The American Heart Association recommends Omega 3 fatty acids to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. According to the association, fish is the best source of Omega 3s. However, they also recognize that fish from many sources is contaminated with mercury. Therefore, they also recommend that we follow FDA and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidelines to ensure we don’t get a mercury overload. In fact, EPA data shows that few sources of fish are actually safe. In the end, cardiovascular health may be better served with Omega 3 supplements.
What does the EPA have to say about the safety of fish?
Over a four-year period, the EPA, in coordination with other agencies, collected fish from 500 lakes and reservoirs in the U.S. These were randomly selected in 48 states – not including Alaska or Hawaii. Some lakes covered a surface area of 2.5 acres, and they ranged upward from there to nearly a million. The researchers collected samples of everything from bass and trout to carp and catfish.
The results were astounding: In the fish, they found a total of 268 different bioaccumulative, persistent and toxic chemicals.
In case you are not familiar with ‘bioaccumulative’ and ‘persistent’ when it comes to toxic chemicals – let me explain.
Bioaccumulative: Bioaccumulation refers to the accumulation of substances, such as pesticides, or other organic chemicals in an organism. Bioaccumulation occurs when an organism absorbs a toxic substance at a rate greater than that at which the substance is lost.
Persistent: Slow to break down or degrade.
So, in the case of fish, and the water in which they reside, a persistent, bioaccumulative, toxic chemical is one that stays in its original form for a long time and, once ingested, also stays in the body for a long time.
If you only ate contaminated fish once in your life, there’s a good chance that the toxins from that particular fish will still be in your body decades later. If you eat contaminated fish regularly, the chemicals in each successive fish are simply added to those ingested earlier. Add ‘toxic’ to the mix, and you’re basically being poisoned.
Considering that some of these chemicals could cause cancer, neurological damage, endocrine system dysfunction and so on, it’s doubtful that the benefits of the Omega 3 in the fish will outweigh the risks.
Back to the EPA study.
In the fish analyzed for the study – where they found 268 different bioaccumulative, persistent and toxic chemicals – every single sample contained mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The amazing thing about the PCBs – and this is an excellent example of ‘persistent’ – is that they were banned (because of their toxicity) in 1979. And they’re still there more than 30 years later!
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise; PCBs were used in such a wide range of industrial applications – everything from coolants and insulating fluids to caulking, adhesives, wood floor finishes, water-proofing compounds, and even paper, and that’s just a partial list – we were inundated.
Although not all the fish samples contained toxic chemicals beyond published safety levels, in the end, the analysts concluded that 49% of U.S. lakes house fish containing toxic levels of mercury, and 17% contain toxic levels of PCBs.
What are your safe alternatives for Omega 3s?
Omega 3s are available from some plants sources – you also want to make sure they’re organic, not grown with pesticides and so on – and from fish that came from uncontaminated waters.
Every doctor now recommends Omega 3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health. They’ve obviously shown tremendous results, and are worth taking. But before you start eating fish for dinner – make sure you verify the safety of the source of the fish.
Frankly, that can be hard to do. I’ve checked myself with several supermarkets and the information they have is very sketchy. For the most part, they simply don’t know.
Your best option may be Omega 3 supplements. You’re still going to have to verify the source, but at least you can ask the suppliers for the information – a good supplier will know exactly where their products came from. If they can’t give it to you, and they can’t provide some form of documentation that proves the safety of that source, move on to another company that can.
Omega 3s have many health benefits – take advantage of them, but do it safely.
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