Someone is always throwing a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans. You try to keep yourself healthy by eating a diet higher in fish and omega-3 fatty acids, and you believe you are doing something good for yourself, when suddenly you find out you may be poisoning yourself with toxic metal.
Fish has always been reported to be better for you than beef or even chicken, and it still is, but the problems lies in where the fish was raised, not in the fish product itself. Many fish contain mercury, which has been found to be the cause of many physical and memory problems. You may not know it, but the healthy food you are putting into your body could actually be poisoning you.
San Francisco based Dr. Jane Hightower, doctor of internal medicine, was puzzled as to why a patient she was treating in 2000, who appeared outwardly to be physically fit, was losing her hair by the clumps, was nauseated and dizzy, had muscle and joint pain, and complained of poor memory. All the tests the doctor ran found no abnormalities. Even more puzzling, the woman’s daughter and her secretary were also showing the same strange symptoms.
Consulting with a colleague, dermatologist Dr. Kathy Fields, the doctors suspected the problem would be in the well water they were drinking. Dr. Fields had recalled listening to a radio talk show about people who were losing their hair because of too much mercury in their drinking water. They tested the patient for mercury in her system and found it to be three times the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended as being safe for human consumption. After testing the daughter and the secretary they confirmed their findings, each had above normal levels of the toxic metal.
The woman’s ranch house and property were all dusted and tested for mercury by the California Poison Control Center. They even checked picture frames and windowsills, but could find no metal anywhere. The well water was fine as well, so where was the poisoning coming from?
After further questioning the women told the doctors that they had all changed their diets to contain more fish, and were eating more tune, swordfish, halibut and salmon – all big fish. Dr. Hightower then proceeded to researching fish and mercury, and her findings were very disturbing. Fish purchased in grocery stores, and appeared to be healthy and nutritious, often contain dangerous levels of mercury. Increasing consumption of these fish can lead to a number of debilitating symptoms that can affect the body and the brain.
She took her information further, which led to investigations on both the state and federal levels. The results were that warning labels had to be posted at fish counters in nearly every state as to the dangers of consuming fish that contained mercury.
Dr. Hightower also returned to her patient list and retested about 20 patients who had symptoms she was not able to find a reason for before. A large majority of them were fish eaters and their mercury levels were above the safe level. Within six months, many of her patients returned back to normal after they stopped eating fish. Their hair stopped falling out, their joints were no longer inflamed, they were no longer tired and their headaches and memory had returned.
Over the course of the next year, Dr. Hightower took in over 700 people other doctors had sent to her for evaluation. She passed out detailed questionnaires as to how much and what kinds of fish these people were eating on a regular basis. Most of them ate fish, but seldom more than once or twice a week. From this group of patients 123 were tested for mercury, and 90% of them had blood-mercury levels higher than what the EPA said was safe (5 micrograms of mercury per liter of blood). Over half of them had more than double the recommended levels.
She went a step further, interviewing fish inspectors, state and federal health officials, and even local restaurants. Most of them told her there was nothing to worry about. Since mercury is found naturally in our air and in the ground, our bodies are able to eliminate it without it leaving any lasting effect. She discovered that mercury is also found in dental fillings, light switches, thermometers, flu vaccines and our landfills – which eventually leach into our water supplies.
Mercury rains into our lakes, streams and oceans, where bacteria converts it to a toxin that is absorbed into the tissue of water and marine animals, like fish. This toxin, called methylmercury, is especially concentrated in larger fish that eat other fish – like salmon, tuna and halibut.
High levels of methylmercury can cause birth defects as well as brain and kidney damage, vision damage, slurred speech, tingling in the hands and feet, and a metallic taste in the mouth. Links are being found between heart attacks, autism in children, and Alzheimer’s in older patients. Children receive the toxin from their mothers, and it can lower their IQ and slow down cell division in the brain of fetuses, which can stunt brain development.
The government has known about this problem for years, but because they believe that most Americans don’t eat fish they didn’t see it as a big problem.As a matter of fact, monitoring of mercury in fish was completely stopped in 1998, and was only spotty at best before then.
Dr. Hightower still eats fish herself, but limits it to smaller ones, like shrimp, prawn, crabs and clams, or farm-grown fish like lake trout. Fish grown in farms are safer than those in the open sea. She also advises that people ordering fish in restaurants, or when purchasing fish from a store or market, find out where the fish is from before eating it.
About the author:
Ron White is a two-time U.S.A. Memory Champion
Reader’s Digest — How Safe Is Your Food? by Alexis Jetter, August 2003, pg. 65