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Is it Safe to Eat Seafood? The Dangers of Mercury

Is it Safe to Eat Seafood? The Dangers of Mercury

Seafood is Not Safe for Consumption

Seafood is fine, but mercury is not. The problem is, they’re not mutually exclusive - you can’t eat seafood without also consuming mercury.

Is Seafood a Good Source of Nutrition?

Seafood - in particular, fish - is good for you. It is high in unsaturated fats, selenium and omega 3 oils - all of which are good for human health (particularly the eyes, hair, skin, brain and heart). However, it’s also high in mercury - one of the most toxic and harmful substances known to man. The issue with eating seafood is that there’s nothing you can do to remove the mercury from the seafood. You can’t detoxify it - meaning, every time you eat it, you’re ingesting mercury; a toxin that is widely known to cause severe physical and mental illnesses…

Plastic May Not Be The Wost Pollutant in the Ocean

Let’s unpack this further. The general global consensus is that pollution is a scourge on our society and that we must work towards eradicating it and its effects as best we can. In particular, there have been global campaigns to rid the ocean and waterways of plastic bags which harm aquatic life. Such is the environmental impact of plastic bags that Australian supermarkets now mandate that customers bring their own bags or buy reusable ones at the checkout.


Perhaps the reason for this widespread attention on plastic bags, though, is that they are clearly visible, and their effects on the environment are obvious. Images like this one (above) tug at the heartstrings - bringing plastic bags to the forefront of our minds. There is, however, an equally insidious environmental threat - one that is potentially even more harmful to humans than plastic. Mercury.

How Does Mercury Get Into the Ocean?

Mercury pollution comes from industrial waste, crematoriums, energy efficient lightbulbs, farming practices, dental waste and gold mining. The devastating effects of mercury pollution have been seen in Minimata Bay, Japan, where the Chisso Corporation discharged toxic waste into the Minimata Bay via the Hyakken Harbour. They have also been seen more recently in Dryden, Ontario, where a pulp and paper mill discharged toxic waste into the river after producing chemicals to aid in the paper bleaching process. In both instances, the mercury dumped into the ecosystem was absorbed by fish and shellfish and bioaccumulated up the food chain - eventually ingested by humans and resulting in mercury toxicity. The symptoms of mercury toxicity in both of these instances fall under ‘Minamata disease’.

So profound and so devastating were the effects of mercury toxicity and Minimata disease that the Minimata Convention on Mercury - a global treaty designed to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury - was signed in 2013.

Biomagnification: Why Seafood is Bad For You

Perhaps the best way to understand why seafood is bad for humans is by looking at examples of other mammals that consume seafood - dolphins and whales. Studies on whale meat in Japan revealed astonishing levels of mercury. In fact, two of the 26 liver samples taken in one study contained over 1970 micrograms of mercury per gram of liver - nearly 5000 times the Japanese government’s limit for mercury contamination, which is 0.4 micrograms per gram. This is the result of biomagnification.

Biomagnification is the process by which toxins (like mercury) accumulate in higher concentrations in animals that are further up the food chain. For example, mercury in the ocean leaches into plankton, which is eaten by small fish, which are eaten by larger fish, which are eaten by whales. Mercury becomes increasingly concentrated in the tissues or organs of animals as they move up the food chain.

Understanding Biomagnification in Seafood and Humans

While many people respect the idea of mercury biomagnification in fish, they view it through the wrong prism. They may seek to consume only smaller fish as a means of limiting their mercury exposure. However, they fail to realise that they themselves are the apex predator that sits atop the food chain. Just as mercury biomagnifies in whales, it biomagnifies in humans who consume fish.

Bioaccumulation: How Mercury Accumulates Faster Than it Can Be Excreted

Bioaccumulation, on the other hand, occurs when an animal absorbs a toxin (like mercury) at a rate faster than they can excrete it. This phenomenon of bioaccumulation is especially true of mercury, as it is incredibly difficult to excrete once ingested. People who regularly consume seafood will bioaccumulate mercury at a much faster rate, and the symptoms of mercury toxicity will typically be more pronounced.

Mercury Has a Long Half Life

Bioaccumulation is especially pertinent to mercury because methylmercury (the compound the forms when mercury binds to living tissue, as it does in the human body) has a long half life in the human body - typically 50 - 70 days. The term ‘half life’ refers to the time it takes for a compound to be eliminated or excreted from the body.

A long half life means that once mercury enters the body, it remains there and can cause damage for a long period of time. This means that even irregular seafood consumption can result in mercury toxicity, as mercury will accumulate much faster than it can be excreted.

It is Difficult to Excrete Mercury

Compounding this issue is the fact that the body has very limited ways in which to excrete mercury, and the toxin can effectively become ‘stuck’ in vital organs - particularly the brain and kidneys. This difficulty in excretion contributes to its bioaccumulation and toxic effects.

