Fish Safety Concerns: Navigating the Waters

Considering the conflicting advice on eating fish that has appeared in the media over the past few years, the public is undoubtedly confused. Nurses and other health care professionals will likely find themselves having to address this issue, especially with pregnant and nursing patients and parents of young children, all of whom are likely to be concerned.

–(from “To Eat Fish or Not to Eat Fish” in the February issue of AJN)

Photo by Emilio Ereza/ag e fotostock

Photo by Emilio Ereza/ag e fotostock

I’ve been hearing about the unexplained illness of a good friend’s close colleague for a number of months. Dozens of costly and invasive tests have been performed to explain her malaise, headache, chronic stomach and digestion problems, fatigue, dizziness, and so on. Recently, a potential culprit was identified: mercury poisoning. I don’t know all the facts, but her mercury poisoning may well have something to do with the fact that she eats sushi at least once a week, and perhaps a lot of other mercury-containing fish as well.

What does this have to do with nursing? Maybe a lot, in terms of providing sound nutritional advice to patients who might be at particular risk for mercury poisoning, or in terms of adding mercury poisoning to the list of possible causes of certain nonspecific complaints.

There’s no doubt that eating fish can be good for us for a number of reasons. We know, for example, that some fish can be an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. But there’s a lot of contradictory information out there about which fish are most harmful, which actually have the most omega-3 fatty acids, how often we should eat which fish, and so on—in short, the waters are hard to navigate. Safest bet is to go fishing for it yourself in some untouched nature, somewhere. However it’s not everyone that is interested in the best spincast reel or winning the patience battle against mosquitoes.

As it happens, there’s a news story in this month’s AJN about some of the health issues related to eating fish. “To Eat Fish or Not to Eat Fish” is free and highlights recent controversies about new EPA–FDA guidelines on fish consumption, with a focus on the advice given to pregnant or breastfeeding women, criticism of the guidelines from Consumer Reports, and more. It’s short, and definitely worth a read.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

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