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Can Healthy Omega 3 Fatty Acids Also Give You Mercury Poisoning?

Posted Sep 17 2008 12:00am 1 Comment

Ninety-nine percent of Americans are deficient in this nutrient – but if they eat it, it could poison them!

What am I talking about?

Omega-3 fatty acids, which are often found in fish oil.

Research suggests that the omega-3s in certain fish may cure or treat most chronic illnesses, including depression, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, dementia, autism, ADHD, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases. In fact, about 60 percent of your brain is – or should be – made of fish oil.

But getting those omega-3s can be dangerous.

For example, a recent laboratory study of tuna sushi from a selection of New York City restaurants found levels of mercury so high that they exceeded the safe limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and would allow the Food and Drug Administration to take legal action to remove the fish from the market.

Now, we’ve got more media coverage and more headlines, but not much more understanding. Should we eat fish or shouldn’t we?

==> Today, I’m going clear up the confusion.

The experts are saying that if you are a pregnant or breast-feeding woman or a child, you shouldn’t eat any fish. The rest of us fish-eaters, well, we can have sushi no more than once every 3 weeks.

I guess the government thinks it’s fine to poison men and older women.

Does this make any sense?

If something is a proven toxin – and mercury is the second most common toxin known to humans – then why would we want to eat ANY of it?

Of course, there are times when I just can’t resist a piece of fresh-off-the-boat, line-caught, deep red, thinly sliced, bluefin tuna that melts in my mouth.

But then again, I suffered from mercury poisoning from growing up on tuna fish, eating too much fish while I lived in China, and breathing the dark black coal-soaked winter air of Beijing for too long.

From that experience, I know how to get the mercury out of my body quickly by using special foods, supplements, saunas, and chelation therapy. (See my blog on mercury detoxification for more information.)

And a large part of healing many chronic illnesses is learning how to reduce our total toxic burden while learning how to boost and optimize our own detoxification systems. (See my blog on UltraWellness Key #5 for more information.)

Chronic mercury toxicity is one of the most common things I see and treat in my medical practice.

It is also something I learned nothing about in medical school.

Yet day after day, I find toxic levels in the blood and in the bodies of patients with depression, heart disease, dementia and memory loss, cancer, autism, ADHD, autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, neurological problems, insomnia, digestive problems, and more.

In fact, I think screening for mercury should be standard in our toxic world. Everyone should have their mercury level checked.

Once you get the mercury out, your depression lifts, your memory returns, your energy surges, your digestion normalizes, and your joints no longer hurt.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

==> Before I tell you how you can get your omega-3s safely, I’d like to explain more about mercury.

Mercury is emitted from coal-burning industrial facilities at the rate of 2,900 tons (or over 6 million pounds) per year.

If you imagine that mercury is toxic at greater than 1 part per million (ppm), and that the EPA has declared the “safe” level of mercury exposure to be less than 0.1 micrograms/kilogram of body weight/day – then we are in big trouble.

That mercury-laden pollution floats through the air from China and our own coal-burning plants and lands in the oceans, rivers, and soil of our planet.

Mercury occurs in larger concentrations as you move up the food chain – especially in fish.

In my medical journal, I reported on a conference at Tulane University on the effects of mercury on human health. You can download the report for free if you want to read more.

And a new 2006 report from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine called “Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks” highlights new research that links mercury not only to neurological diseases, but also to heart disease and cancers.

What are most frightening are autopsy studies on mercury-exposed people.

Adult brains show damage in only a few areas – the ones responsible for dementia and depression. But if exposure to mercury occurs in the womb or early in life, it is deposited in the entire brain and completely disrupts normal brain development.

Clearly, you should avoid mercury!

But if you want all the health benefits of omega-3s, what should you do?

There’s good news.

==> Here’s the solution.

  1. Eat only small fish that fit in your pan. These include sardines, herring, small wild salmon, and some organic farm-raised salmon (although they are not high in omega-3 fats).
  2. Stay away from tuna, swordfish, shark, tilefish, and sea bass, as well as nearly all river fish.
  3. Take a fish oil supplement every day. But buy ONLY from companies that document distilled or purified fish oil that’s 100 percent free of industrial pollutants, especially mercury. Everyone should take 1,000 to 2,000 mg of fish oil a day.
  4. Vegetarians can get the same benefits. Eat plant sources of omega-3 fats such as walnuts, and ground flax seeds, and purslane (a green vegetable). Plus, you should supplement with algae-derived DHA (one of the most important omega-3 fats needed for brain function). Take 100 to 200 mg of DHA twice a day.

==> Here’s how you can determine your own mercury levels:

  1. Blood tests. These are the most common tests for mercury and detect ONLY recent exposure over the last few months. But even if they are normal, you can’t be sure you are home free.
  2. Hair analysis. This tests only methylmercury levels from fish consumption. Ideal levels are lower than 1 ppm.
  3. Urine test after a provocation or chelation challenge with DMSA or DMPS, followed by a six-hour urine collection. This is the ONLY way to know if you have accumulated a lot of mercury in your body over a lifetime. Ideal levels are less then 5-micrograms/gram creatinine. Use Doctor’s Data Laboratory ( or Genova ( for testing.
  4. Urinary porphyrin testing is a noninvasive way to tell if the mercury is poisoning your cells (

==> Special Quiz: Are you omega-3 deficient?

Do you suffer from any of the following? Score 1 for each positive answer. Any positive answers can indicate an omega-3 fat deficiency.

  1. Soft, cracked, or brittle nails
  2. Dry, itchy, scaling, or flaking skin
  3. Hard earwax
  4. Chicken skin (tiny bumps on the backs of arms or on the trunk)
  5. Dandruff
  6. Aching or stiffness in joints
  7. Thirsty most of the time
  8. Constipation
  9. Light colored, hard, or foul-smelling stools
  10. Depression
  11. High blood pressure
  12. Fibrocystic breasts
  13. Premenstrual syndrome
  14. High LDL cholesterol, low HDL levels, and high triglycerides
  15. North Atlantic genetic background: Irish, Scottish, Welsh, Scandinavian, or coastal Native American
  16. Eat fish like sardines, herring, or wild salmon less than 3 times a week

So take a good look at your life, your symptoms, and your diet. You might need a (fish) oil change. And remember, you can have your fish and eat it too!

Now I’d like to hear from you…

Are you confused about fish and mercury?

How do you get your omega-3 fats?

Do you plan to get tested for mercury contamination?

Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, M.D.

Comments (1)
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Hi Dr. Hyman.

Thank you so much for this article. I found it very interesting. I was just recently informed about mercury poisoning and I am very worried that I could have it. I work at a fine restaurant and I try to eat healthy and I heard that fish was healthy for you, So when I work, I eat salmon usually every evening for dinner. I would say that in the past couple months, I have probably eaten salmon about 3-4 times per week. The good news is that the salmon is farm raised. I am not sure if this is better for you or not but could you please let me know if you get this comment? I am woried. Do all health clinics test for mercury or would I need to go to a special one? Thank you so much for your time! 


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