A 1989 study conducted on sheep highlights this particularly well. Scientists placed amalgam fillings in the sheep, but even 29 days after removal of these mercury amalgams, they still harboured a toxic load - especially in the digestive tract, kidneys and liver. It goes to show that it is incredibly difficult to excrete mercury.

Do Small Fish Contain Less Mercury Than Big Fish?

There is a general consensus that smaller fish contain smaller amounts of mercury than larger fish. This assumption is based on the fact that mercury is biomagnified in larger fish as they consume smaller fish (containing mercury). Theoretically, this should ring true; however, it is not always the case.

In 2014, The Australian Government National Measurement Institute measured a collection of fish caught off the North Queensland coastline, and the results may surprise you.

  • Green Jobfish - 0.87 milligrams of mercury per kilogram
  • Dogtooth tuna - 0.40 milligrams per kilogram
  • Coral trout - 0.31 milligrams of mercury per kilogram
  • Wahoo - 0.18 milligrams of mercury per kilogram
  • Spanish Mackerel - 0.15 milligrams of mercury per kilogram
  • Yellowfin tuna (a big fish) - 0.12 milligrams of mercury per kilogram

So this notion that bigger fish contain higher amounts of mercury, and therefore smaller fish are safer for consumption, doesn’t always ring true. This is why we advocate against seafood consumption, irrespective of the size of fish. To see the full results of the study, click here.

What About Fish Caught in Cleaner Waters, Isolated From Humans?

Again, there is a general consensus that fish and seafood caught from ‘isolated’ waters that are far from civilisation and yet to be contaminated by the industrial activity of humans are safer for consumption. It may be true that the aquatic life in such areas contains less mercury than those living in more affected areas; however, that doesn’t mean they are not affected by mercury. The ocean is an interconnected whole, and with tides, currents and migrating aquatic life, it is not hard to imagine that mercury deposited in one area may end up in another entirely.


There is No Such Thing as Organic Seafood

This is part of the reason why fish cannot have organic certification - because the ocean is subject to so many more variables than land. You cannot control the environmental variables surrounding seafood as you can with beef, lamb, chicken, or produce. We cannot control or even know (without extensive testing) what toxins or chemicals fish are subject to in the ocean. The truth is that most fish and seafood - regardless of their origins - contain mercury and, because of this, are not safe for human consumption without first being tested.

Is it Safe to Consume Small Amounts of Seafood?

A good way to look at this is through the lens of smoking. Smoking less is undoubtedly better than smoking more; however, that doesn’t mean you should be smoking. The same is true of fish and seafood. Eating seafood less is undoubtedly better than eating more; however, the point is that we should not be eating seafood at all if it contains mercury. Just as smoking - even in small amounts - is not good for you, neither are low doses of mercury in the form of seafood.

Who is Most at Risk of Mercury Toxicity From Seafood Consumption?

Mercury is toxic to all humans - no one is immune to it or its effects. Those who eat seafood regularly will accumulate mercury in their body faster and will, therefore, be more at risk of toxicity and its symptoms. A healthy, well-nourished adult with a balanced diet is better equipped to deal with toxic exposure (having a greater ability to excrete mercury). However, children, pregnant women or any unhealthy person - particularly those suffering from any of the 6 subclinical defects - will struggle to deal with toxic exposure associated with mercury, which is often pushed into the brain and kidneys where the body is unable to process it.

Pregnant Women and Their Babies Are Most at Risk

Pregnant women and developing foetus are particularly at risk to mercury toxicity. This is for two main reasons.


During pregnancy, the body undergoes various physiological changes - some of which can increase the absorption of mercury. For example; increased blood volume and metabolic changes can influence how substances are processed by the body, which can lead to higher than normal levels of mercury in the blood.

Crossing the Placental Barrier

Secondly, mercury is easily able to cross the placental barrier. The placenta is designed to provide nutrients to the developing foetus whilst also protecting it from harmful toxins. However, the chemical properties of methylmercury allow it to bypass this protective barrier, directly exposing the foetus to its toxic effects. This is especially dangerous as the foetus has no way to eliminate or detoxify from mercury.

The Effects of Mercury Toxicity on Infants

It has been clearly documented that mercury in the developing infant, particularly males, due to mercury's affinity for testosterone, can cause neurotoxicity which leads to permanent and irreversible brain damage. This can result in a range of developmental disorders, including cognitive impairments, motor function deficits, and delays in speech and language development.

Thus, we advise that pregnant, lactating women and children should avoid seafood consumption at all costs. Additionally, we we advise that women should insist on vaccines that are thimerosal-free (mercury-free).

