Wild fish—such as salmon, mahi-mahi, albacore, shrimp, trout, and tilapia—are an excellent source of nutrition, chock full of protein and healthy fats. As I note in my book, The Omni Diet, everyone should be eating fish—it provides omega-3 fatty acids, most notably EPA and DHA, which help the brain function well. A lack of these vital fatty acids have been shown to be associated with age-related cognitive decline, depression, mood swings, and neuropathy (tingling in the hands and feet).
On the other hand, consuming these fatty acids offers a bounty of health benefits. I love the fact that they help facilitate optimal immune response and improve cardiovascular health, levels of “good” cholesterol, joint health, skin quality, vision, and wound healing. Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for pregnant women, because they contribute to the development of an unborn baby’s eyes, brain, and immune system.
So, it’s pretty distressing when researchers find substances in our fish that sound a little, uh, fishy—even borderline shocking. But the reality is that, whether fish are wild-caught or farm-raised, environmental influences can negatively impact these typically healthy protein sources in all kinds of ways.Whether fish are wild-caught or farm-raised, environmental influences can negatively impact these typically healthy protein sources in all kinds of ways. Click To Tweet
Researchers Find Human Medications in Fish
A research project conducted at Florida International University released some disturbing findings in early 2022 after three years of analyzing the tissue and blood of more than 90 bonefish in Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. On average, they found 7 medications in each fish—and one scary sample contained a whopping 17 different meds!
That’s right: Antidepressants, pain relievers, antibiotics, and blood pressure medications were among the culprits identified. The other marine life that these fish feed on—such as smaller fish, crabs, and shrimp—showed the same concerns. It only makes sense that many other ocean species living in these coastal waters are similarly affected. And biologists have known for years that numerous pharmaceuticals—most commonly, antidepressants—are detectable in inland stream fish, too.
How does this happen? The picture doesn’t get any prettier. In essence, with so many people in the U.S. taking medications for various ailments, they expel these substances through their bodily waste, which then makes its way through the septic system. Ecologists explain that many wastewater plants are unable to eliminate invisible contaminants, like medications, before this processed wastewater gets discharged into waterways, such as the ocean and streams.
Mercury and Other Environmental Toxins in Fish
Unfortunately, the potential contaminants don’t stop at traces of human meds—fish can also be tainted with harmful toxins like mercury and other heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxin, pesticides, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs, which are fire-retardant chemicals used in many kinds of consumer products). Like medications, many of the above are often leached into the environment through wastewater.
Mercury, however, mostly comes from pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels—such as coal—which enters the water by rain and by being directly discharged as industrial waste. Many types of fish now contain mercury, but the worst offenders are large deep-sea species, since these tend to eat more and live longer (therefore creating a greater accumulation of mercury in their tissues). To help avoid consuming higher levels of mercury—especially important for young children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding—avoid fish such as king mackerel, shark, swordfish, marlin, tile fish, orange roughy, and bluefin or big eye tuna.
Farmed fish—including salmon, oysters, perch, shrimp, trout, and tilapia—may also harbor harmful elements. These mollusks, crustaceans, and fish can be raised in crowded large tanks, sea cages, small ponds, or other types of enclosures, where antibiotics are commonly used to limit the spread of disease. In addition, pesticides, PBDEs, dioxin, and other chemicals have been found in the wastewater from these commercial operations. Seek non-farmed versions of these fish instead, and before eating, cut away any visible skin and fat, where toxin levels may be higher. Always look for fish that are wild, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free.
Finding Safer Seafood
Although we should all remain aware that some seafood types are prone to absorbing environmental toxins, I still recommend consuming fish as part of a brain-healthy diet. As a general rule, smaller species usually have lower levels of toxins like mercury, but it’s still a good idea to scan seafood labels and do your own research so you’re well-informed about what you are buying and eating. The EWG website is a reliable source for information on mercury levels in various types of fish.
In addition, to minimize the possible risk of accumulating a particular type of toxin in your body, eat a variety of different types of fish and, as mentioned, avoid farm-raised products and choose wild-caught seafood whenever you can. Here are some good choices to include in your diet:
- Atlantic mackerel
- Rainbow trout
- Skipjack tuna
Finally, if you’re catching your own dinner, drop your line far away from water treatment plants, industrial runoff, and other sources that can pollute the water. Also stay up-to-date with any health advisories regarding the conditions at and near your favorite fishing spot. By educating yourself about the conditions around the seafood you consume—whether it’s purchased or personally caught—you’ll make healthier choices and help minimize exposure to those potential toxins that can sneakily sabotage your seafood dinner.
If you’re struggling and need professional help, Amen Clinics is here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.