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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Don’t be Afraid of Mercury Poisoning: Supplement Omega-3s with Confidence

By Michael McBurney

There is a lot of news coverage on the mercury content of fish today because of an article published in Nature Geoscience. What does this mean? Should we not be eating fish?

Mercury is found in nature and in our food supply. Mercury can attach to particulates and it can be methylated by microbes in low oxygen environments. As organisms are consumed by species above them in the food chain, mercury is concentrated. These processes are most well understood in coastal areas. Blum and colleagues studied the amount of microbial methylation occurring in the open ocean. Their report extends our knowledge of the interconnectedness of the world. It does not change the 2003 American Heart Association recommendations on the importance of consuming omega-3 fatty acids.

Fish are an important source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, especially eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids are important for longterm health. DHA is particularly important for brain and eye health. Since 2004, the EPA and FDA have given cautionary advice to high-risk groups (women who might become pregnant, women who are pregnant, nursing mothers, and young children) on the number of fish meals to eat weekly.  

However, there are choices other than fish. Dietary supplements purified from fish oil can have negligible levels of mercury. Look for products carrying the US Pharmacopeial Convention ‘USP-verified dietary ingredients’ label. Choose fish oil products made by GOED Omega-3 member companies because their members are required to sign onto quality manufacturing standards. There are also vegetarian sources of omega-3s which will not contain mercury.

Experts recommend that women consume DHA during pregnancy and lactation. DHA and EPA are key fatty acids for infant development. Don’t shortchange your child, or yourself, because of fear. Moderate fish consumption, especially fish that are not high in mercury, is considered safe. Follow the EPA/FDA recommendations on eating fish and consider using a recommended dietary supplement.

Main Citation

Blum JD, Popp BN, Drazen JC, Choy CA, Johnson MW. Methylmercury production below the mixed layer in the North Pacific Ocean. 2012 Nature Geoscience doi:10.1038/ngeo 1918

Other Citation

Kris-Etherton PM, Harris WS. Appel LJ for the Nutrition Committee. AHA Scientific Statement: Fish consumption, fish oil, omega-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular disease. 2003 Arterioscl Thromb Vasc Biol doi://10.1161/01.1tv.0000038493.65177.94