Why This “Healthy” Food Can Cause Heart Disease

By on December 3, 2013
Think sushi is a healthy way to eat out without the guilt? Turns out it may not be so healthy–but it’s not the addition of mayonnaise, shrimp tempura, or molten cheese that makes this an unhealthy option.

“At the outset of this study, we did not anticipate that for some people sushi might be a major contributor to their risk from mercury,” says researchers of a new study published in the Journal of Risk Research, which examined mercury exposure and sushi intake. “These data thus suggest that East Asians and Caucasians are more at risk from mercury in fish because of their sushi consumption patterns, than were other ethnic groups.”

According to the study, which was published online earlier this month, a type of toxin called methylmercury was located in fish commonly used to make sushi–the highest levels found in fish such as swordfish, marlin, shark, and tuna. Worse yet, the highest levels of this toxin were found in tuna sashimi, a type of sushi popular in both Japan and the United States.

While it has been known in the past that certain types of fish carry mercury, researchers haven’t known until now that it also harbors dangerously high amounts of the methylmercury toxin.

“Methylmercury causes central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) damage,” reports the National Institutes of Health on its website, MedlinePlus. “How bad the damage is depends on how much poison gets into the body. Many of the symptoms of mercury poisoning are similar to those seen in cerebral palsy.”

In some cases, overconsumption could even lead to heart disease–a health problem few people associate with sushi.

The Study in Detail

In the study, which was led by researchers Joanna Burger and Michael Gochfeld, researchers examined the following two issues: How much methylmercury was present in sushi fish and how much fish consumers ate on a month-to-month basis. To do so, researchers interviewed a total of 1,289 people in an university community in New Jersey to gauge how much they ate on average.

“The 92% of interviewees who ate fish, ate an average of 5.06 fish and fish-sushi meals/month; 77% of interviewees reported eating sushi,” says researchers. “Caucasians and Asians ate more sushi meals/month, and more sushi pieces/meal than other ethnicities, with East Asians eating more than South Asians. Some people in all ethnic groups ate more than 40 fish-sushi pieces/ month.”

After interviewing the participants, researchers then collected sushi samples from stores and supermarkets in New Jersey, New York City, and Chicago to measure their mercury levels–and the results were alarming.

According to the data, these fish contained up to 0.61 ppm of methylmercury, equating to an intake of 0.34μg of methylmercury per week, exceeding the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended intake.

That’s not good, as exceeding this dose could cause serious side effects.

“Methylmercury damage is irreversible,” says the National Institutes of Health. “Treatment is determined by the severity of the condition and is similar to that given for cerebral palsy.”


If you eat sushi regularly, know the risks beforehand–and definitely limit your intake of fish that are high in mercury, such as mackerel, tuna, and swordfish. In fact, researches recommend that frequent sushi eaters switch to eating salmon instead, as this fish contains far less mercury than tuna or swordfish.

Readers: Do you eat sushi often?

Study: Sushi May Be
Why Sushi May Cause Heart Disease –

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