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Mercury in Seafood

Fishing for [some] mercury may not raise mortality risks.

Salmon with test tubes to show mercury in seafood

Here’s the conundrum. Fish contains important nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and selenium, which are good for you. But they also can contain mercury, which is not. Levels of mercury in seafood leave many people reconsidering adding fish to their diets. But at typical American intake levels, perhaps we should fret less.

A study in JAMA Network Open found mercury exposure in adults from standard low-to-moderate seafood intake was not significantly linked to the risk of cardiovascular disease death or all-cause mortality. An increase in seafood consumption of 1 ounce equivalent per day did not affect all-cause or CVD-related mortality. Furthermore, blood mercury levels associated with seafood intake levels were not linked to premature death.

This prospective cohort analysis included participants ages 20 and up who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2003 to 2012; data were linked to death records through the end of 2015. Two 24-hour dietary recalls were used to quantify seafood intake (which, yes, makes for a certain degree of uncertainty), and blood mercury levels were used to estimate mercury exposure.

This just suggests that the amount of mercury most Americans are getting (from what is, countrywide, a fairly low intake of seafood) may not pose a health risk. Intakes of fish higher than in the normal American diet may bump up mercury levels to potentially dangerous levels. And that’s only likely for those consuming species of fish with greater mercury concentration, such as swordfish and bluefin tuna. An extra weekly serving or two of salmon or tilapia is probably a safe bet.

See also: What to Look for in Seafood Nutrition



Matthew Kadey, MS, RD

Matthew Kadey, MS, RD, is a James Beard Award–winning food journalist, dietitian and author of the cookbook Rocket Fuel: Power-Packed Food for Sport + Adventure (VeloPress 2016). He has written for dozens of magazines, including Runner’s World, Men’s Health, Shape, Men’s Fitness and Muscle and Fitness.

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