Fish with a side of plastic?

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Our ancestors thrived on eating fish fresh from the ocean. After all, fish is a pure source of protein and healthy omega-3 fats.

But our modern fish supply is vastly different than anything our ancestors ate. As our oceans have become more and more polluted, so has our seafood.

In fact, the fish on your dinner plate today is likely loaded with plastic trash.

Let me explain…

Every year, billions of pounds of plastic waste pour into our oceans and rivers. I’m talking about things like grocery bags, drinking straws, water bottles and more.

It’s now estimated that up to 51 trillion pieces of plastic contaminate our oceans.

In addition, millions of tiny microbeads flow into your local sewer system every day.

Manufacturers add these gritty specks to face and body scrubs, shower gels, toothpaste and other personal care products. They’re too small to be filtered out of our water supply.

Taking just one shower could result in 100,000 of these tiny plastic particles making their way into the ocean.

This trash is carried along the ocean’s currents in massive swirls that cover about 40% of the world’s ocean surfaces. These plastics are on almost every beach in the world and the polar icecaps.

And they don’t just float on the ocean’s surface. They’ve now made their way into deep sea sediments more than two miles beneath sea level.

These plastic particles act like a sponge. They pick up pollution, pesticides, bacteria, chemicals, flame retardants and heavy metals.

But they also absorb algae and bacteria and start smelling like fish. Tiny fish and other sea creatures mistake these particles for a natural food source. They gorge themselves on this junk.1 Much of that plastic ends up in their guts.

And by entering fish, these plastics enter our food supply. In a recent study, 25% of the fish sampled in markets in California had plastics in their guts.2

We already know that some of the chemicals in these plastics — like bisphenol A and phthalates — disrupt your hormones.

They lead to estrogen overload in men and women alike. They lower a man’s testosterone. They disrupt thyroid function to make you gain weight. They bring on extreme symptoms of PMS and menopause. They can lead to diabetes, neurological problems, heart disease, and infertility.3 They’re linked to breast and other hormone-related cancers.

These microplastics also cause lung and gut injury in people. The tiniest particles can cross cell membranes, the blood brain barrier and a mother’s placenta. They can cause oxidative stress, cell damage and inflammation.4

I don’t want you to feel like you have to stop eating fish. But it’s important to make smart choices to preserve the planet and your health.

Here’s what I recommend to my family and my patients:

Choosing the Right Kind of Fish

  1. Avoid this “fishy” mistake: After hearing that ocean fish are full of plastics, you may decide that farm-raised fish are a better choice…

    They’re not. Farmed fish are fed genetically modified corn, soy and canola oil. They’re fed antibiotics, chemicals, and growth hormones to speed up production. They also contain high levels of PCBs, dioxins, mercury and other toxins. And there is still no guarantee that they’re plastic-free.

  1. Know where your fish is on the food chain: Big fish feed on smaller fish and so on down the line. So the bigger the fish, the more plastic it contains. Overall, stay away from fish that are at the top of the food chain. This includes tuna, shark, swordfish, tilefish and king mackerel. These fish swim at the top of the food chain and they are the most contaminated fish in the world’s oceans.

    Try to stick to fish that are lower down on the food chain. They have a lower concentration of plastics. Good choices are herring, sardines, halibut and haddock.

  1. Know where in the world your fish comes from: The ocean with the largest amount of plastic is the North Pacific. That’s followed by the Indian Ocean, the North Atlantic and the South Pacific. Limit your fish consumption from these regions. The South Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea have the least plastic contamination.5

    Great-tasting fish from these regions include mullet, Spanish mackerel, red snapper, grouper and spotted sea trout.

  1. Be a smart consumer: If you can’t buy fish from a local source, ask the fishmonger in your grocery store where your fish comes from. I find them to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

    If your grocery store cannot guarantee where its fish comes from, I recommend ordering online. Today you can order fish from almost anywhere in the world. That way you can pick the fish you want, from the ocean you want. Most places fillet it, pack it on ice and send it out the same day.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS


1. Chelsea M. Rochman “Ecologically relevant data are policy-relevant data.” Science. 03 Jun 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6290, pp. 1172. DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8697.

2.
Rochman, C.M., Tahir, A., Williams, S.L., et al. (2015). “Anthropogenic debris in seafood: Plastic debris and fibers from textiles in fish and bivalves sold for human consumption.” Scientific Reports. 2015.

3.
Ziv-Gai, A., et al. “The effects of in-utero bisphenol-A exposure reproductive capacity in several generations of mice.” Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology. 2015.

4.
A. Dick Vethaak and Heather A. Leslie, “Plastic Debris Is a Human Health Issue.” Environ. Sci. Technol. 2016.

5.
Gray A. Plastic pollution: which two oceans contain the most? www.weforum.org

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