Mercury in Fish: Is It a Worry, or Not?

by Dr. Stephen Sinatra
Filed Under: Heart Health, General Health, Food and Nutrition
Last Reviewed 04/17/2014

Salmon is filled with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. For many years I used to eat a good deal of fish, primarily for its protein and omega-3 fatty acids, and as a substitute for red meat. However, I later “scaled back” my fish intake because fish is a major source of mercury and researchers have long considered this exposure as potentially harmful to cardiovascular health. 

But now a recent analysis from Harvard researchers shows that the mercury level contained in the amount of dietary fish eaten by Americans is not a significant contributor to heart disease, stroke, or overall cardiovascular disease in adults. Their research showed that the heart benefits far outweighed any risk.

One potential reason for these findings is something I wrote about back in 2007, that most fish contain more selenium than mercury—and selenium neutralizes mercury. Now, experts are proposing that selenium specifically binds to mercury and neutralizes its toxicity.

What’s my take on this research? While the Harvard study is encouraging, I’m am still very wary about any mercury, a major neurotoxin, as a factor in the diet. I would like to see a similar analysis done on fish consumption as a risk to nervous system health. Maybe selenium offsets enough mercury to protect the nervous system as well.

For now I still recommend limiting intake of those species with the highest content of mercury such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish. If you like fish, as I do, opt for wild salmon, sardines, tuna, cod, and other low mercury fish.

Now, it’s your turn: What’s your favorite fish dish?

Here are some heart-healthy fish recipes you can try:

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