Fish, Plastic Water Bottles and Your Health
The fish-rich waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands still play a substantial role in many residents’ and visitors’ diets. Seafood is readily available and many island supermarkets offer a wide range of shellfish, whole fish, fillets and steaks and various pokes. Yum- yum. As a local expression goes, “lucky that we live in Hawaii.”
The only problem with it all is that the average consumer is driven to addled numbness by the overload of conflicting studies on the safety of fish consumption. Unfortunately, the answer is not clear cut. Eating fish is both good and bad for you.
The good news is that fish are low in calories and contain easily digested protein and beneficial fats called omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are essential nutrients which moderate a variety of beneficial physiological processes, including inhibiting inflammation and offering protection from heart disease.
But there is lots of sad news for fish lovers. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that pregnant women eat seafood only sparingly if at all and refrain from eating fish that are high in mercury content. Recent medical studies suggest that even very low levels of mercury exposure may cause damage to unborn babies and young children.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control indicates that one in 12 women of childbearing age has blood mercury levels above those considered safe by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which means that more than 300,000 children born in the U.S. each year are at risk from exposure to mercury.
How did the mercury get in the fish? We put it there. Mercury is released into the atmosphere from the earth as part of a natural degassing. But most of the contamination comes from coal fired power plants, mining, waste disposal and certain industrial processes. Airborne mercury eventually falls into surface waters where it can accumulate in streams and oceans. Bacteria in the water transform mercury into methylmercury, and fish absorb it when they eat smaller aquatic organisms. Mercury then works its way up the food chain and eventually accumulates in human tissues. Mercury poisoning causes brain and nerve damage, resulting in impaired coordination, blurred vision, tremors, irritability and memory loss, behavioral problems and loss of intelligence. Mercury also causes heart disease, cancer and reproductive system damage. A very nasty poison.
Now that we know all this, why does the FDA still permit industry to release annually, by its own estimate, 2,000 to 3,000 tons of mercury directly into our ecosystem? For the answer, we need only to look at the influence that industry exerts into government regulations that affect individual health and the health of the environment. Enough politicizing – back to health.
Sadly, some of the fish which are highest in mercury content are also among the most popular here in Hawaii. These include ahi (yellowfin tuna), tuna, albacore tuna, Chilean sea bass, grouper, bluefish, amberjack, cobia, swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish.
But take heart! There are several fish with no detectable traces of mercury in their tissues. These include catfish, flounder, hake, Pollock, wild salmon, and tilapia. Fish with low levels of mercury in their tissues include cod, crab, and mahi mahi. Farmed salmon, although free of mercury, is high in PCB’s, chemicals which also cause severe health problems.
Want to find out how much mercury you are carrying in your tissues? See your physician and ask for a hair analysis. Hair tests provide a more reliable and accurate measure of mercury levels than blood tests do. Heavy metals in your blood tend to vary dramatically with meals while hair samples provide a historical record of an individual's average level of mercury. This record can go back several months depending on the length of hair. The EPA has determined that a safe level for mercury as measured in hair is one part per million. This is totally arbitrary.
Each person responds differently to different levels of accumulated toxins in the tissues. All of us are to some extent undermined by even a low level of toxins. Even that one part per million can cause damage to a vital cell, setting off a chain of events.
Mercury detoxification takes time. It can be done either intravenously or orally. Again, see your health professional for details.
Eau de Plastic
Here in Hawaii, when we remember to do so, we take a bottle of water along with us when we leave our homes. Most of us have bought a plastic water bottle in a supermarket or convenience store and refilled it from our own water at home or office. We might have thought that by reusing the bottle we were not only saving money but also doing a good deed for the environment. I wish that this were all there was to the story.
Recent studies have revealed that dangerous levels of bacteria were found in reused plastic water bottles. In addition, toxic compounds leech into the water from all the commonly used, disposable, plastic water bottles. Washing the bottles in hot, soapy water before reusing them only makes things worse because increased levels of chemical toxins are released by a more rapid breakdown of the plastic.
The best approach is to avoid disposable plastic bottles. Nalgene bottles, which can be located on the internet, are safer. They are made of a more rigid plastic and have much less toxic leeching. into the water. For hot or acidic liquids, choose thermoses with stainless steel or ceramic interiors. But don't forget the sniff test: If you can smell or taste the plastic in a bottle, toss it in the recycling bin and get yourself a new one.