Mercury in Fish, Seafood May Be Linked to Higher ALS Risk

Eating fish and seafood with higher levels of mercury may be linked to a higher risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), according to a preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 69th Annual Meeting in Boston, April 22 to 28, 2017. However, fish and seafood consumption as a regular part of the diet wasn’t associated with ALS.

“For most people, eating fish is part of a healthy diet,” says study author Elijah Stommel, MD, PhD, of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “But questions remain about the possible impact of mercury in fish.”

While the exact cause of ALS is unknown, some previous studies have suggested mercury to be a risk factor for the disease. In the United States, the primary source of exposure to mercury is through eating fish contaminated with the neurotoxic metal.

Often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, ALS is a progressive neurological disease that takes away the ability of nerve cells to interact with the body’s muscles. Early symptoms of the disease can include muscle twitching and weakness in a limb. It typically develops into complete paralysis of the body, including the muscles needed to speak, eat, and breathe. There is no cure for ALS, and eventually the disease is fatal.

For the study, researchers surveyed 518 people, 294 of whom had ALS and 224 of whom didn’t, on how much fish and seafood they ate. Participants reported the types of fish they ate, and whether they were purchased from stores or caught when they were fishing.

Researchers estimated the annual exposure to mercury by looking up the average mercury levels in the types of fish and the frequency that the participants reported eating them. Swordfish and shark are examples of fish that are considered high in mercury, while salmon and sardines typically have lower levels. Researchers also measured the levels of mercury found in toenail samples from participants with ALS and compared those levels to people without ALS.

The study found that among participants who ate fish and seafood regularly, those in the top 25% for estimated annual mercury intake were at double the risk for ALS compared with those with lower levels. A total of 61% of people with ALS were in the top 25% of estimated mercury intake, compared with 44% of people who didn’t have ALS. They also found that higher mercury levels measured in toenail clippings were associated with an increased risk of ALS. Those in the top 25% of mercury levels, based on fish-related intake or toenail clippings, were at a two-fold higher risk of ALS. These findings need to be replicated in additional studies.

The authors emphasize that this study doesn’t negate the fact that eating fish provides many health benefits. However, the study suggests that the public may want to choose species that are known to have lower mercury content and avoid consuming fish caught in waters where mercury contamination is well recognized. More research is needed before fish consumption guidelines for neurodegenerative illness can be made.

Currently, the FDA health recommendations for women of childbearing age and children are to eat two to three weekly meals of species such as salmon or sardines that have low mercury but are also high in nutrients such as potentially beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. The FDA recommends avoiding fish with the highest mercury levels, such as shark and swordfish. Check for waterbody-specific fish advisories when consuming fish caught by family or friends.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Martha Stewart’s Pork Belly with Sweet and Spicy Glaze


3 chile de arbol
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup light-brown sugar or cane sugar
1 piece (3-pound) pork belly
zest of 1 orange
1-1/4 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
2 sticks cinnamon
1/3 cup maple syrup
2 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock


  1. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast chiles until charred and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove chiles from skillet and set aside. Add cumin seeds to skillet and toast until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Place chiles and cumin seeds in a spice grinder and finely grind. Transfer to a medium bowl along with black pepper, salt, and sugar. Remove two tablespoons of the spice mixture and set aside to make the glaze.
  2. Rub remaining spice mixture all over pork belly. Cover and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine reserved spice mixture, orange zest, 1/4 cup orange juice, cinnamon sticks, and maple syrup. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook until slightly thickened and heated through, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set glaze aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
  5. Remove pork belly from refrigerator and rinse off spice mixture; pat dry with paper towels. Add remaining 1 cup orange juice and chicken stock to a roasting pan. Place over medium-high heat and cook until liquid just comes to a simmer. Add pork, fat side up, to roasting pan. Transfer to oven and cook until meat is very tender and easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 2 to 2-1/2 hours.
  6. Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees. Cook pork belly until browned and crisp, 30 to 40 minutes more, basting with reserved glaze every 10 minutes.
  7. Remove pork from roasting pan and transfer to a cutting board; let stand for 10 minutes before slicing into 1/2-by-3-inch pieces.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Martha Stewart

In Pictures: Japanese Rice Bowl


What’s for Lunch?

