LMU 45 – Exploring the Link Between Mercury Consumption from Fish and the Risk of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
Source: Nutra Ingredients Newsletter (February 22, 2017): Article by Hank Schultz
Lifestyle Medicine Update (March 10, 2017)
In the world of health and wellness, the intricate relationship between nutrition, lifestyle, and disease is constantly under scrutiny. A recent revelation in the Nutra Ingredients Newsletter on February 22, 2017, highlights a crucial topic – the potential connection between mercury intake from specific fish sources and the elevated risk of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This article delves into the findings of this study, illuminating the significance of considering mercury exposure from fish consumption in the context of neurological health.
Unveiling the Research
As the field of medicine continues to unravel complex diseases, the upcoming April 2017 meeting of the American Academy of Neurology holds promise. A research paper slated for presentation explores the potential correlation between certain fish types, their mercury content, and the heightened risk of ALS. The study encompassed 294 individuals diagnosed with ALS and 224 unaffected individuals. Researchers assessed mercury exposure in the two groups using tables reflecting fish mercury content and evaluating mercury levels in subjects’ toenails – a reliable marker of long-term mercury ingestion. The study results underscored a significant revelation: individuals in the upper quartile for estimated annual mercury intake faced a doubled risk of ALS compared to those with lower levels of intake.
Understanding ALS and Mercury Exposure
In the context of ALS, a debilitating condition characterized by the degeneration of motor neurons controlling muscle function, mercury exposure emerges as a potentially significant factor. The disease leads to progressive muscle weakness and paralysis, with a life expectancy of merely 2 to 5 years post-diagnosis. Accumulation of toxic substances, including mercury, has been implicated as a contributing element. To fully comprehend the ramifications of mercury exposure from fish and seafood consumption, a few critical points demand attention.
- Mercury’s Path: Thousands of tons of mercury enter the atmosphere annually through pollution and waste. The transformation of mercury into methylmercury (MeHg), an organic mercury compound, occurs through bacterial action and natural processes. Methylmercury accumulates in aquatic environments, including oceans and streams. Regrettably, this toxin infiltrates the fish we consume. Additionally, mercury builds up along the food chain, with larger fish absorbing the accumulated mercury from their prey. Consequently, apex predators such as shark or swordfish, boasting the highest methylmercury levels, raise concern.
- FDA and EPA Advisory: In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly released a Consumer Advisory cautioning against methylmercury in fish consumption. While primarily intended for pregnant, nursing women, and children, the advisory’s recommendations hold value for everyone:
- Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish
- Limit other fish consumption to 12 ounces per week
- Restrict canned albacore (“white”) tuna or fresh tuna intake to no more than 6 ounces weekly
- Moderate fish intake for young children further
The 2017 update by EPA and FDA provides a simplified chart categorizing Best Fish Choices, Good Fish Choices, and Fish to Avoid. This chart is included in the provided link. Consuming safe fish in moderation (2-3 servings weekly) is a viable strategy to increase omega-3 fatty acid intake. Considering mercury concerns, many experts advocate supplementing with omega-3 fats, sourced from fish and/or flaxseed oil, to optimize omega-3 status. Omega-3 supplements are devoid of contaminants, rendering them a safe avenue to enhance nutritional status without mercury risk.
Promoting Health and Mitigating Risk
Recognizing the significance of omega-3 fats in cardiovascular health, inflammation suppression, and cognitive health underscores the need for a comprehensive approach. While omega-3 fats offer remarkable benefits, their potential association with mercury necessitates careful consideration. Ensuring a balanced omega-3 strategy while averting mercury accumulation is pivotal.
The study’s link between mercury consumption from fish and the risk of ALS serves as a stark reminder of the intricate interplay between nutrition, lifestyle, and neurological health. As researchers unveil new insights, it becomes increasingly evident that our dietary choices can significantly impact our well-being. The revelation about mercury’s potential influence on ALS provides a compelling impetus to incorporate mindful fish consumption strategies while optimizing omega-3 intake for a healthier, safer future.
- Best and Worst Fish and Seafood Choices Chart, 2017, Update https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htm
- 2017, Update: https://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodborneIllnessContaminants/Metals/ucm393070.htmhttps://www.epa.gov/fish-tech/2017-epa-fda-advice-about-eating-fish-and-shellfish
Dr. James Meschino
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. James Meschino, DC, MS, ROHP, is an educator, author, and researcher having lectured to thousands of healthcare professionals across North America. He holds a Master’s Degree in Science with specialties in human nutrition and biology and is recognized as an expert in the field of nutrition, anti-aging, fitness, and wellness as well as the author of numerous books.