Deanna Bramble
Author & Clinical Nutritionist

Fish-Shellfish Myths

Fish is very badly contaminated with toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and it is also the most likely food you can eat to get food poisoning from bacteria and parasites. Fish is the number one cause of food poisoning in the U.S.  Researchers at the University of Illinois found that fish eaters with high levels of PCB’s in their bloodstream have difficulty recalling information they learned even just 30 minutes earlier. Fish is also highly acidic which you have learned contributes to cancer cell growth and a weakened immune system. Sushi? Ahh… the American craze these days. Whether, raw or cooked-- high levels of bacteria, acidity, or parasites are hard for the body to digest. Many of you might find yourself having diarrhea or gas pains after eating it (see Parasites on the tabs to the left).

A fishes’ body absorbs toxic chemicals in the water around them, and the chemicals become more concentrated as they move up the food chain. Big fish eat little fish, with the bigger fish (such as tuna and salmon) absorbing chemicals from all the other fish they eat. “Fish flesh stores contaminants, such as PCBs, which cause liver damage, nervous system disorders, and fetal damage; dioxins, also linked to cancer; radioactive substances like strontium 90; and other dangerous contaminants like mercury, cadmium, chromium, lead, and arsenic, which can cause health problems ranging from kidney damage and impaired mental development to cancer. These toxins are stored in the body fat of humans who eat fish and remain in their bodies for decades”. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Healthy Eating for Life for Children (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 2002) 54.

Our waterways are polluted with human and animal feces, and this waste carries dangerous bacteria like E. coli. So when we eat fish, we are exposing ourselves to the unnecessary risk of getting a nasty bacterial illness that can lead to mild to extreme discomfort, nervous system damage, and even death. Reuters, “CSPI: Seafood, Eggs Biggest Causes of Food Poisoning in U.S,” CNN, 7 Aug. 2000.

“According to a report by the General Accounting Office, the seafood industry is dangerously under regulated. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t even bother to test most fish flesh for many well-known chemical and bacterial health hazards.”  Center for Science in the Public Interest, news release, “GAO Gives Failing Grade to FDA Seafood HACCP Program,” 13 Feb. 2001.

Where do I get my Omega’s? Walnuts, Chia Seeds, and Flax seeds have more than enough of all the Omega’s your body requires without the acidity, parasites, metals, or bacteria.

Shellfish: The more legs an animal had when it was alive the more cholesterol you eat. Therefore be leery of such shellfish like shrimp and lobster…many legs. There are many toxins associated with eating various shellfish also. They are bottom dwellers and scavengers in the water eating some scary things we should not in-turn digest. The worst being parasites, that are not killed normally through cooking or freezing (see Parasites on the tabs to the left). Many people get upset stomachs, diarrhea, or cramping when they eat shellfish, which is an indicator our body does not handle such food well. Whether worms are killed or not, I would not want to be eating dead worms either.

What is Domoic (ASP) acid in Shellfish? Domoic acid is a naturally occurring toxin produced by microscopic algae.  Shellfish and crab ingest these algae, where the toxin concentrates.  Significant amounts of domoic acid can cause Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) in humans.  ASP is transmitted by eating contaminated shellfish and crab. Razor clams accumulate domoic acid in the edible tissue, and are slow to rid themselves of the toxin. Does cooking the shellfish make it safe to eat? No. Cooking or freezing does not destroy the toxin.

“The second cause of hepatitis is the eating of shellfish- which eat unprocessed human waste dumped into the Atlantic by New York City, Baltimore, and other communities.”

What are the symptoms of ASP?
Symptoms include vomiting, nausea, diarrhea and abdominal cramps within 24 hours of ingestion. In more severe cases, neurological symptoms develop within 48 hours and include headache, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, loss of short-term memory, motor weakness, seizures, profuse respiratory secretions, cardiac arrhythmias, coma and possibly death. Short-term memory loss is permanent, thus the name Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. On the web site of The Divisional of Environmental Health Office of Shellfish and Water Protection website.