East Coast Women Love to Eat Mercury

Fish and Fly Photo

Image source: Getty Images

Apparently where you live and how much you make DOES influence how much mercury women contain in their systems. If you're in the Northeast, look out, because you are among the highest in the nation with one in five women of child-bearing age having enough metal in their blood to affect their fetus. Women in the Midwest fared the best with only 3% showing dangerous levels of mercury in their blood.

Location has a lot to do with incidence, the study shows, as the closer you are to a coastline the more likely you are to eat fish, which is an easy source of mercury. 16% of coastal women exceed the "safety limit" while only 6% of inland ladies did. In addition, women who make more tend to also have elevated levels of mercury in their system, most likely because they are able to afford higher-grade fish like swordfish or high-grade tuna which tend to be more contaminated.

Mercury Levels in Females Image
The good news - all of those warnings about not eating certain fish are starting to work as the percentage of women with mercury contamination dropped from 16% in 2000 to 10% in 2004. For those non-vegetarians, seafood can be a good source of lean protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, which can help prevent heart disease and stimulate brain development.

To Eat Fish or Not to Eat Fish?

Depends upon who you ask. The National Fisheries Institute, the Food & Drug Administration and the National Academies of Science all conclude that Americans need to eat more fish and that warning women about eating seafood will scare them away from eating fish. Studies done by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on the other hand, show that in fact women are just getting smarter about which fish to eat. This is not always easy to do as the EPA/FDA fish advisories warn about some fish but are silent on others which carry high levels of mercury such as "grouper, orange roughy, Chilean sea bass and marlin." Several states and supermarkets are now posting warnings about which fish to avoid.

Cooking fish does not remove mercury and studies have shown that while American water bodies do have mercury the levels are not high enough to cause contamination from drinking water. Chlorine plants and coal-fired power plants both emit mercury, which then falls into lakes and rivers where fish consume it and when you consume the fish the mercury makes its way into your body.

This study was funded by the EPA and conducted on blood samples and fish consumption information collected by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and posted on the National Institutes of Health website.

For more information check out the Chicago Tribune which has done a series of articles on the confusion behind mercury contamination labeling, which fish to avoid and how to minimize risks from mercury.::Chicago Tribune
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