Risks and Benefits of Eating Heart-Healthy Fish

According to a Swedish study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the benefits of eating fish may outweigh the potential negative impact of mercury exposure from fish.

The study analyzed responses from more than 900 Swedish adults about the amount of fish in their diet and then examined the subjects' red blood cells for levels of mercury and selenium. The researchers concluded that people whose red blood cells showed higher amounts of mercury were not at higher risk of cardiac disease.

Although the researchers did caution that people still needed to restrict the amount of fish containing high levels of mercury, such as perch, shark, swordfish, tilefish, and halibut. What may pose an increased cardiac risk, said the researchers, are elevated levels of the trace mineral selenium, although more studies were needed to confirm that finding.

In addition to being a good source of protein, fish, unlike meat products, is not high in saturated fat and is a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids not only decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can result in sudden cardiac death, but they can also reduce triglyceride levels, and slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, which narrow blood vessels, restricting blood flow, and lower blood pressure.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults eat fish, especially fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout and albacore tuna, at least two times a week—grilled or baked is best. According to the AHA, the benefits and risks of eating fish vary depending on your stage in life. For example:

  • Pregnant women and children are advised by the FDA to avoid eating fish with the highest levels of mercury and to eat two average meals a week of a variety of fish and shellfish that have lower concentrations of mercury.
  • For middle-age and older men and postmenopausal women, the benefits of eating fish far outweigh the potential risks when the amount of fish eaten is within the recommendations established by the FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Removing the skin and surface fat from fish helps limit potential exposure to some contaminants in fish, according to the AHA.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish or shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.




American Heart Association. "Fish 101." Web.