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The Effect of Canned Tuna on Future Wages

The mercury contamination in tuna and other fish may adversely impact future earnings by impairing brain function and leading to a loss of intelligence (IQ).

October 6, 2011 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited


Image thanks to chippenziedeutch.


. Earlier this year, Consumer Reports published some new tests on tuna,  confirming that just a single serving—like half a can of white tuna—would put women of childbearing age over the EPA mercury safety limit.  Light tuna tends to have less than white tuna, but they found sometimes it can have twice as much. Bottomline?  They recommend children and premenopausal women eat no more than a can a week and pregnant women avoid canned tuna entirely.

 Last year, scientists at the Harvard School of public health attempted to calculate what effect a reduction of mercury intake might have for our population given that  methyl mercury is "a known human developmental neurotoxicant, as well as may increase fatal heart attack risks.” They  calculated that if we could just cut back our mercury exposure 10%,we could save our country $860 million a year, most of which would be associated with reductions in fatal heart attacks and the remainder with IQ gains.

The  CDC estimates that every extra IQ point you have translates into about 1% future higher earnings in life, so lowering your mercury intake is healthy for your brain and bank account. Practically what does reducing methyl mercery exposure mean? Well, you can try not to live next to a volcano or coal-fired power plant, but  “Fish consumption is the major source of methylmercury intake.”

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 Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out the other videos on tuna. Also, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

For more context, check out my associated blog posts:  Mercury Testing Recommended Before Pregnancy, Tarragon Toxicity?, and Best Nutrition Bang for Your Buck

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. Be sure to check out the other videos on tuna. Also, there are 1,449 subjects covered in my other videos–please feel free to explore them!

  • paul3917

    Is this the place to post ask-the-doctor type of questions? If not, please remove this and post it in the appropriate place. My question is what is your opinion of the new book “Wheat Belly” which discourages the use of all grains, and wheat in particular. It’s confusing with so many divergent voices; one shouting High Carbs, and another, Low Carbs.

    • Toxins

      Hello Paul,

      To answer your question, when one looks through out human history, the primary source of nutrients has been a starch, such as grains or wheat. Obesity was never an issue in those times and carbohydrates are essential for energy. Carbohydrates are the most readily available fuel for our body and fat is only a secondary. Please view Dr. McDougall’s video on the starch solution and it will clear up a lot of your concerns.

      For more information on grains, check out these videos by Dr. Greger

  • Ronald Chavin

    On the other hand, the races in the U.S. that have the highest annual incomes (such as Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans, other Asian-Americans, and non-Hispanic whites) tend to eat fish more often than the races with lower annual incomes:

  • elayne

    help! suffering with arthritis. receiving therapy. what about diet???

  • elayne

    help with arthritis. I am vegetarian suffering with leg pain

    • Thea

      elayne: I am sorry to hear about your arthritis and leg pain. Dr. Greger has done several videos on this topic. Hopefully you can get some ideas that will help you. There are no guarantees, but other people have reported great success in stopping the arthritis pain after adopting a whole plant food based diet fortified with B12.

      For videos specifically about arthritis:

      For Dr. Greger’s nutrition recommendations (which should hopefully work for you situation):

      Bottom Line: Most vegetarians eat dairy and eggs – which are liquid meat in terms of their health effects. (At least according to my lay person’s understanding.) And some vegetarians also eat lots of processed foods. Getting rid of the diary and eggs and processed foods should help and at least wouldn’t be expected to hurt.

      Let me know if you would like some recommendations on switching to such a diet.

      Good luck!

      • elayne

        I do not eat dairy and eggs. I have been vegetarian for years but do eat fish. I just would appreciate any help. thanks xxxooo

        • Thea

          Ahh. Thanks for the clarification. I do recommend checking out the videos specifically about arthritis that I linked to above.

          You might also check out what we know about fish:

          Fish is just another form of meat. So, if you become convinced by the videos that meat is detrimental to people with arthritis, you might want to consider cutting fish out of your diet.

          Best of luck to you.