The Catch of the Day: Are High-Seafood Diets a Risk for Forever Chemicals?

As people seek healthier dietary choices, seafood often emerges as a favored option. Rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential vitamins and minerals, it seems like the perfect addition to a balanced diet. However, recent studies have raised concerns about the potential risks associated with consuming seafood: specifically, the exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals.” PFAS are often referred to as forever chemicals because they do not break down easily in the environment and can remain in the human body for years.

PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that are used in a variety of industrial and consumer products, including non-stick cookware, food packaging, and firefighting foam. These chemicals have been found to persist in the environment and accumulate in the food chain, including seafood, thus prompting questions about their safety for human consumption.

The Connection Between Seafood and PFAS

Studies have highlighted the connection between high-seafood diets and increased exposure to PFAS. A recent study from Dartmouth College found that individuals who consume a high-seafood diet may face increased exposure to PFAS. The study analyzed the levels of PFAS in seafood samples from various locations and species. Results showed that some types of fish and shellfish, particularly those sourced from contaminated waters or species higher up the food chain, contained higher concentrations of PFAS. These findings suggest a potential risk for individuals with high-seafood diets, emphasizing the need for consumers to be mindful of the types of seafood they consume and the sources from which they are obtained.

Who Is Most at Risk?

People who consume large amounts of seafood, particularly from potentially contaminated areas, are at the greatest risk of PFAS exposure. This includes individuals who rely on seafood as a primary source of protein, such as coastal communities or certain cultural groups with traditional seafood-based diets.

Pregnant women, nursing mothers, and young children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of PFAS exposure. These chemicals have been linked to various health issues, including hormone disruption, an increased risk of certain cancers, immune system impairments, and developmental problems in infants and children.

What Can Be Done?

To mitigate the risk of exposure to PFAS from seafood, individuals can take several steps:

  1. Diversify Seafood Choices: Avoid relying too heavily on a specific type of seafood. Instead, consume a variety of fish and shellfish from different regions to reduce the risk of PFAS accumulation.
  2. Check for Advisories: Stay informed about local fishing advisories, which may include warnings about PFAS contamination. Many state and local health departments provide guidelines on safe seafood consumption.
  3. Choose Low-Risk Species: Some fish species have lower levels of PFAS accumulation. Opt for options like salmon, sardines, or anchovies, which are generally lower in PFAS compared to larger predatory fish such as tuna or swordfish.
  4. Consider Organic and Farmed Seafood: While farmed seafood may not be completely free of PFAS, it may have lower levels compared to wild-caught species in certain areas.
  5. Advocate for Regulation and Transparency: Support efforts to regulate PFAS emissions and increase transparency in the seafood industry. This can help reduce contamination and provide safer seafood options for everyone.

Seafood remains a valuable part of a healthy diet, offering numerous health benefits. However, it is essential to remain vigilant about the potential risks associated with ‘forever chemicals.’ By making informed choices about the types and sources of seafood, individuals can enjoy the benefits of a high-seafood diet while minimizing their exposure to PFAS. Stay savvy about your seafood options, and you can continue to reel in a diet rich in nutrition and free of unnecessary risks.

The contents of this article have been reviewed by Dr. Gregory Herman, Family Medicine provider with Shore Physicians Group. Dr. Herman, who has a care philosophy of moderation in everything and variety is the key to life, treats patients at Shore Physicians Group’s office in Marmora, located at 4 Roosevelt Boulevard in the Shop Rite Plaza. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Herman, call 609-814-9550.