Sushi: News: Health
Sushi and Seafood Are Safe and Healthy
On January 23, 2008 the New York Times published Marion Burros' "High levels of mercury found in tuna sushi," warning against consumption of bluefin tuna and other fish with high levels of mercury. Ms. Burros ignored the latest research, calling into question the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mercury health risk advisory standards.
Over the last several years it's been established that the trace element selenium, found in all marine fish, prevents and reverses adverse effects of mercury exposure.
According to Nick Ralston, University of North Dakota expert on selenium/mercury interactions, the extremely high binding affinity between selenium and mercury is a fundamental feature of selenium's protective effect against mercury.
In Proceedings of the International Symposium on Selenium-Mercury Interactions, University of California at San Diego researcher M.F. Flores- Arce wrote, "evidence of harm by the mercury in fish to humans is scant and leading nutrition experts have in fact concluded that the health benefits of seafood, if only as a nutritional source of omega-3 fatty acids, greatly outweigh any potential risk associated with the presence of mercury," concluding, "ocean fish obtain enough selenium for their physiological needs and for the detoxification of the mercury they may come in contact with.
Humans likewise detoxify mercury in vivo with selenium as was demonstrated through studies of mercury miners from the Slovenian mining town of Idrija and numerous other studies."
The outdated FDA guidelines are largely based on a study of Faroe Island residents. Their diets are high in pilot whale meat, which is low in selenium and high in mercury. Swordfish and tuna have selenium to mercury ratios respectively 5 and 15 times higher.
A long term study in the Seychelles Islands (http://www.rochester.edu/pr/releases/med/mercury.htm ), and a more recent and larger one in the United Kingdom (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2006/888.html ) have demonstrated the positive effects of increased fish consumption by expectant mothers on the neurological development of their children.
The per capita consumption of seafood in Japan is about three times that in the U.S. A 2004 study in the Journal of Health and Science indicated that fully 87% of Japan's population, including 74% of women of child bearing age, have more mercury in their system than the most restrictive EPA reference dose, yet Japanese children consistently outscore American kids on standardized tests (at just over 81 years the Japanese also have one of the world's longest life expectancies).
A coalition of private groups and federal agencies are challenging the advice from the FDA that pregnant and/or breast feeding women should not eat more than 12 ounces of fish and seafood per week. The National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition with 150 members (including the American Academy of Pediatrics, March of Dimes, National Institute for Child Health and Human Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is urging the FDA to change the standard and recognize the importance of fish consumption due to the benefits of Omega-3s, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and selenium.
The evidence is overwhelming regarding the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health. At the Sustainable Seafood Summit in 2006 Dr. Bill Hogarth (then NOAA/NMFS Assistant Administrator) noted that, "seafood can also help fight illnesses such as cancer, inflammatory diseases and Alzheimer's. Studies have linked seafood consumption with lower heart rates, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and lower body weight. Eating...seafood each day can cut the risk of death from heart disease by 20%." He also noted naturally occurring selenium in seafood promotes brain development.
Unfortunately, the FDA & EPA bureaucracies are unable to keep up with the science and their advisories reflect this. Research demonstrates that mercury content alone is inadequate to evaluate the risk of mercury toxicity. A more comprehensive seafood safety standard is one based on the absolute amounts and relative proportions of selenium and mercury.
The science is there, getting government -- and the media -- to respond to it responsibly is the challenge. Newspaper stories and other publicity that tends to scare Americans away from seafood consumption are bad for the health and longevity of Americans.
Source: Blue Water Fishermen's Association