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Pollutants in Salmon and Our Own Fat

Farmed Atlantic salmon, the kind of salmon most commonly found in restaurants and supermarkets, may be the single largest source of toxic dietary pollutants.

May 7, 2014 |
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Supplementary Info

Can't view the video above? Try it on Vimeo!
View Pollutants in Salmon and Our Own Fat on Vimeo

Sources Cited

R Nakagawa. Concentration of mercury in hair of diseased people in Japan. Chemosphere. 1995 30(1):135 – 140.

JW Chang, HL Chen, HJ Su, PC Liao, HR Guo, CC Lee. Simultaneous exposure of non-diabetics to high levels of dioxins and mercury increases their risk of insulin resistance. J Hazard Mater. 2011 185(2 - 3):749 – 755.

H Wu, KA Bertrand, AL Choi, FB Hu, F Laden, P Grandjean, Q Sun. Persistent organic pollutants and type 2 diabetes: A prospective analysis in the nurses' health study and meta-analysis. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 121(2):153 – 161.

WJ Crinnion. The role of persistent organic pollutants in the worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes mellitus and the possible connection to Farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar). Altern Med Rev. 2011 16(4):301 – 313.

DK Lee, PM Lind, DR Jacobs Jr, S Salihoviv, B Van Bavel, L Lind. Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Organochlorine Pesticides in Plasma Predict Development of Type 2 Diabetes in the Elderly. Diabetes Care. 2011 34(8):1778-1784.

J Ruzzin. Public health concern behind the exposure to persistent organic pollutants and the risk of metabolic diseases. BMC Public Health. 2012 12:298.

J Ruzzin, DH Lee, DO Carpenter, DR Jacobs Jr. Reconsidering metabolic diseases: The impacts of persistent organic pollutants. Atherosclerosis. 2012 224(1):1 – 3.

DH Lee. A strong dose-response relation between serum concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and diabetes: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. Diabetes Care. 2006 29(11):1638 –1644.

DH Lee, DR Jacobs, Jr, M Steffes. Association of Organochlorine Pesticides with Peripheral Neuropathy in Patients with Diabetes or Impaired Fasting Glucose. Diabetes. 2008 57(11):3108–3111.

D Mozaffarian, P Shi, JS Morris, P Grandjean, DS Siscovick, D Spiegelman, FB Hu. Methylmercury exposure and incident diabetes in U.S. Men and women in two prospective cohorts. Diabetes Care. 2013 36(11):3578 – 3584.

A Schecter, J Colacino, D Haffner, K Patel, M Opel, O Päpke, L Birnbaum. Perfluorinated compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, and organochlorine pesticide contamination in composite food samples from Dallas, Texas, USA. Environ Health Perspect. 2010 118(6):796 – 802.

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Photos by Mavis via Flickr.

Transcript

This nationwide study on industrial toxins and diabetes was published in 2006. Since then, Harvard reported a link between persistent pollutants like hexachlorobenzene and diabetes in their Nurse’s Health Study. This is supported by an analysis they did of six other studies published since 2006 that showed the same thing. They conclude that past accumulation and continued exposure to these persistent pollutants may be a potent risk factor for developing diabetes.

Where is hexachlorobenzene found? In a U.S. supermarket survey, salmon and sardines were most heavily tainted with hexachlorobenzene, with salmon the most contaminated food of all.

Especially farmed salmon, perhaps the greatest source of dietary pollutants, averaging nearly ten times the PCB load of wild-caught salmon.

But wait a second. Since many of these chemicals were banned in the 70s, the levels inside people have been going down, whereas the rates of diabetes have been shooting straight up, so how could pollutant exposure be causing diabetes? This puzzle may be explained by the epidemic of obesity in the U.S. They showed that the association between these toxins and diabetes was much stronger among obese subjects compared with that of lean subjects. As people get fatter, the retention and toxicity of pollutants related to the risk of diabetes may increase.

So we’re not just exposed by eating the fat of other animals, our own fat can be a continuous source of internal exposure because these persistent pollutants are slowly but continuously released from our fat stores into our circulation.

