Thursday, January 29, 2015

Too much Dungeness Crab?

           When I was a teenager my stepfather would go crabbing off the Oregon coast and bring home fresh Dungeness crab. It was such a treat to have this fresh crab since we were a lower income family while I was growing up and could not afford to buy crab. Plus, fresh crab is always better than store bought, frozen crab. This happened for many years during the first part of the year. I was never really worried about mercury poisoning, probably because neither my family nor I knew much about it. That was up until I became pregnant with my daughter. I became pregnant in November and carried on with my pregnancy as a typical pregnancy goes. In January, my stepfather went on his routine crabbing trip and as usual brought home a tremendous amount of fresh crab. I was in pure heaven with crab delight. I started out slow and modest but increasingly developed a rampant craving for crab meat. I indulged in plush white, salty crab meat every chance I got. I remember my mother making a simple comment about maybe I shouldn't be eating so much crab because pregnant women are advised to limit seafood intake. I believe I ignored that comment and continued on with my indulgence. Eventually the crab was gone and I carried on with my pregnancy, giving birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl who strangely enough loves seafood, specifically crab as well.

            Looking back on this and now exploring the topic of mercury poisoning, perhaps I should have taken my mother more seriously and done some research regarding the topic and how safe crab is for pregnant women and children. According to "Get the Word on Seafood That's Safe to Consume", Dungeness crab contains a moderate amount of mercury and should only be consumed by pregnant or nursing women and children once a month. We rarely have crab these days. Only when we are by the coast and can pick it up fresh which only happens a couples times a year but it's still good information to have and know. I think that is extremely important to know which seafood's contain what amount of mercury. Seafood is a great part of a balanced diet and people need to know that as well as being educated about what seafood to eat, when to eat it and how much of it to eat safely.


How are fish poisoned by Mercury? What can we do about it?

It's been a common thread in the topic of fish that you shouldn't eat too much of any one kind due to mercury poisoning. We've heard this caution for so long many people are left thinking it's just a fact of life, and we aren't questioning how to make this better. So where do we start?

The two biggest problems we face with this issue are first, that mercury is not only distributed into the fishes systems by man, but also by nature. And second, that mercury does not pass through the fishes digestive system, it stays there and gathers over time until the toxicity is so high that the fish either dies or infects other fish around it. (For more information on the origins of mercury in fish, please click here.)

The largest portion of mercury is introduced into the fishes habitat through chemical plants, coal-fired power plants, cement plants and steel production plants. It is released into the air or water supply and makes its way into rivers and oceans, giving the fish small to large doses of mercury every day. The larger fish have a higher chance of mercury poisoning through the food chain; A small fish gets mercury into its system and is eaten by a larger fish. This larger fish eats many small fish, each with a low level of mercury. Over time, the small amounts of mercury in all the smaller fish build in the large fish until it dies, or is caught and sold to humans for consumption.

Photo courtesy of

So what are some preventative measures we can take to keep mercury out of the water supply and effectively out of the fishes digestive system? One promising start is to filter the mercury out of the waste at the power plant it's produced at. There are several methods, one being a simple filter to catch mercury particles that would have entered into the air. Others being similar filters for water and waste treatment to specifically attract mercury particles out. (Even some as small as a sponge!)

On an individual level, we need to practice moderation when eating certain types of fish. The Natural Resources Defense Council and FDA websites have very helpful charts to tell what fish are the most or least toxic. The NRDC even categorized them by level of toxicity, you can find that information here. The more we learn the healthier we can be!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

One Boy’s Experience with Too Much Mercury

It is often hard to believe that mercury in fish is a real problem. It’s understandable - there’s so much confusion surrounding our health. What’s actually good for you? What isn’t? Are we making too big a deal out of these issues or not big enough? It’s important to do research and investigate to find your own answers. However, it’s also important to pay attention to signs and happenings around you. Here is an example that is startling: a story of a young, intelligent boy losing his grip in school:
One by one, Matthew Davis's fifth-grade teachers went around the table describing the 10-year-old boy. He wasn't focused in class and often missed assignments, they said. He labored at basic addition. He could barely write a simple sentence. 
"Our jaws dropped," says his mother, Joan Elan Davis, describing a teachers' meeting she had requested in late 2003, when her son abruptly lost interest in homework. Matthew had always excelled in school. In the fourth grade, he had written and illustrated a series of stories about a superhero named Dog Man. 
Ms. Davis noticed something else: Her son's fingers were starting to curl, as if he were gripping a melon. And he could no longer catch a football. 
A neurologist ordered tests. They showed Matthew's blood was laced with mercury in amounts nearly double what the Environmental Protection Agency says is the safe level for exposure to the metal. Matthew had mercury poisoning, his doctors said. 
The Davises had pinpointed the suspected source: tuna fish. For a year or so, starting in late 2002, Matthew had gobbled three to six ounces a day of white albacore tuna. Based on Food and Drug Administration data for canned albacore, he was consuming a daily dose of mercury at least 12 times what the EPA considered a safe level for a 60-pound child. The Davises' doctors' prescription was simple: Matthew should stop eating canned tuna.
Click here to read full article

Please make sure to click that link above and read the full article, it's a great report of an incident but also helps to give a deeper understanding of the mercury toxicity situation at hand.

It's one thing to research and learn about mercury toxicity in fish, but it's another to actually believe it's a situation in need of change. The trauma this boy and his family went through (and others like it) are why we are researching and learning about this topic, and why we should believe. Once we truly believe, we can more easily spread the word and, eventually, make those needed changes.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fish Consumption for Children and Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

Fish and shellfish are important in anyone’s eating habits.  They contain high-quality protein, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids.  These combine to get a food that is hard to get anywhere else.  Fish is especially important in young children’s and pregnant and nursing mom’s eating habits.  They enable young children to have proper growth and development. 

While fish is very important in young children and pregnant and nursing mothers, it can also be dangerous to them, or anyone, if the wrong kinds of fish are eaten too much.  Nearly all fish contain some mercury and some fish can contain dangerous levels of it if they are eaten too much.  Young children and pregnant and nursing mothers are even more susceptible to it than most people.  Too much mercury from fish or anything else can harm the nervous system of a developing baby or young child.  The most dangerous fish that contain the highest mercury levels are shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.  Some of the most commonly eaten that contain the lowest amounts of mercury are shrimp and pollock.  A good amount of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury to eat is about 12 ounces (2 average meals) a week.  This can lead to healthier babies and children if these guidelines are followed.