Mediterranean-style Lunch at Cava Grill in New York City

The Menu

  • Grain bowl with saffron basmati rice and spicy lamb meatballs
  • Pita wrap with chicken
  • watermelon mint juice

The Restaurant

Major and Unexpected Sources of Sodium in the American Diet

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . .

You probably know that Americans consume way too much salt, but a new U.S. government report points the finger at some surprising sources of salt in the diet.

The report said the top 5 culprits were:

  • Bread.
  • Pizza.
  • Sandwiches.
  • Cold cuts and cured meats.
  • Soup.

Surprisingly, potato chips, pretzels and other obviously salty snacks didn’t make it into the top five, though they did ring in at number 7.

“Most Americans are consuming too much salt and it’s coming from a lot of commonly consumed foods — about 25 foods contribute the majority of salt,” said lead researcher Zerleen Quader. She’s an analyst from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Knowing which foods contribute the most salt is important for reducing your salt intake, she said.

Sodium is an essential mineral that helps the body maintain fluid balance, according to the American Heart Association. But, too much in the diet increases the risk for high blood pressure, which in turn boosts the risk for heart attack and stroke. Table salt contains about 40 percent sodium. One teaspoon of table salt has 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium, which is the maximum amount recommended by health experts.

The new CDC report found that in 2013-2014, Americans consumed about 3,400 mg of salt daily. That far exceeds the recommended amount, and is more than double the American Heart Association’s “ideal” intake of 1,500 mg daily.

And, clearly, all that salt doesn’t come from the salt shaker. Most comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods, the report said.

Many of these foods contain moderate amounts of salt, but are eaten all day long, Quader said. It’s not necessarily that foods such as bread are high in salt, but eating several slices a day quickly adds to the total amount of salt you consume.

One way to reduce salt is to pay attention to food labels when shopping and choose the lowest salt option, Quader suggested.

“When cooking at home, use fresh herbs and other substitutes for salt. When eating out, you can ask for meals with lower salt,” she added.

Quader said the food industry can help by lowering the amount of salt it adds to its products. Gradually reducing salt in foods can help prevent high blood pressure (“hypertension”) and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and won’t even be noticed by consumers, she said.

The CDC researchers found that 44 percent of the salt people eat comes from just 10 foods. These include bread made with yeast, pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts and cured meats, soups, burritos and tacos, salted snacks, chicken, cheese, eggs and omelets.

Seventy percent of salt in the diet is from 25 foods, the report said. Some of the foods included in the top 25 are bacon, salad dressing, French fries and cereal, the researchers found.

In addition, 61 percent of the salt consumed daily comes from store-prepared foods and restaurant meals. Restaurants have the saltiest foods, Quader said.

Processed foods not only raise blood pressure, but may also increase the risk for cancer, one nutritionist said.

Samantha Heller is a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City.

“Processed meats such as bologna, ham, bacon and sausage, and hot dogs have been classified as carcinogens by the World Health Organization,” Heller said.

In addition, these and other highly processed foods are huge contributors to the excess salt in the Western diet.

“Parents need to understand that feeding hot dogs, fries, and ham and cheese sandwiches to their kids (and themselves) is significantly increasing their risk for certain cancers, hypertension and heart disease,” Heller said.

Lowering salt in your diet is “as simple and as difficult as cooking at home and using fresh ingredients, as often as possible,” she suggested.

“This can save money and time in the long run, and certainly is better for our health,” Heller said. “It may take some time to re-pattern your shopping and eating habits, but your health is worth it.”

The report was published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Source: HealthDay

Read also at CDC:

Sodium Intake Among Persons Aged ≥2 Years — United States, 2013–2014 . . . . .

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