And they don’t call them persistent pollutants for nothing. These chemicals have such a long half-life that people consuming regular (even just monthly) meals of farmed salmon might not only consume high concentrations of pollutants, but some of these chemicals might take between 50 and 75 years to clear from the body.

What about the mercury in fish? Diabetics do seem to have higher mercury levels in their body. Here are the mercury levels in hair samples from healthy people; here are the levels in patients with diabetes or hypertension. But mercury alone does not seem to increase diabetes risk. It may be the simultaneous exposure to both dioxins and mercury that increases risk, so it should concern us that the safety limits for dioxins and mercury individually may underestimate the risk when they’re consumed together in seafood.

And then once we get diabetes, higher pollutant levels may be associated with a higher risk of diabetic complications.

So while the pharmaceutical industry works on coming up with drugs to help mediate the impact of these pollutants, a better strategy might be to not get so polluted in the first place.

Unfortunately, because we’ve so polluted our world we can’t escape exposure completely. You got to eat something, but some foods are more contaminated than others. Exposure to these pollutants comes primarily from the consumption of animal fat, with the highest levels found in fatty fish like salmon. Farmed Atlantic salmon may be the single largest source of these pollutants, and that’s the kind of salmon you most commonly find in supermarkets and restaurants.

You hear about advisories warning pregnant women to avoid the consumption of food containing elevated levels of pollutants and mercury, but since these toxins bio-accumulate in the body for many years, restricting the exposure to these pollutants only during pregnancy would not protect the fetus or future generations against the harmful effects of these hazardous chemicals.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Katie Schloer.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org.

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

If you missed the first two videos in this three part series, I reviewed the existing links between seafood and diabetes risk in Fish and Diabetes and explored this concept of our own body fat as a reservoir for disease-causing pollutants in Diabetes and Dioxins.

More on hexachlorobenzene in my video Food Sources of Perfluorochemicals.

Our body has a tougher time getting rid of some toxins than others:

The best way to detox is to stop toxing in the first place.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Joe Caner

    If Persistent Organic Pollutants (POP’s) are such a risk, are there any naturally occurring foods that can help to “chealate” these compounds from our bodies, or is the only recourse available to us one of avoidance to keep from exasperating the problem?

    Most people haven’t spent their lives eating an organically grown WFPB diet. While it’s never to late to adopt such a diet, it would be great if something could be done to address our existing toxic loads.

    • Julot Julott

      No foods itself clean the body, the body does it itself, the easier and faster to digest food you eat( ripe fruits being the best) the more your body have energy to clean itself, thats why water fasting is the most powerfull~

      • Joe Caner

        I have tried a short water fast, four days, but that was years ago, unsupervised and difficult because I continued on with my normal work routine which from what I’ve read is the wrong way to go. Rest is best.

        There is a lot of scuttlebutt about an observation by a Japanese dentist that cilantro increases the excretion of mercury, but the only research study that I could find that made mention of it said that there was limited evidence to support the hypothesis which is a bit disappointing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3654245/

        I’ve been putting fresh chopped organic cilantro and lemon juice in my salads because I like it, and I figured it couldn’t do any harm. I was so hoping that there would be something that was natural and efficacious as a cleanser, but I guess eating lots of organic greens, fruits and vegetables are as good as it gets.

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      The best course is to reduce the intake to as low as possible and let the body… the liver and kidney primarily… do their jobs. Unfortunately some of the POP’s have long half lives and will take awhile.

    • Joe

      There do seem to be some things that can help with excretion but because its early days yet (this problem is quite new) not a lot is known about the efficacy of various treatments. Its mostly anecdotal evidence.

      Anything which aids the liver and other excretory organs is bound to be good. Examples such as milk thistle or dandelion. For heavy metals, Chlorella is supposed to chelate them, as is corriander (cilantro) and citrus pectin (although it is said that corriander doesn’t bind tightly enough to heavy metals, so it could redistribute them rather than take them away). Alpha Lipoic Acid also comes up with Drs like Dr Chris Shade.

