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Why you should cut back on eating shellfish

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Eating fish is good for us—but you can have too much of a good thing.

People who eat a lot of seafood—and especially shellfish and lobster—could have high levels of PFAS, human-made toxins that are known as ‘forever chemicals’ because the body can’t shed them.

Although we don’t yet know what effects PFAS could have on our health, scientists at Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine say it may be a good idea to reduce the amount of seafood in our diets.

“We’re not saying that you shouldn’t eat seafood—it’s a great source of lean protein and omega fatty acids—but it is a potentially underestimated source of PFAS,” said Megan Romano, one of the researchers.

There’s a risk-benefit trade off in eating fish, and it’s one that becomes more acute in women who are pregnant and in children, she added.

Up to now, most research has focused on PFAS levels in freshwater fish, but that’s not what most people are eating.  The researchers surveyed 1,892 people in New Hampshire to discover how much fish they were consuming and calculated their PFAS intake from that.

New Hampshire residents eat more fish than the average American, and favourites include cod, haddock, lobster, salmon, scallop, shrimp and tuna, often bought fresh in markets.

Shrimp and lobster clocked the highest PFAS levels, with averages ranging from 1.74 and 3.30 nanograms of PFAS per gram of flesh.  All the other fish had levels that were below one nanogram, per gram.

Overall, men in New Hampshire were eating around one ounce of seafood a day, while women were consuming a little less., and 94 percent of respondents said they had eaten fish or shellfish in the past month.

Researchers aren’t sure how PFAS get into fish, but they suspect shellfish may be more vulnerable because they live and feed on the seafloor.  Larger fish could ingest the toxins when they eat smaller fish.

PFAS are offshoots from manufacturing processes, fire-fighting foams and municipal waste, and they have been associated with cancer, fetal abnormalities, high cholesterol and thyroid, liver and reproductive disorders.

New Hampshire was one of the first states to identify PFAS in the drinking water.

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Exposure and Health, 2024; doi: 10.1007/s12403-024-00640-w
Article Topics: food, Shellfish, toxins
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