Mercury in Fish

June 13, 2017
School of Fish

Mercury in Fish

If you’re paying attention to eating healthy you may have switched out heavier red meats for what you thought are more healthy fish options. Many people become confused – and rightly so – when they first hear to cut out red meats and to add fish instead. Next they hear they should avoid fish because of dangerous levels of toxins such as the heavy metals like mercury.

And while heavy metals in fish such as mercury are a reason for concern there are steps you can take beginning with learning more about mercury and fish to protect yourself and loved ones from the potentially harmful effects of eating too much fish.

Fish and Omega-3’s

First let me emphasize some of the benefits of eating a diet with fish. Fish are rich in certain nutrients the typical Westerner’s diet is devoid of today. One of the most important nutrients most Westerners are going without (or at least going with very little of) are the precious Omega -3’s.

Omega-3’s are to be in ratio and proportional with the amount of Omega-6’s the body consumes. Unfortunately, most Westerners’ diets are WAY OFF! They are typically higher than they should be in Omega-6’s and lower in Omega-3’s. And I don’t mean just a little bit higher. According to a study out of the University of Maryland, many Westerner’s diets are 14 to 25 times higher in Omega-6 than Omega-3.

This is where fish comes into play. Fish is one healthy way to boost your Omega-3 levels which is vital for many functions.

Omega-3’s are Essential for:

  • Brain function
  • Memory
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Brain performance
  • Behavioral function
  • Fighting heart disease
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Lowering risk for cancer
  • Lowering risk of arthritis

In fact, it’s been reported that infants who received too little Omega-3’s during pregnancy were at greater risk for vision and nerve issues once they were born.

Deficiency in Omega-3’s is a serious problem and as I said fish is one great way to increase your intake of Omega-3’s.

Signs of Omega-3 Deficiencies

  • Fatigue
  • Poor memory
  • Dry skin
  • Heart problems
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Poor circulation

If you think you’re low in Omega-3’s consider eating fish as a way to improve your overall levels of Omega-3’s and thus your health. Of course you must proceed with caution when it comes to consuming fish. Many people are concerned about mercury levels in fish today. Let’s learn a little more about this dangerous toxin in the foods we love to eat.

Mercury and Fish

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC,) the mercury that is emitted from the various environmental sources such as power plants, chemical manufacturing plants, and industrial facilities settles in our waterways such as lakes, streams, rivers, and eventually oceans. When this mercury hits the waterways it’s converted to methyl mercury by naturally occurring bacteria found in the environment. This type of mercury is easily absorbed by adults. In fact, adults are particularly vulnerable to many of the health effects of this type of mercury.

Next what happens is fish in the environment become ‘polluted’ with the methyl mercury. The chain of life takes over with one larger fish eating the smaller contaminated fish and the levels of mercury build and build. In fact, according to the NRDC, some of these larger fish have been found to have 10,000 times greater amounts of mercury in their bodies as compared to the levels of the surrounding habitat.

These larger fish with the typically higher levels of mercury are:

  • Tuna
  • Swordfish
  • Shark
  • Mackerel

It’s generally recommended that you avoid these fish altogether or at least eat them only a few times a year. If you’re pregnant or have young children it’s particularly important to avoid fish that are potentially contaminated with mercury.

Pregnant Women, Fish, and Mercury

While eating some types of fish in moderation during pregnancy is an individual choice it’s vital to know the dangers associated with consuming fish with high levels of mercury while you’re pregnant.

Studies have shown that babies exposed to higher levels of mercury in pregnancy or in infancy are at higher risk for the following serious problems:

Mercury in Pregnancy Connected to Serious Health Problems

  • Developmental Disability
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness
  • Blindness

These are some serious health issues you’ll want to consider before you take too many bites of that fish. The same warnings go for any young children you have who consume fish too.

Children’s brains are developing at a rapid pace and the absorption of nutrients is also rapid during these critical stages. Some of the problems associated with higher levels of mercury in young children are:

Mercury in Young Children Poses Serious Health Risks

  • Developmental delays
  • Delayed walking
  • Delayed talking
  • Shortened attention span
  • Learning disabilities

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) a study released in July 2005, revealed that 1 of 17 women had more than 5.8 micrograms of mercury per every liter of blood. Suggested safe levels are below 3.4 micrograms. It’s believed that the mercury accumulates in the blood of the umbilical cord making its way straight to baby. This is why you should seriously consider eating fish that are known to be high in mercury if you’re pregnant or considering becoming pregnant.

Choosing the Right Fish to Eat

You can still benefit from the great nutritional value of fish; especially the Omega-3’s content, if you choose your fish wisely. Follow this list of which fish are safe to eat if you’re pregnant and to feed to your children:

Safe Fish for Families and Pregnant Women

  • Salmon
  • Smelt
  • Sardines
  • Mussels
  • Atlantic Mackerel

There are also fish that are low in mercury but not as high in Omega-3’s. These are as follows:

  • Light canned tuna
  • Scallops and clams
  • Shrimp
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Pollock
  • Cod
  • Hake
  • Grouper

When you’re buying fish be sure that it is fresh, doesn’t smell ‘fishy,’ and know that it has been properly stored (on ice and in refrigeration.) If the fish is older than one or two days don’t buy it and move on to a fresher choice.

If for some reason you don’t eat the fish you buy be sure to cook the fresh fish and properly freeze it within two days of purchase at the most. Also, remember if you freeze the fish, don’t keep it for more than three months. A good rule of thumb again, is the smell. If it smells fishy then don’t eat it. Same goes for if the fish feels slimy. Don’t take the risk.

Eating fish can be very nutritionally beneficial if you follow these safe fish eating guidelines. Be sure to be especially careful if you’re pregnant and with your kids eating fish.

Special Note: If you are not eating fish at least 3x per week you should be supplementing with an Omega-3.



Do you love to eat fish? Fish can be a tasty treat and really good for you too. However today, with all the pollution it’s vital to be certain you’re getting what you want and not dangerous mercury in your serving of fish. Learn about what fish are high in nutrients and not high in mercury. Also learn about the dangers of mercury in young children and pregnant women.

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