Eat More Fish, U.S. Study Urges, Despite Toxin Risk
WASHINGTON -- Most people should eat more fish because of its health benefits, the U.S. Institute of Medicine reported Tuesday, but added that consumers must also consider the risks of chemically contaminated seafood.
The report was hailed by the U.S. fisheries industry and criticized by environmental and science watchdog groups, which said the study used old data and failed to adequately address the environmental impacts of fishing and fish-farming.
"The average person can consume more fish than they do; I think average consumption is not up to the levels that we have allowed," said Susan Krebs-Smith of the National Cancer Institute, who served on a committee that wrote the report.
The report offered guidelines that suggest a limited intake of fish -- two 3-ounce servings a week -- for women of child-bearing age and children aged 12 and under, but even these two groups can safely eat 12 ounces a week.
For healthy adolescent and adult males and for women who will not become pregnant, and for adults at risk for coronary heart disease, the guidelines list no upper limit.
However, Krebs-Smith and others on the panel noted confusing information about the benefits and risks of eating fish made it difficult for consumers to strike a healthy balance, and said no one solution was right for all people.
Fish has long been seen as a healthy food, high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, which may be associated with lower risk for heart disease and better fetal and brain development. However, contamination with mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other chemicals can offset some of the benefits, the report found.
Women of child-bearing age or who are breast-feeding and children age 12 or younger can benefit especially from eating fish such as salmon that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids -- "good fats," according to the report.
AVOID PREDATORY FISH
But these groups should avoid eating large predatory fish like shark, swordfish, tilefish or king mackerel, which live longer and may absorb more toxins.
Healthy adolescent and adult men and women who will not become pregnant may reduce their risk for future cardiovascular disease by eating seafood regularly, but people who eat more than two servings of fish a week should make sure to eat a variety of different fish to avoid exposure to contaminants from a single source, the report said.
Those adults currently at risk for cardiovascular disease may cut that risk by eating seafood regularly, especially fish with lots of omega-3 fatty acids.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which sponsored the independent report, said fish populations are rebuilding to sustainable levels, with tight harvest controls in U.S. waters, and encouraged increased fish consumption.
Gerald Leape of the National Environmental Trust, in a telephone conference call, faulted the report for failing to consider possible environmental impact of increased fish consumption.
Dr. Arnold Schecter of the University of Texas, said in the same call that the report relied on 1998 data on toxicity of dioxins and PCBs instead of an updated 2005 numbers, and did not deal adequately with the risks caused by brominated flame retardants found in the food supply.
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said in a statement that the risks associated with eating fish outweigh potential benefits, with high cholesterol in some seafood rivaling steak.
The National Fisheries Institute hailed the report as confirming the benefits of eating seafood.