What the Yuck: Mercury poisoning from sushi?
April 8th, 2011
12:49 PM ET

What the Yuck: Mercury poisoning from sushi?

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

Q: Can you really get mercury poisoning from eating too much sushi?

Believe it or not, you can. Mercury - a toxic heavy metal that can cause neurological problems - exists in high levels in such sushi staples as tuna (bluefin is one of the worst), mackerel, yellowtail, swordfish, and sea bass. (Other fish can contain a lot of mercury if they swim in polluted waters.)

So if you're eating sushi, particularly these bad-news varieties of it, more than six times a week, you could be getting too much mercury, as actor Jeremy Piven claimed he was.

I had a patient who came to me after surviving a heart attack. His doctor had told him to eat a high-fish diet, so he dutifully grilled tuna every day for a year. Then, he started noticing weird neurological symptoms. We tested his mercury level and it was through the roof.

So how can you detox your sushi platter? First, don't eat fish every day. If you're going to have seafood that often, at least cut back on the most mercury-filled varieties. Skip these types of fish entirely while you're pregnant and nursing, because mercury exposure can very seriously harm the development of a fetus or young child.

And don't serve it to your little ones, who can be affected by much lower levels of the metal than adults would. (In fact, very young kids shouldn't eat raw fish period because of the risk of food poisoning, which can be devastating.)

And if you start to experience symptoms such as tremors, vision problems, and irritability, or if you just want to know you're in the clear, ask your doctor for a blood-mercury check. If it's high, he may advise you to cut back.

Copyright Health Magazine 2011

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.