I already break out in a cold sweat at the fish counter, so I didn’t exactly need Wednesday’s
New York Times article (registration required) about two recent studies that examine the pros and cons of eating seafood. The studies’ findings diverge so wildly that I’m even stupider about the issue than before I began reading.

The more controversial of the two studies, by the Harvard School of Public Health, found that seafood consumption reduces the risk of fatal heart problems by a whopping 36 percent and decreases the overall likelihood of death by 17 percent. Moreover, the Harvard researchers concluded that the benefits of eating omega-3-rich fish are so great that people should stop worrying about the risks posed by contaminants (like PCBs and dioxin) that routinely show up in our seafood supply:

Calling those risks ‘greatly exaggerated,’ Dr. Darius Mozaffarian, one of the two [Harvard] authors, said, ‘Seafood is likely the single most important food one can consume for good health.’

Wow. The second study, released on the same day by the Institute of Medicine, was less fish-happy: It concluded that seafood consumption “may” reduce the risk of heart disease, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to make any stronger claims. Previous research has indicated that omega-3 fatty acids from fish also “may” help control behavior problems and mood disorders in adults (though maybe not in kids—and don’t go stockpiling cod liver oil just yet, as there probably aren’t enough fish in the sea to sustain large-scale omega-3 demand).

Both the Harvard and IOM studies have come under fire for failing to address the huge sturgeon in the room: mercury contamination in fish. “Once again pregnant women are being told it’s O.K. to eat tuna,” Jane Houlihan, the research director of the Environmental Working Group, told Marian Burros, author of the New York Times article. “The reality is, 90 percent of women would exceed the government’s level for a safe dose of mercury if they ate six ounces of albacore tuna every week as the F.D.A., E.P.A and now I.O.M. recommend,” she said. For kids, mercury levels could be even worse under those guidelines, writes this blogger, who focuses on the link between mercury exposure and autism.

Feeling horrible yet? Why not just go have a tuna sandwich—eating fish has been found to ease depression!

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