Category Archives: Fish

“Doc, Will I Get Mercury Poisoning From the Fish You Recommend?”

paleo diet, low-carb, Steve Parker MD

 A beautiful brown trout

The Environmental Working Group published an article reviewing the risk of mercury poisoning from seafood consumption. I’m not familiar with EWG. I’m trying not to hold it against them that Dr. Mark Hyman is on the board of directors.

Anyway, the EWG has some advice for you if you worry about mercury toxicity from fish. I try to stay up to date on the issue since I’m convinced that consumption of cold-water fatty fish twice a week is good for your health, in general. If the mercury doesn’t kill you. Seafood is key component of the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet, the foundation of the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet.

Here are some quotes from the EWG article:

…EWG has compiled a list of “moderate mercury” species that would pose a mercury risk for pregnant woman and children who eat fish regularly. This list is more comprehensive than the 2004 EPA/FDA advisory, which warned that women of childbearing age and young children, who are most susceptible to the damage done by mercury, should eat only six ounces a week of albacore tuna and should avoid four other high-mercury species – swordfish, tilefish, king mackerel and shark.

EWG rightly points out that much of the “seafood” consumed in the U.S. really doesn’t provide much of the healthful omega-3 fatty acids.

Among popular seafood species, salmon stands out as an excellent choice.  Four to eight ounces of salmon weekly, depending on the species, can provide 100 percent of the recommended amount of omega-3s. Some types of farmed salmon present significant environmental health concerns. EWG recommends that people choose wild salmon instead.

EWG’s analysis highlights several other affordable and sustainably produced species, including anchovies, sardines, farmed trout, and mussels.  Just four to eight ounces of these species weekly would meet recommended omega-3 requirements for pregnant women and people with heart disease.

***

Americans eat more than 400 million pounds of canned imported tuna because it is affordable and can be stored for a long time. Canned tuna is the second most popular seafood in the U.S., after shrimp.  An average American eats an average of 2.5 pounds of tuna every year (NOAA 2012).  Albacore tuna, also called “white” tuna, contains significant amounts of omega-3s, but tests indicate that it also contains significant amounts of mercury. “Light” tuna is usually skipjack tuna but can also contain yellowfin tuna. Skipjack and yellowfin have lower mercury levels than albacore, but fewer omega-3s.

As Jim Gaffigan asked, “Has anyone even bothered to ask why the tuna are eating mercury?”

In 30 years of practicing medicine, including 12 years right on the Gulf Coast, I’ve never seen a case of mercury toxicity. Maybe I’ve missed it. Maybe it’s quite rare.

Read the whole enchilada.

Steve Parker, M.D.

h/t Conner Middelmann-Whitney

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Filed under Fish, Mediterranean Diet

Supplemental Omega-3 Fats’ Effect on Heart Disease, Stroke, Cancer, and Death: No Relationship In a General Population

Salmon is one the the cold-water fatty fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids

Salmon is one the the cold-water fatty fish loaded with omega-3 fatty acids

I’ve been sitting on this research report a few years, waiting until I had time to dig into it. That time never came. The full report is free online (thanks, British Medical Journal!). I scanned the full paper to learn that nearly all the studies in this meta-analysis used fish oil supplements, not the cold-water fatty fish the I recommend my patients eat twice a week.

Here’s the abstract:

Objective: To review systematically the evidence for an effect of long chain and shorter chain omega 3 fatty acids on total mortality, cardiovascular events, and cancer.

Data sources: Electronic databases searched to February 2002; authors contacted and bibliographies of randomised controlled trials (RCTs) checked to locate studies.

Review methods Review of RCTs of omega 3 intake for 3 6 months in adults (with or without risk factors for cardiovascular disease) with data on a relevant outcome. Cohort studies that estimated omega 3 intake and related this to clinical outcome during at least 6 months were also included. Application of inclusion criteria, data extraction, and quality assessments were performed independently in duplicate.

