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Is Your Fish Oil Giving You Mercury Poisoning?

Feb 23, 2008
Fish - Facts and Fears

The nutrient you need most in your diet is also the nutrient that could be contaminated!

I'm talking about omega-3 fats--and alarming new research suggests that the fish in which you find these healthy fats could be brimming with mercury.

Omega-3 fats may help treat depression, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, dementia, autism, ADHD, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases. You'll find omega-3s in fish. But that's not all that's lurking in fish.

A recent study of tuna sushi from different New York City restaurants found the fish contained extremely high levels of mercury. Mercury is the second most common toxin found in humans--something I know all too well. You see, I once suffered from mercury poisoning, in part from eating too much fish.

Fortunately, I got the mercury out of my body quickly by using special foods, supplements, saunas, and chelation therapy. In my own practice, I often see toxic mercury levels in my patients with depression, heart disease, memory loss, and so many other conditions. These problems are reversible, once you get the mercury out.

Got Mercury? Coal-burning industrial facilities spew out millions of pounds of mercury each year. This toxin floats through the air and ends up in the oceans, rivers, and soil of our planet. And since mercury is in our water, it's also in our fish--especially larger varieties.

To read more about the health effects of mercury, see my recent report on this subject in my medical journal, which you can download for free. Autopsies of brains of people who have had early or long-term exposure to mercury show deposits of this toxin throughout the entire brain.

Not sure if you're contaminated? Ask your doctor for one or more of these tests:

1. Blood tests are the most common tests for mercury but only show exposure from the last few months.

2. Hair analysis tests only show methylmercury levels from fish consumption. Ideal levels are lower than 1 ppm.

3. A urine test after a provocation or chelation challenge with DMSA or DMPS, followed by a six-hour urine collection is the only way to know if you have accumulated a lot of mercury in your body over a lifetime. Ideal levels are less then 5-micrograms/gram creatinine.

4. Urinary porphyrin testing is a noninvasive way to tell if the mercury is poisoning your cells.

Have Your Fish and Eat It, Too

It is possible to enjoy fish--and the many health benefits of omega-3 fats--without ingesting mercury. Try these tips:

1. Eat only small fish, like sardines, herring, and small wild salmon.

2. Avoid tuna, swordfish, shark, tilefish, and sea bass, and nearly all river fish.

3. Take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of fish oil a day. It should be distilled or purified fish oil that's 100 percent free of industrial pollutants, especially mercury.

4. Vegetarians should eat plant sources of omega-3 fats such as walnuts, ground flax seeds, and purslane (a green vegetable). Also, supplement with 100 to 200 mg a day of algae-derived DHA (one of the most important omega-3 fats needed for brain function).

Quiz: Are You Deficient? Any positive answers to the symptoms below can indicate an omega-3 fat deficiency.

1. Soft, cracked, or brittle nails
2. Dry, itchy, scaling, or flaking skin
3. Hard earwax
4. Chicken skin (tiny bumps on the backs of arms or on the trunk)
5. Dandruff
6. Aching or stiffness in joints
7. Thirsty most of the time
8. Constipation
9. Light colored, hard, or foul-smelling stools
10. Depression
11. High blood pressure
12. Fibrocystic breasts
13. Premenstrual syndrome
14. High LDL cholesterol, low HDL levels, and high triglycerides
15. North Atlantic genetic background: Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Scandinavian, or coastal Native American
16. Eat fish like sardines, herring, or wild salmon less than 3 times a week

So take a good look at your life, your symptoms, and your diet. You might need a (fish) oil change. And remember, you can have your fish and eat it too!


Choi BH. The effects of methylmercury on the developing brain. Prog Neurobiol. 1989;32(6):447-70. Review.

Hibbeln JR, Nieminen LR, Lands WE. Increasing homicide rates and linoleic acid consumption among five Western countries, 1961-2000. Lipids. 2004 Dec;39(12):1207-13.

C. BERNARD GESCH, SEAN M. HAMMOND, SARAH E. HAMPSON, ANITA EVES, and MARTIN J. CROWDER Influence of supplementa ry vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids on the antisocial behaviour of young adult prisoners: Randomised, placebo-controlled trial Br. J. Psychiatry, Jul 2002; 181: 22 - 28.

Freeman MP. Omega-3 fatty acids and perinatal depression: a review of the literature and recommendations for future research. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2006 Oct-Nov;75(4-5):291-7.

Richardson AJ. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in childhood developmental and psychiatric disorders. Lipids. 2004 Dec;39(12):1215-22. Review.

Freund-Levi Y, Basun H, Cederholm T, Faxen-Irving G, Garlind A, Grut M, Vedin I, Palmblad J, Wahlund LO, Eriksdotter-Jonhagen M. Omega-3 supplementation in mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease: effects on neuropsychiatric symptoms. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2007 Jun 21

Parker G, Gibson NA, Brotchie H, Heruc G, Rees AM, Hadzi-Pavlovic D. Omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Jun;163(6):969-78. Review. Erratum in: Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Oct;163(10):1842.
About the Author
Mark Hyman, MD is a pioneer in functional medicine, practicing physician and best-selling author. A sneak preview of his book "The UltraSimple Diet" is available. See The UltraWellness Blog for more on Omega 3 Fatty Acids.
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