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Fish Has Benefits, But Some Must Weigh Risks

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Life can be so confusing. Take the question of whether or not to eat fish.

There is wide agreement that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are good for you, especially for your heart.

Dozens of studies indicate that eating fish reduces the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The American Heart Association suggests that everyone eat a variety of fatty fish - salmon, mackerel, lake trout, albacore tuna, herring and sardines - at least twice a week.

Other studies raise further hope that the omega-3 acids found in fish can prevent or relieve depression, and that in older people, eating fish at least once a week can cut the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

This month, the Harvard Health Letter reported that of the three main types of omega-3 fats, all are probably healthful. But the evidence is strongest for the two types found in fish.

OK, now for some of the caveats.

Fried fish, especially that which you order at a restaurant, may be high in trans fat - which many experts think is the worst kind of fat.

Farm-raised fish may be dosed with antibiotics and raised in densely packed waters where there are high levels of bacteria.

And increasingly, there is the question of mercury levels in fish.

Everywhere on the planet, fish are accumulating mercury in their tissues, often as the result of airborne mercury that finds its way into rivers and seas,'' the New York Times reported recently.And mercury, in all its forms, is highly toxic.''

The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have cautioned young children and women of childbearing age against eating swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish and shark because of mercury levels. The FDA advises a limit of 12 ounces a week of various kinds of fish for people in this category.

Studies show that exposure to mercury before birth can have a negative effect on nerve functioning.

Wondering what to do? You can check with your doctor about fish oil supplements if you prefer not to eat fish.

The American Heart Association recommends fish oil capsules in certain cases where there is evidence of heart disease. However, there is some concern that high doses of omega-3 supplements can have negative effects - by preventing blood clotting, for example.

There are still questions as to whether the supplements offer the same benefits as fish.


(Diane Evans is a staff writer at the Akron Beacon Journal. Though she has researched the information in this column, she has no training in medicine or science. Readers should consult carefully with their physicians before relying on anything in the column. If you have questions or suggestions for Evans, contact her at the Akron Beacon Journal, P.O. Box 640, Akron, OH 44309-0640, or by e-mail at


(c) 2003, Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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