14 August 2004

--- Bad News For My Favorite Fish

I like salmon. No, I'm lying. I love salmon.

Since November 1992 when I came across an informative article in the Circulation medical journal recommending the consumption of fish to prevent heart disease, I have always seen to it that I "consume two fish meals per week, with an emphasis on fatty fish (ie, salmon, herring, and mackerel)," as recommended both by the Philippine and American Heart Associations (PHA and AHA, respectively). That same article also said that "commercially prepared fried fish (eg, from restaurants and fast food establishments, as well as many frozen, convenience-type fried fish products) should be avoided because they are low in omega-3 and high in trans-fatty acids."

That began my love affair with salmon. I eat it cooked (sinigang, a Filipino favorite), or raw (in sushi or sashimi, Japanese). The taste is heavenly. I have never looked back and I enjoy it weekly. I also give it free publicity by recommending it to my patients.

Now comes this bad news that reveal a scientific study showing alarming "contamination levels of Polychlorinated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE) in farmed and wild salmon," and that highest levels are from European salmon farms, with Scottish farmed salmon having the second highest level. PBDE, a widely-used flame retardant, is a bio-accululative chemical contaminant, meaning the body does not break it down. While in the body it can exert deleterious hormonal and hepatic (liver) effects. [Scotsman.com News - Latest News - Warning after Toxic Chemicals Found in Salmon] Early this year, salmon also got bad rep when an extensive study (by the same people) identified significant levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in farmed salmon.

Another alarming finding is that
"these potential carcinogens are showing up where we should least want to find them, in wild salmon caught off the Oregon and British Columbia coasts.

"The casual response might be simply to not eat fish, which Americans in general do not eat often anyway despite the health benefits of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that cannot be derived from non-marine sources.

"But further inquiry shows us that traces of PBDEs also are found in milk, beef and other far more staple parts of the American diet.

"In November of last year, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives detailed the presence of PBDEs in the most vital meal in the human diet: breast milk.

"There is no adequate substitute for breast-feeding an infant, and the health benefits of eating fish are well documented. Discouraging those practices likely would increase malnutrition, especially in poor and minority communities that have less access to alternatives." [Seattle Post Intelligencer]
Salmon, beef, milk, and even breastmilk contaminated with potential and established carcinogens? What's next?

As a doctor, I caution patients from consuming too much fat from beef and pork products, but I assure them that it isn't that bad at all because there are healthier alternatives like chicken and fish. But when I hear bad news like this, I become sad and frustrated.

It's like implying that if you do not die of heart disease or stroke or diabetes, surely cancer will get you.

Surely, that is not how it should be. People must really be taught to take care of this planet and the environment. Pollution limits our choices to none.

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