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Mercury Poisoning from Fish

Mercury Poisoning from Fish

Increasing cases of mercury poisoning from fish have compelled the marine biologists and scientists to conduct genetic tests that can determine the threshold concentration of mercury in various fish species.
Kundan Pandey
Last Updated: Mar 12, 2018
Many of us love eating fish, be it the sushi or the shark; however, while we enjoy the meat of these marine animals, there is a hidden threat in their fat cells and muscles. We don't realize (or even if we do, we eat anyway) that the body of thus creature absorbs a toxic substance that is equally poisonous for both, humans and itself. Methylmercury is the poisonous substance that is mostly absorbed by it. The increasing mercury in seas and rivers due to water pollution has raised serious health concerns. Some scientists believe that the doses of this element are not harmful, whereas few others have claimed that the higher levels are definitely harmful.
Though no one has been able to come out with conclusions that can correctly state the threshold level of mercury doses in fish, the Bureau of Health Environmental Toxicity Program has collected data and has categorized the animal in two categories; one that contains high levels of this element, and the other containing very low levels. The one that are low are recommended for eating. Some fish, like tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel, and shark come under the category of high levels. Various other shellfish and fish containing lower levels of mercury are tuna, halibut, catfish, oysters, shrimp, crab king, etc.
The research carried out was based on a certain number of samples collected from various sources. This research was just from a sample of hundreds of these creatures, so we can't confidently say that if we eat the one with low mercury content, we are saved from the threat of poisoning. It's all just a possibility. However, preferring this kind is the safest route to take in case you include this it very often in your diet.
Symptoms
Levels of mercury in the environment increase due to the discharge of gases from chemical and power plant industries. It is deposited into water, and there, the bacteria convert it into a dangerous compound methylmercury, which is toxic and the principal reason for poisoning. The effects depend on the extent of consumption and the time for which the person has been exposed to this element. It can cause permanent damage to the brain and kidneys. When absorbed by the skin, its compounds can trigger allergic reactions. If ingested in the body, it causes severe renal and gastrointestinal disorders.
In pregnant women, infants, and children, it hampers the neurological development of the brain. If consumed during the pregnancy period, it can lead to the poor development of the child, and he may be born with some defects, like poor memory and damaged brain cells. Some more symptoms are as follows:
  • Vision impairment
  • Numbness in hands and feet
  • Poor coordination of muscles
  • Problems related to speech, walking, and the neurological system
  • Muscle weakness
  • Mood swings and erratic behavior
  • Mental imbalance
Treatment
In urgent cases, it is best to seek hospital care or consult a doctor. The medical experts will perform diagnostic tests, and try to expel the poison from the body, by providing various treatments. Some of the treatment methods are chelation therapy, activated charcoal, gastric lavage, etc. It is to be understood that higher doses of this deadly substance can lead to death, so it is important to take precautions. It is important that we use water filters in our home, for drinking and cooking purposes. Besides mercury spills, consuming freshwater fish is the leading cause of this situation.
Pregnant women and children must especially limit the consumption of fish in their diet. According to experts, a child under 6 years of age must not be fed a little tuna more than once a month. For children between 6 to 12 years old, the limit of consumption is twice a month. Even adults must follow a strict regime of just one seafood meal per week. Identifying the possible sources and taking adequate precautionary measures can go a long way in reducing the risk of poisoning.
Many states in the US collect data about local fish and provide information about the safety levels of mercury consumption. With the increasing amount of toxicity in the air and water, scientists are worried about the rising concentration of this element. The world has seen the threats of Minamata disease in Japan in the past few decades.
Minamata disease, a severe mercury poisoning case, first affected Japan in 1956, and has been the cause of deaths of several people. While the US government takes adequate measures to prevent such threats, we should exercise control over our diet and possibly avoid consuming too much seafood in our diet.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.