Harvard Women's Health Watch

In Brief: Experts say benefits of eating fish outweigh possible risks

In Brief

Experts say benefits of eating fish outweigh possible risks

The role of fish as a health food is controversial. On the one hand, we hear that it's full of beneficial nutrients and, on the other, that some species contain mercury and other toxins, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Adding to the confusion are arguments over the safety of farm-raised versus wild-caught fish. Two reports, released in October 2006, weighed in on the benefits and risks of eating fish and shellfish.

The Institute of Medicine's (IOM) 450-page Seafood Choices: Balancing Benefits and Risks reviews the scientific evidence and recommendations from government and private health groups. The other report, published in the Oct. 18, 2006, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), is an analysis of studies on fish and health by researchers Dariush Mozaffarian and Eric B. Rimm at the Harvard School of Public Health. The reports differ in emphasis, but they concur in their main conclusion — namely, that the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks.

Fish and shellfish are high in protein and low in saturated fat. Many fish species are rich in omega-3 fatty acids — mainly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) — which are strongly associated with a reduced risk for heart disease and fatal cardiac arrhythmias. Omega-3s are also important for early brain development and show promise in lowering the risk of age-related macular degeneration, arthritis, dementia, and depression.

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