      Water high in Silica is thought to be useful for getting Aluminum out of the brain.

      Zeolite, and bentonite clay, as well as activated charcoal which bind things up in the digestive tract.

      Also, a promising type of treatment involves niacin flushing coupled with gentle exercise and sauna to get these pollutants out of the fat cells and out of the skin. Google Dr Yu. Rebounding in general is excellent for the lymphatic system.

      As mentioned before – these are not defined treatments, and I’d say its all still experimental. Theres a lot of money to be made by companies promising to get these toxins out. They play on peoples fear. However, I do think that some supplementation/ protocols may be necessary here as its not a natural problem to be facing. Fasting is really effective – perhaps juice fasting would fit better into your working life?

  • John Duda

    I was very surprised to find out from the USDA nutrient database that Atlantic farmed and wild caught salmon has significantly more DHA and EPA than most wild caught or farmed Pacific salmon. Do we have data on the content of these pollutants in farmed or wild caught Pacific Salmon? I use algae-derived omega-3 supplements, but my kids just can’t do it, and I’m trying to find the best alternative for them.

    • Toxins

      Hello John, overall the risks of the pollutants in fish far outweigh the received omega 3 benefit. Please view some of these videos here.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/index.php?s=salmon

    • Thea

      John: I’m not convinced that any DHA/EPA supplementation is needed in the context of a healthy whole plant food diet. I’m not saying it isn’t helpful. I’m just saying that I’m not sure there is definitive evidence one way or the other.

      But Dr. Greger does recommend some supplementation. So, I have a thought for you: I know an adult woman who tried swallowing one of those algae derived omega-3 supplements and it got stuck in her throat. (Had to call 911 and everything.) Those pills are definitely big. If that’s the size of the pill is what you mean by, “my kids jsut can’t do it”, I have a thought for you.

      That woman I mentioned who also can’t swallow the pills happened to get a brand which comes in soft-gell covering and the inside is flavored lemon. While the pill isn’t designed to be chewable, you can easily make a small slit in the covering with a knife. And then it is easy to suck out the insides. From what I have been told, the inside doesn’t taste absolutely great, but it isn’t horrible either. So, there is one safe idea for you. (Safe in that it doesn’t involve fish.)

      Another idea: At one point, I thought I saw some chewable algae based DHA pills out there. It’s been a long time since I looked. So, I don’t know if they are still available. But maybe you can find such a thing.

      Hope that helps! (If you try one of these ideas, please let me know what happens. I’m very interested and keeping my fingers crossed for you.)

      • robert

        This company sells liquid and pills: https://www.nordicnaturals.com/en/Products/Product_Details/514/?ProdID=1649
        This liquid doesn’t have a bad flavor at all. I am not sure that I really believe we should take these oils though. In any case always let gelatin encapsulated pills soften for 15-30 seconds in your mouth before swallowing with sufficient water.

        • Thea

          robert: Great tips. Thanks!

        • mbglife

          I buy the nordic natural algae gel caps with the liquid inside. I would call their size, small. But because I don’t want to eat the caramel colored gel cap, I bite into it and chew it a little, then spit out the gel. The taste is slightly lemony and very, very mild. (If it ever tastes fishy it’s likely gone rancid). The suggested serving size is about 550mg of DHA/EPA, but that’s for two pills. So if you take just one pill a day it’s about what Dr. Greger recommends.

    • http://macsmiley.tumblr.com/ MacSmiley

      Isn’t Dr. Fuhrman’s DHA/EPA Purity dispensed with a dropper that’s easy for kids to take? Expensive, though, I know.

  • Frank

    If this link is accurate then asking someone to loose weight is to ask them to flood their system with pollutants.
    What strategy can obese people like myself use to avoid that problem?

