Fish Consumption in Children—Watch the Mercury

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Fish is the really the best source of the beneficial omega-3 fats EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid). Cold-water fatty fish is particularly high in these healthy fats. But fish is also high in mercury, a neurotoxin heavy metal linked to an array of health problems. Because of this, pregnant women are advised to limit fish intake during pregnancy. Limits have not been set for young children.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set what it considers to be safe limits of blood mercury levels, but a recent study published in the journal Environmental Research has found that even at levels well below the EPA limits, those children with higher blood mercury levels were more likely to have decreased levels of the hormone cortisol, and higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood.

Cortisol is known as the stress hormone, because it is released in response to stress. Healthy cortisol levels are needed for metabolism, and immune and hormone response. Both low and high levels of cortisol are considered unhealthy, however, so the low levels found in these children with higher mercury in the blood may be cause for concern.

Fish consumption is tricky topic. The omega-3s found in certain fish are simply deficient in the diets of most people. In children, omega-3s—especially DHA—contribute to healthy brain and nervous system development. But is the mercury exposure worth it?

If you are concerned about this, as I am, consider limiting fish consumption to occasional fish low in mercury—like salmon and sardines—and even then, supplement with a purified fish oil supplement to be sure you’re getting enough. Look for the IFOS (International Fish Oil Standards) icon to ensure your fish oil is pure.

 

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