Risks of Mercury Toxicity are Evident in Blood Chemistry

Outside of pregnant women and children, the people who are especially vulnerable to reactivity to toxins like mercury are those who have poor metabolic control, which we test for in blood chemistry. Those with poor metabolic control typically have elevated fasting glucose, insulin and triglycerides, and low total cholesterol, HDL, total protein, albumin, red blood cell count, haemoglobin and ferritin - as is indicated by the chart below.


People Low Iron and Protein are at Higher Risk of Mercury Toxicity

People who are low in iron and protein are at particular risk for mercury toxicity. This is because to excrete mercury from the body, it must be bound to red blood cells and expelled via the bowels. Red blood cells are dependent on iron and protein. Thus, those who follow diets that are low in protein and iron - like vegan, vegetarian or pescatarian diets are much more susceptible to mercury toxicity, as the toxin accumulates and absorbs at a higher rate.


Do Genetics Increase the Risk to Mercury Found in Seafood?

Some scientists suggest that mercury toxicity produces more severe outcomes in people with the APOE-ε4 gene. This perhaps leads many to think that if they do not have the APOE-ε4 gene, they can safely consume seafood as their body is better able to deal with mercury.

The reality, however, is that mercury toxicity does not discriminate on the basis of genetics. Whether you have the APOE-ε4 gene or not, eating seafood (especially regularly) will almost always result in mercury toxicity.

Mercury Toxicity Indicated by High B2Microglobulin

There is no definitive test to show someone's mercury load. However, over 30 years of analysing body chemistry, we have developed a way to measure what we call ‘toxic footprints’, which are indicative of mercury toxicity.

The impact of continuous seafood consumption (and resultant mercury toxicity) can be seen in body chemistry with an elevated Serum B2Microglobulin above 1.5.


B2M is produced in the choroid plexus, a crucial region in the brain that functions similarly to a kidney by preventing heavy metals, such as mercury, from entering the cerebrospinal fluid. If B2M is detected in the bloodstream, it indicates that this filtering system has been compromised by mercury. This presence of mercury in the blood signals that the toxin has breached the central nervous system.


The Symptoms of Mercury Toxicity

Thus, people who exhibit S-B2M above 2 typically suffer mood, mind and memory problems. Some of the common symptoms of mercury toxicity are:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Heart Dysregulation
  • Neurological Symptoms

Full a more comprehensive list of symptoms associated with mercury toxicity, click here.

Some Famous Examples of Mercury Toxicity From Seafood

Both motivational speaker Tony Robbins and actor Jeremy Piven, have publicly spoken about their battle with mercury toxicity as a result of seafood consumption, and both apparently avoid consuming seafood now as a result.

Similarly, Victoria Beckham and Robbie Williams have both been diagnosed with mercury toxicity as a result of consuming too much seafood. In fact, Robbie Williams was reported to have nearly died after regularly eating fish twice a day!


We Advocate Against Seafood Consumption

It is our view that if one advocates for amalgam removal, then by extension, one must advocate against seafood consumption. Both mercury amalgam fillings and seafood consumption lead to mercury toxicity. So, despite the benefits of unsaturated fats, selenium and omega 3 oils, the toxic effects of mercury present too many health risks to warrant eating seafood.

In short, mercury is so harmful to the human body that we must avoid it at all costs. The cost, in this instance, is eating seafood.

For Further Reading on Mercury and its Effects, See the Following:

Further information on the effects of mercury toxicity can be seen in the widely documented cases of Minamata disease and in the articles linked below.

Learning from Minamata Bay Disaster

Dolphin and Whale meat poisoned with Mercury

Extreme levels of Mercury in Whale meat

The Dental Amalgam Toxicity Fear: A Myth or Actuality

Using Tree Rings to Track Atmospheric Mercury Pollution in Australia: The of Legacy of Mining in Tasmania

The 22 Signs and Symptoms of Mercury Poisoning

Global methylmercury exposure from seafood consumption and risk of developmental neurotoxicity: a systematic review

Fish consumption, mercury exposure, and the risk of cholesterol profiles: findings from the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2010-2011

An association of blood mercury levels and Hypercholesterolaemia among Korean adolescents

Altered pairing behaviour and reproductive success in white ibises exposed to environmentally relevant concentrations of methylmercury

ABC Catalyst: Mercury

Mercury exposure raises cholesterol levels

CDC Study: "Infant and Environmental Exposures to Thimerosal and Neurophysiological Outcomes at Ages 7 to 10 years"

Mercury Toxicity: Genetic susceptibility and synergistic effects

Gender differences in the disposition and toxicity of metals

Chronic inorganic mercury exposure induces sex-specific changes in central TNFα expression: Importance in autism?

Genetic Aspects of Susceptibility to Mercury Toxicity: An Overview
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