Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Forget the scares: Fish is healthful

By Anita

The Orlando Sentinel published the following article today:

Forget the scares: Fish is healthful
Despite the fact that fish contains traces of toxins, experts agree it's a good food choice.

Harvard Health Letters Posted June 5, 2007

If you're an average American, you eat 16 pounds of seafood a year. Although that's only a fraction of U.S. chicken consumption, it still represents a lot of fish and shellfish -- nearly 5 billion pounds a year. Many people eat seafood because they love it. But more and more are choking it down as a kind of health food.
Is it? Seafood is a great source of protein that's low in saturated fat, and many types have good-for-the-heart omega-3 fats. But fish can also contain mercury and other toxins. Two reports, coincidentally released on the same day, weigh the benefits and risks of eating fish and shellfish.

One report, from the Harvard School of Public Health, offered glowing conclusions about the benefits of eating fish. The other, from the national Institute of Medicine (Washington, D.C.), was more cautious in its estimate of the benefits and worried more about the possible hazards of eating seafood. Although their tones differ, both basically say that eating fish once or twice a week is a good idea.

Fish has been touted as a heart-healthy food for years. But like many other foods, fish and shellfish can contain traces of toxins such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Let's look at what we know about the benefits and risks:

Known or probable benefits. The strongest evidence for fish as health food has to do with the prevention of heart-related death. Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Drs. Dariush Mozaffarian and Eric Rimm of the Harvard School of Public Health make the case, based on a new synthesis of available data, that eating fish once or twice a week reduces the chances of dying from heart disease by one-third. That's on a par with what cholesterol-lowering statins can do. Experts believe that omega-3 fats in fish stabilize heart rhythms and prevent the sudden appearance of ventricular tachycardia, ventricular fibrillation, or other potentially deadly arrhythmias. The main omega-3 fats in fish are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

The Institute of Medicine report, "Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks", says that results "are not clearly supportive of a cardioprotective effect of EPA (or) DHA." The institute's main caution is that most of the evidence has come from observational studies, not the more rigorous randomized controlled trials.

Possible benefits. Eating seafood once or twice a week has also been linked with protection against stroke, atrial fibrillation, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, age-related memory loss, and Alzheimer's disease. These connections, though, are preliminary since they come from small studies or from large ones with conflicting results.

Known risks. Aside from getting a bone lodged in your throat, the main hazards of eating fish or shellfish are food poisoning (from spoiled seafood or a naturally occurring toxin), parasitic or viral infections, and allergic reactions. Of these, food poisoning is the most common. Seafood accounts for about 3 percent to 4 percent of food-poisoning cases in the United States, about the same as for beef or chicken.

Overfishing is another known, but underappreciated, hazard. Demand for seafood in the United States has exceeded our supply, and we now import it from around the world. The United Nations estimates that world consumption will outstrip the yearly catch by the end of the 2000s. Popular species already facing commercial extinction include the Patagonian toothfish (known in restaurants as Chilean sea bass), Atlantic cod, grouper, snapper, and bluefin tuna.

Possible risks. Given our staggering production of pollutants -- from factories, farms, cars, even homes -- it is inevitable that some find their way into our food supply. The technology to measure toxins has become so sophisticated that tiny amounts can be detected. The pollutants in fish that are highest on health experts' radar screens are mercury and man-made substances such as PCBs and dioxins.

These certainly aren't good for you. The question is, at what amount do they begin to harm health? Very high intake of mercury, such as the levels seen in industrial accidents, can damage nerves in adults, though the damage is usually reversed when mercury intake stops. Low levels of mercury may lead to subtle nerve damage or cardiovascular problems. But protective factors in fish seem to counteract these possible harmful effects.

What about PCBs, which people tend to think of as powerful promoters of cancer? The Institute of Medicine calls the cancer risk linked to PCBs "overrated," since it was based on experiments in which animals were given huge doses for long periods. No one really knows if, or how much, cancer is caused by the low levels found in fish. What's more, most (91 percent) of the PCBs in the American diet come from beef, chicken, pork, dairy products, vegetables and eggs.

Balancing act. Danger is almost always more memorable than safety. It is human nature to magnify risks, especially those outside our control. When Science magazine published a report in 2004 that salmon contained PCBs, and farmed salmon harbored more than wild salmon, some people stopped eating fish altogether. Others followed suit later that year when the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency issued an advisory on mercury in fish and shellfish. Yet swearing off seafood may be throwing out the baby -- or, more likely, the whole day care center -- with the bathwater.

The salmon story illustrates this nicely. Using data from the EPA and elsewhere, Mozaffarian and Rimm estimated that PCB intake from eating farmed salmon twice a week for 70 years would cause an extra six cases of cancer per 100,000 people, while eating wild salmon would cause two extra cases. Yet eating either would prevent at least 7,000 deaths from heart disease. Even if the hazard was 10 times greater and the benefit one-tenth the size, the scales would still favor eating fish.

Article can be found here: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/health/orl-isfishgoodforyo07jun05,0,7714185.story?coll=orl-health-headlines


accent chairs said...

Fish are healthful foods that provide a diet high in protein and low in saturated fat. Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids in fish may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Fish also provide a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Fishing is a fun and relaxing outdoor activity that you can enjoy with your family and friends. Whether you are fishing to enjoy the outdoors, to spend time with family, or to catch dinner, you should always be safe.

replica watch said...

Low levels of mercury may lead to subtle nerve damage or cardiovascular problems. But protective factors in fish seem to counteract these possible harmful effects.