Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mercury Contamination Risks Evaluated


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Questions concerning omega-3 fatty acids and mercury contamination have led researchers to evaluate the risk/benefit ratio of fish consumption. Fish are the best known sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to the human body, but because much of the Earth’s waters are polluted, experts advise that heavy fish consumption may be risky.

Several research groups have compared the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and mercury contamination risks. One of the most complete and comprehensive guides is available from Oceans Alive, a department of the Environmental Defense Network. Fish is an important part of a healthy diet for many reasons, but mercury poisoning has occurred in some people consuming large quantities of contaminated fish.

There are a number of fish that, according to the researchers at Oceans Alive, are not safe for human consumption, because of mercury, PCBs and pesticides. These include bluefish, wild striped bass and American eel. Spotted Sea trout have been found to contain unsafe levels of PCBs and mercury. Weakfish is on the list because of high levels of PCBs.

Other fish may be safe for men, in small quantities, but are unsafe for women and children, because of mercury contamination. These include King mackerel, marlin, swordfish and shark. Recommended maximum consumption of Atlantic salmon is a half serving per month for men, women and older children (none for children under the age of six), because of PCBs, dioxins and pesticides. Adults can safely consume only a half a serving of Atlantic croaker per month and it is not recommended for children at all, because of PCBs.

PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are man-made industrial chemicals. Although these chemicals were banned by the United State in 1977, they are slow to break down and settle in the sediments of rivers, lakes, streams and coastal areas. They are still a major concern in the Chesapeake Bay. PCBs are believed to cause cancer, neurological damage and birth defects and, like mercury, they accumulate in the body over time. So, while one serving of fish contaminated with PCBs or mercury will probably not cause health problems, numerous servings over a person’s lifetime will.

Oceans Alive ( has advice concerning health supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids and mercury or other contaminants. The better manufacturers use molecular distillation to remove contaminants. For people who do not like fish or are concerned about contaminants, the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are molecularly distilled fish oil supplements, but not all fish oil supplements are the same. For more information about selecting omega-3 dietary supplements, please visit the Fish Oil Guide ( .

Patsy Hamilton was a healthcare professional for over twenty years before becoming a freelance writer. Currently she is writing a series of articles about omega-3 fatty acids. Read more at


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