Results: Of 15 159 titles and abstracts assessed, 48 RCTs (36 913 participants) and 41 cohort studies were analysed. The trial results were inconsistent. The pooled estimate showed no strong evidence of reduced risk of total mortality (relative risk 0.87, 95% confidence interval 0.73 to 1.03) or combined cardiovascular events (0.95, 0.82 to 1.12) in participants taking additional omega 3 fats. The few studies at low risk of bias were more consistent, but they showed no effect of omega 3 on total mortality (0.98, 0.70 to 1.36) or cardiovascular events (1.09, 0.87 to 1.37). When data from the subgroup of studies of long chain omega 3 fats were analysed separately, total mortality (0.86, 0.70 to 1.04; 138 events) and cardiovascular events (0.93, 0.79 to 1.11) were not clearly reduced. Neither RCTs nor cohort studies suggested increased risk of cancer with a higher intake of omega 3 (trials: 1.07, 0.88 to 1.30; cohort studies: 1.02, 0.87 to 1.19), but clinically important harm could not be excluded.

Conclusion: Long chain and shorter chain omega 3 fats do not have a clear effect on total mortality, combined cardiovascular events, or cancer.

Reference: Hooper, Lee et al. Risks and benefits of omega 3 fats for mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review. BMJ  2006;332:752-760 (1 April), doi:10.1136/bmj.38755.366331.2F (published 24 March 2006).

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Filed under coronary heart disease, Diabetes Complications, Fat in Diet, Fish, Heart Disease, Longevity, Stroke

What’s Our Preferred Fuel?

Dr. Jay Wortman has been thinking about whether our bodies prefer to run on carbohydrates (as a source of glucose) or, instead, on fats.  The standard American diet provides derives about half of its energy from carbs, 35% from fats, and 15% from proteins.  So you might guess our bodies prefer carbohydrates as a fuel source.  Dr. Wortman writes:

Now, consider the possibility that we weren’t meant to burn glucose at all as a primary fuel. Consider the possibility that fat was meant to be our primary fuel. In my current state of dietary practice, I am burning fat as my main source of energy. My liver is converting some of it to ketones which are needed to fuel the majority of my brain cells. A small fraction of the brain cells, around 15%, need glucose along with a few other tissues like the renal cortex, the lens of the eye, red blood cells and sperm.Their needs are met by glucose that my liver produces from proteins. The rest of my energy needs are met with fatty acids and these come from the fats I eat.

Dr. Wortman, who has type 2 diabetes,  in the same long post also writes about oolichan grease (from fish), an ancestral food of Canandian west coast First Nations people. 

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Fat in Diet, Fish

What About Fish?

"Waiter, I didn't order sushi!"

Darya Pino over at Summer Tomato recently wrote about eating fish:  health aspects, which are best to eat, shopping, and sustainability.  I recommend it to you, even though I don’t agree with everything.  For instance, I think in general the risk of mercury contamination is overblown.  [I know that’s little consolation for those few who have suffered mercury poisoning from fish.]

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Maybe Diet Prevents Alzheimer Dementia After All

I blogged about a study by Gu et al on April 30, 2010, that found significantly lower incidence of Alzheimer dementia in people in Manhattan who followed this dietary pattern:

  • relatively high consumption of salad dressing, nuts, fish, tomatoes, fruits, dark green leafy vegetables, and cruciferous  vegetables
  • relatively low consumption of poultry, red meat, butter, and high-fat dairy

About the same time, a National Institutes of Health expert panel pooh-poohed the possibility that diet had any effect one way or the other on Alzheimer’s

Why does this matter?  Five million U.S. adults have Alzheimer dementia already, and it’s going to get much worse over the coming decades.

A June, 2010, issue of Journal of the American Medical Association has a commentary by two doctors (Martha Morris, Sc.D., and Christine Tangney, Ph.D.), experts in the field of nutrition.  Here’s their explanation of the NIH panel’s negative findings:

Many of the inconsistencies among studies of dietary factors can be attributed to the complexity of nutrition science and the omission of nutrition expertise in the design and analysis of both epidemiological and randomized controlled trials.

Morris and Tangney think the findings of Gu et al are valid, confirming prior studies showing benefit to diets high in vitamin E (from food) and low in saturated fat from animals.  They point out that the animal foods may simply be displacing beneficial nutrients in other foods, rather than directly causing harm.

Until we have further data, anyone at risk for Alzhiemer’s may be better off following the dietary pattern above, or the Mediterranean diet.  The two are similar.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Disclaimer:  All matters regarding your health require supervision by a personal physician or other appropriate health professional familiar with your current health status.  Always consult your personal physican before making any dietary or exercise changes. 

