoming a body ecological issue as we’re finding more and more clients suffering from mercury toxicity. But fish isn’t the only way for heavy metals to find a way into our bodies. We are also exposed to heavy metals through metal dental fillings, damaged cookware, and pollution. But how does exposure to heavy metals affect your health and metabolism?

Too much exposure to heavy metals — especially mercury — has had a huge impact on your health. Primary symptoms include fatigue, achy joints, depression, and anxiety. And because those symptoms can point to many other conditions, metals exposure is often overlooked as a cause. It’s also something I test for when people seem to be doing everything right and still can’t lose weight.

Because metals are considered fat-soluble toxins, our bodies can aggressively hold on to fat, so it has a place to store metals. Our bodies simply can’t make the enzymes to break down heavy metals, so your body deals with them by socking them away in fat cells — then storing those fat cells, so metals aren’t released in the bloodstream. But too much metal and your body can’t keep up. Those metals spill over into your blood stream, resulting in those toxicity symptoms: fatigue, depression, joint pain. And if that weren’t enough, metals in the body tend to gravitate towards your thyroid, where they can interrupt normal thyroid function. One result of that is an inability to lose weight and even weight gain.

A simple blood test is one way for your doctor to check for heavy metal exposure. But remember the body is designed to do everything it can to get metals out of the bloodstream to prevent metal poisoning. Many times a negative blood test does not rule out heavy metal toxicity. If you have symptoms of metal toxicity and your blood tests come back negative, be sure to ask for two types of urine tests.  A 24-hour urine collection test checks for acute or current metal exposure (yes, you collect all your urine for 24 hours for testing). The second is called a “challenged” urine test, which uses an agent to pull historical toxins from urine and give a better picture of total body burden. (This article explains the difference between the tests and why both are important.)

How does mercury make it into our food supply in the first place? About half of environment mercury comes from the burning of fossil fuels and other industrial sources. Once released into the atmosphere, mercury pollution settles in our oceans, rivers, and land (where it can be washed into waterways). The real danger comes once it reaches oceans, where bacteria convert mercury to the neurotoxin methylmercury. The methylmercury then works its way up the food chain, starting with planktons, which are consumed by small fish, which in turn are eaten by larger fish. That’s how mercury concentrations in large ocean fish end up so high.

The greatest risk of exposure to methylmercury is to fetuses, infants, and children, whose growing brains and nervous systems can be affected.

Limiting your exposure to heavy metals

Choose fish carefully

Ocean fish are exposed to all kinds of environmental conditions that impact their health and ours. While all fish can be impacted by events like the nuclear-plant meltdown in Japan 18 months ago, large fish are more impacted than others; when they eat smaller fish, those toxins are added to their systems. The Natural Resources Defense Council maintains a good list of fish and their mercury levels.

Fish with high mercury levels

  • Swordfish
  • Marlin
  • Orange Roughy
  • Tuna: Bigeye and Ahi
  • Shark
  • Mackerel

Pregnant women, women who are trying to become pregnant, and children should avoid those fish entirely. Otherwise healthy adults should eat those fish no more than once per week, according to guidelines established by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Fish with lower mercury levels

Other fish are a safer bet. The following have some of the lowest mercury levels, and are included in the Fast Metabolism Diet:

  • Flounder
  • Sardines
  • Sole
  • Herring
  • Salmon (canned and fresh)
  • Trout
  • Catfish
  • Pollock
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops

Fish with moderate mercury levels

Unfortunately, the situation with some fish, such as halibut, is getting worse. These fish are included in the Fast Metabolism Diet, but you may wish to limit your consumption.

  • Cod
  • Halibut
  • Skate
  • Tuna (canned, chunk light)

Supplement with chlorella before consuming fish

Chlorella is a type of phytonutrient algae that helps bind with metals in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. When chlorella is taken before eating fish, it can help capture heavy metals, so they aren’t released into your blood stream. A typical dose is three 1,000 mg tablets or capsules taken before a meal that includes fish.

Other ways to limit exposure

You’re exposed to metals in other ways too. Before having dental work, ask for nickel-free fillings.

Before immunizations, ask for thiomersal-free versions. Thiomersal is a mercury-based preservative that’s used in vaccines and is currently controversial due to concerns over childhood vaccinations and autism.  Confirm with your physician that vaccines are thiomersal free.