    • Devin Wiesner

      To some degree or another just about everyone has a great deal of toxins in our body. I think the best strategy to deal with this is to flood our bodies on a daily basis with a wide variety of powerful nutrient rich fruits, vegetables, spices, teas (green, white, rooibos, lemon balm, mint), seeds, nuts, roots (such as ginger and turmeric), mushrooms and legumes. If you haven’t read “Super Immunity” by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, consider doing so. It provides a great overview of the science behind this strategy.

  • http://www.mainstreamcanada.com Grant Warkentin

    Sorry, this is totally untrue. The science behind the UN FAO report on risks and benefits of fish consumption is clear: The health benefits of eating oily fish, especially farmed Atlantic salmon, far outweigh any potential risks. See for yourself here: http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/ba0136e/ba0136e00.pdf See Appendix A on page 45 and the report conclusions on page 33.

    • Toxins

      It is difficult to say that the conclusions are entirely accurate. There is an abundance of evidence showing just how harmful fish consumption is. The said benefits of the omega 3 in some studies are masked by the contaminants. I encourage you to view some of the videos in the link below.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/index.php?s=fish

      In addition, there are more contaminants in fish other then the mentioned dioxins and mercury. If the only reason to consume fish is for the DHA, I find this to be a poor reason to do so. If you are invested in consuming dietary DHA from the sea, algae derived DHA is bio-equivalent and toxin free.
      http://nutritionfacts.org/video/plant-based-omega-3-supplements-2/

      • http://www.mainstreamcanada.com Grant Warkentin

        I disagree. The UN FAO report covers literally hundreds of different peer-reviewed science papers about this topic and shows that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

        I choose to put my trust in those hundreds of papers, and the thousands of scientists involved in them, than in this blog.

        And what other contaminants are you talking about besides dioxins and mercury that pose any concern to human health? PCBs? POPs? Those are counted as dioxin-like substances in this report. What else is there?

        I have watched a number of the videos on this site about farmed fish, since that is my interest, and find they all follow the same pattern.

        - Show some fast cuts of selections of science papers, with no context
        - Do not refer to the actual conclusions of the paper
        - Analogy with something scary, i.e. Agent Orange coupled with tragic photos of deformed children
        - Huge assumptions about what actually happens in fish farms
        - Conclude with dire warnings against farmed fish.

        That’s all fine and good if that’s the opinion of Dr. Michael Greger, but it is presented as fact. The problem is these claims are simply not true, and not backed up by the science.

        For example, if fish cause diabetes, as one of your videos claims, why does the American Diabetes Association recommend people eat more seafood! http://www.diabetes.org/mfa-recipes/tips/2012-08/seafood-a-smart-choice-for.html

        I am concerned that this site is being dangerously irresponsible in presenting scientific information to the public.

        • Devin Wiesner

          Grant, at a very basic level most Westerners consume too few fruits and vegetables, and too many animal products. My Mom died of cancer and my Dad has cancer now and is undergoing chemotherapy. Likewise, I have many friends with Diabetes, some are going blind, my cousin has had both feet amputated.

          I do not know what your motivation is? Perhaps you are one of those people who just like to argue and criticize.

          My Mom died a very painful death, I was there by her bedside. We all have friends and family we care about.

          This website saves lives. If you are not willing to change, that’s your choice. However please respect the efforts that people make to prevent the suffering of others, people and animals…Peace.

          • http://www.cermaq.ca Grant Warkentin

            I’m sorry to hear about your losses, Devin, and admire your courage. I do agree that our western diet does not contain enough fruit and vegetables.

            My motivation is to correct wrong information about seafood and health, which is unfortunately being presented on this website and which I think is actually detrimental to peoples’ health.

          • Devin Wiesner

            Grant I see that professionally you work for a large Salmon company. I won’t hold that against you. Science evolves. If you accept that science evolves you have to accept that certain studies may conflict with previous studies. The 2013 study that I cited on Prostate cancer and fish consumption, concludes “Recommendations to increase Omega 3 PUFA intake should consider its potential risks”…You can disagree with the conclusion, however you cannot disagree with the fact that this conclusion was made by the authors of the study. It’s not wrong. It’s not even right. It’s science in flux.