Reference: Morris, M., & Tangney, C.  Diet and Prevention of Alzheimer Disease.  The Journal of the American Medical Association, 303 (2010): 2,519-2,520.    doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.844

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Filed under Dairy Products, Fat in Diet, Fish, Fruits, Health Benefits, Mediterranean Diet, nuts, Vegetables

Longevity Components of the Mediterranean Diet

According to Greek researchers, the components of the Mediterranean diet that contribute to longer lifespan are:

  • moderate alcohol consumption
  • low consumption of meat
  • high consumption of vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil, and legumes

The following didn’t seem to contribute much, if any:

  • cereals (the grain of a grass such as wheat, corn, oats)
  • dairy products
  • fish and seafood

Investigators at the University of Athens examined the Greek portion of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) and Nutrition, which included 23,349 men and women free of diabetes, cancer, and coronary heart disease at the outset.  Food habits were documented by questionnaire. 

The focus of this particular study was death rates over an average follow-up of 8.5 years.  Adherence to the traditional Mediterranean diet ranged from minimal to high, as would be expected. 

As with numerous other studies of the Mediterranean diet, higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with lower chance of death. 

My Comments

The lack of benefit from fish is unexpected.  I have no explanation.  A preponderance of evidence elsewhere suggests fish consumption helps prolong life via lowered rates of heart disease.

Alcohol can be dangerous, of course.  Some people should not partake, ever.     

For people with diabetes who wish to avoid the carbohydrate load in cereals and dairy products, you don’t need to worry much about cutting those out of an otherwise Mediterranean-style diet.

Steve Parker, M.D. 

Reference:  Trichopoulou, Antonia, et al.  Anatomy of health effects of the Mediterranean diet: Greek EPIC prospective cohort studyBritish Medical Journal, 338 (2009): b2337.  DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b2337.

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Filed under Alcohol, Dairy Products, Fish, Fruits, Grains, Health Benefits, legumes, Mediterranean Diet, nuts, olive oil, Vegetables

Does Diet Influence Risk of Stroke?

Harvard researchers suggest that our food consumption does indeed influence our risk of suffering a stroke.  This matters since stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Scientists looked carefully at 121 different studies—published between 1979 and 2004—on the relationship between dietary factors and stroke.  High blood pressure is a major modifiable risk factor for stroke, so it also was considered.  Dietary factors included fats, minerals, animal protein, cholesterol, fish, whole grains, fiber, carbohydrate quality, fruits and vegetables, antioxidants, B vitamins, and dietary patterns.

I quote their conclusions:

Diets low in sodium and high in potassium lower blood pressure which will likely reduce stroke risk.

Consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, folate, and fatty fish are each likely to reduce stroke risk.

A prudent or traditional Mediterranean dietary pattern, which incorporates these individual dietary components as well as intake of legumes and olive oil, may also prevent stroke.

Evidence is limited or inconsistent regarding optimal levels of dietary magnesium, calcium, antioxidants, total fat, other fat subtypes, cholesterol, carbohydrate quality, or animal protein for stroke prevention.

A diet low in sodium, high in potassium, and rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, cereal fiber, and fatty fish will likely reduce the incidence of stroke.

Take Home Points

The article abstract does not address the optimal intake amount of these various foods, vitamins, and minerals.  That’s probably not known with any certainty.

The traditional Mediterranean diet incorporates many of these stroke-preventing foods.  The Advanced Mediterranean Diet helps people lose weight while teaching how to eat Mediterranean-style.

The very low-carb Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet includes these stroke-preventing foods and minerals, except for whole grains and a tendency to be low in potassium.  The KMD is high in total fat and animal protien, and potentially high in cholesterol; this study indicates those issues are nothing to worry about in terms of future strokes.

I’ll use articles such as this to recommend long-term food consumption for followers of any future Diabetic Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Ding, E.L, and Mozaffarian, D.  Optimal dietary habits for the prevention of stroke. Seminars in Neurology, 26 (2006): 11-23.

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Filed under Fish, Fruits, Grains, Health Benefits, legumes, Mediterranean Diet, olive oil, Stroke, Vegetables