Vegan Health ArticlesFish Can Cause You Heart Disease
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From Dr. John McDougall M.D.

Mercury, fish oils, and risk of acute coronary events and cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality in men in eastern Finland by Jyrki Virtanen in the January 2005 issue of Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology found, “High content of mercury in hair may be a risk factor for acute coronary events and CVD (vascular disease), CHD (heart disease), and all-cause mortality in middle-aged eastern Finnish men.

Mercury may also attenuate the protective effects of fish on cardiovascular health.” More specifically, the high mercury content negated the so-called, protective effects of the “good” fish fats (like DHA, DPA, and EPA) on the blood vessels and heart. The toxic metal mercury comes to us mainly from eating fish.

Comment: Fish is promoted as health food, a preventative for heart disease, and the only “safe meat” to eat. Here is a case of a little bit of truth being blown way out of proportion. Fish fats (omega-3 fats) will thin the blood and make the formation of a potentially fatal blood clot in your heart artery less likely. (Remember, the sudden formation of a blood clot – thrombus – in one of your heart arteries is the cause of a heart attack – coronary artery thrombosis).

The problem is, mercury causes the blood to clot. Furthermore, the mercury is a powerful oxidant, producing free radicals, which damage your arteries. Fish muscle is inherently high in cholesterol, so eating it causes your blood cholesterol to rise.

In this study by Jyrki Virtanen, those people with the higher amounts of mercury in their hair (indicating more consumption of fish) also had higher total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels, and higher rates of hypertension and diabetes. This is the second major study to show this important health hazard of fish-eating.

An earlier study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, found that higher levels of mercury in toenail clippings predicted a greater chance of future heart attacks. 2 (Nails and hair accumulate mercury and provide evidence of long-term accumulation in the body.)

Environmental mercury is a major pollutant from industry. The toxic form, methylmercury, is accumulated and concentrated in the food chain.

Because fish are near the top of the food chain they have very high concentrations of this poison. At the very top of the food chain are fish-eating people (and, even higher up, their breast-feeding infants). Almost all of the mercury consumed is efficiently absorbed by our intestinal tract. Since our bodies have no way of excreting this toxin, mercury continues to accumulate throughout life, exerting its detrimental effects.

The final statements of the authors are worth noticing, “In conclusion, this prospective population-based study shows that high mercury content in hair is associated with increased risk of acute coronary events and CVD, CHD, and all-cause mortality, and that the beneficial effects of fish oils on the risk are negated by high mercury content in hair. Does this mean that contrary to the current recommendations for a healthy diet, we should not eat fish? No, but we should vary the type of fish we eat (plankton-eating, fatty fish is usually low in mercury, although it may contain other lipid-soluble environmental pollutants) and avoid regular intake of large fish from lakes with known high mercury content.” This is another case of scientists’ personal eating habits getting in the way of their judgment and honest recommendations for the public.

The truth is: eating fish will give you a heart attack, not prevent one – and they should have the integrity to say so. And to tell the public that the least amount of environmental mercury is found in foods low on the food chain – a diet of starches, vegetables and fruits. This same diet is also proven to prevent heart attacks and reverse the underlying mechanisms causing heart attacks – atherosclerosis and thrombosis.

You can read more about these subjects in my newsletter archive articles found at See August 2004: A Cesspool of Pollutants – Now Is the Time to Clean-up Your Body; and February 2003 – Fish Is Not Health Food.


1) Virtanen JK, Voutilainen S, Rissanen TH, Mursu J, Tuomainen TP, Korhonen MJ, Valkonen VP, Seppanen K, Laukkanen JA, Salonen JT. Mercury, fish oils, and risk of acute coronary events and cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and all-cause mortality in men in eastern Finland. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2005 Jan;25(1):228-33.

2) Guallar E, Sanz-Gallardo MI, van't Veer P, Bode P, Aro A, Gomez-Aracena J, Kark JD, Riemersma RA, Martin-Moreno JM, Kok FJ; Heavy Metals and Myocardial Infarction Study Group. Mercury, fish oils, and the risk of myocardial infarction. N Engl J Med. 2002 Nov 28;347(22):1747-54.


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We began this archive as a means of assisting our visitors in answering many of their health and diet questions, and in encouraging them to take a pro-active part in their own health. We believe the articles and information contained herein are true, but are not presenting them as advice. We, personally, have found that a whole food vegan diet has helped our own health, and simply wish to share with others the things we have found. Each of us must make our own decisions, for it's our own body. If you have a health problem, see your own physician.