            I love Canada. I am grateful for your flax seeds. Thank you. I wish you peace and happiness.

          • http://www.cermaq.ca Grant Warkentin

            Yes, I work for a large salmon farming company, as I proudly declare in my Disqus bio. I do agree that science evolves, and at the end of the day, it is a self-correcting process. What is factual and proven always wins out in the end.

            Peace and happiness to you as well!

          • Joe Caner

            “It is difficult to get a man to understandsomething, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” -

            Upton Sinclair

        • Daniel Wagle

          The thing is that Dr. Greger does list his sources and a person can check them out themselves. One article Dr. Greger lists entitled

          The role of persistent organic pollutants in the worldwide epidemic of type 2 diabetes mellitus and the possible connection to Farmed Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar).

          states,

          “Chlorinated pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls, in particular, have been strongly linked to the development of metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and T2DM. In addition to reviewing the evidence associating POPs to these conditions, this article explores the possible contribution of farmed Atlantic salmon – a significant and common dietary source of POPs – with blood sugar dysregulation conditions.”

          This was in the actual conclusion, contrary to what you claimed he does. He did state that it was farmed fish that was particularly harmful. Even many people who are not Vegan would agree that farmed fish is not so beneficial. I think your charge of bias against Greger is baseless. He lists his sources, which makes it very easy to check out what Greger states.

          • John Duda

            I think that Dr. Greger, and any honest scientist or physician would agree that everyone is biased to some degree, based upon their own preconceptions and life experience. Of course Dr. Greger is biased, just like the rest of us, and he too, to his credit as with Grant, discloses his potential soucres of conflict of interest by stating his affiliation with PETA. Therefore, we can decide for ourselves how much those conflicts of interest might be influencing his own biases.

          • JacquieRN

            Hi John, just to accurate. Dr Greger is Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States not PETA.

          • John Duda

            You’re absolutely right Jacquie! Thanks for the correction and sorry for my mistake Dr. Greger.

        • True

          “Research shows that the health benefits of consuming a variety of
          seafood 2 times per week outweigh the health risks associated with
          mercury found in fish in other groups.”

          diabetes.org shows no source and not list other toxins (hexachlorobenzene and others). And this bottom of site:

          “The Diabetes Seafood Cookbook
          Barbara Seelig-Brown
          Now: $17.05
          Original Price: $18.9″

          Greed and money.

          “this site is being dangerously irresponsible”

          This site is free and good.

          • http://www.cermaq.ca Grant Warkentin

            You are accusing the American Diabetes Association of “greed and money” because they feature a cookbook. This website includes a “DONATE” button on nearly every page. Is that “greed and money” as well?

        • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

          A big difference between association and causation. The basic science supports that the “glucose” processing problem in type two diabetes is caused by the fats in the diet… both animal and plant fats. The fats in the blood interfere with insulin causing insulin resistance and the fats in the cell turn off the genes that run the mitochondria which burn the glucose. So any food with high fat content will be associated with diabetes. Looking for a single cause in complex systems is fraught with many dangers. Dr. Campbell’s newest book, Whole, discusses this at length. From a clinical stand point putting patients with type two diabetes on a low fat whole food diet quickly stabilizes, improves, reverses and often cures the type two diabetes. Since all fish are high in fat… even if you can find some that don’t have persistent organic pollutants, mercury or arsenic I would still advise patients with type two diabetes not to consume fish. In my opinion this website along with other free websites which cite their science such as PCRM.org and DrMcDougall.com are the best sources of information on preventing and reversing chronic diseases.

        • Veganrunner

          Hi Grant,
          “- Show some fast cuts of selections of science papers, with no context
          - Do not refer to the actual conclusions of the paper”

          Look under sources cited below the actual video. All the referenced articles are there.

        • wildonly

          I think you are wrong to only rely on that study. Common sense should tell you that a farmed product is not as healthy as a wild product…just the simple fact that farmed fish are swimming in their feces and fed inferior food product should be enough. Some people only make decisions based on certain studies, sometimes we could just really use our brains.

    • Devin Wiesner

      Grant, I would argue the science is evolving. The UN report that you cited was from 2010 and was based on older studies. An example as to how the science has subsequently evolved was the 2013 study on prostate cancer and fish consumption, whereby the researchers were surprised to find that those men with the highest fish consumption had a 43% increased chance of developing prostate cancer (Journal of the National Cancer Institute). Looking through the scientific literature I see a larger percentage of studies focusing on fish and toxic chemicals (mercury, arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, BPA etc..) and anticipate that dietary recommendations may eventually change.

      • http://www.mainstreamcanada.com Grant Warkentin

        Interesting point, but which study are you referring to? This one? http://www.miginfo.de/molforumufiles/save/molforum1Z021622Z1uploadimageZ253720Z390673403.pdf

        But it’s not definitive.

        I found a couple others published in the same year which disagree with the conclusions of the above study, and found this one particularly interesting because it has a huge sample size (nearly 300,000 men) and considers a variety of factors, such as age, BMI, and activity level: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/177/6/504.full This study found, and mentions several others that also found, that fish consumption has an inverse association with prostate cancer risk.

        • John Duda

          I agree with mbglife’s reasoning against eating fish and eating algae-derived DHA/EPA instead. Obviously, for the average person on this planet which is really what the UN report is trying to address, eating fish may be a healthy alternative to eating a Western diet or other type of unbalanced non-plant based diet. However, I have yet to see compelling evidence that someone eating a phytonutrient-dense plant-based diet with algae-derived DHA/ EPA supplementation, would benefit from eating fish. Obviously, there are few studies on the topic, but I can come up with several compelling reasons not to eat fish, as others have mentioned above, and on balance, I feel the potential risks outweigh the potential benefits. To his credit, I once asked Dr. Greger to provide me with compelling health concerns with eating pasture-raised, locally grown egg whites, in moderation, and he admitted he could not. I still don’t but I do provide that information to my patients.

    • mbglife

      For the sake of discussion, let’s say that the FAO report is correct. But if you can get the same benefit of DHA/EPA from algae, which is where the fish get it in the first place, then isn’t that just a better approach. Plus, not re-references in this video is Dr. Greger’s past videos on parasites and other risks from eating fish. I just don’t see the reason for eating the fish, except for the flavor, which, speaking just for me, that’s just not worth it.

    • Joe

      I think there has never been a better time to eat low on the food chain. Considering the vast majority of the 100,000 synthetic chemicals in circulation have never been safety tested, I think it is safe to say that research looking at 1 or 2 containments can be considered a little limited.

      Of course, you have every right to choose fish if you think its the best choice. For me, I prefer the algae.

      I’d be interested in your opinion: seen as your in the Salmon industry, what do you think about the GMO salmon due to go commercial soon? Do you think its a good thing, or will it damage the industry?

      • http://www.cermaq.ca Grant Warkentin

        Hi Joe, No one in the Canadian salmon farming industry is interested in farming GMO salmon. There’s a statement here: http://www.aquaculture.ca/files/article-2010-09-10.php

        We have built up broodstock programs through decades of traditional animal husbandry to raise fish that are well-suited to the environments where we farm and see no need for GMO salmon eggs.

  • justme

    Fascinating!! Thank you for this information.

  • chikichan

    Mercury Exposure in Young Adulthood and Incidence of Diabetes Later in Life
    The CARDIA Trace Element Study

    Ka He, MD, SCD1⇑,
    Pengcheng Xun, MD, PHD1,
    Kiang Liu, PHD2,
    Steve Morris, PHD3,
    Jared Reis, PHD4 and
    Eliseo Guallar, MD, DRPH5,6,7
    http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/36/6/1584.full

  • livininparadise

    With the information we have about the quality of nutrition of eating an all plant based diet, there is no reason to eat flesh.

  • Sebastian Tristan

    I wish I had a handy link at hand, but from some research I did some time ago, such plants like coriander help flush the heavy metals from the body. On another note, I wish I had all this knowledge when I used to be a pescetarian.