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Mercury Overdose From Sushi Reported As FDA Considers Softening Recommendations

Posted by Jane Akre
Friday, December 19, 2008 10:55 AM EST
Category: Major Medical, Protecting Your Family
Tags: FDA, EPA, Environmental Working Group, Mercury Toxicity, Chelation

Jeremy Piven drops out of Broadway play because of sushi mercury overload.  



IMAGE SOURCE:© Wikimedia Commons/ piece of salmon / author: Dezidor

IMAGE SOURCE: Jeremy Piven/ New York Times Theater web site


Fans of the HBO show, ”Entourage” know him as the snarky, over-the-top,  Hollywood agent.

Jeremy Piven, 43, was appearing in the current Broadway revival of “Speed-the-Plow,” but has backed out. His doctor reveals that he has mercury poisoning, likely from eating too much fish.

Piven’s doctor says he should not continue to perform because he is experiencing symptoms from elevated levels of the heavy metal, including excessive fatigue and exhaustion.

Dr. Carlon M. Colker is the medical director of the Peak Wellness Clinic of Greenwich, Connecticut and Beverly Hills, CA., a facility that works with elite athletes such as Andre Agassi to keep them in peak form. 

Dr. Colker tells the New York Times, that an initial battery of tests showed Mr. Piven had normal results.  Upon an interview, the doctor found out that his patient frequently ate sushi and consumed fish about twice a day. He also used herbal remedies.

Dr. Colker tested him for heavy metals which revealed “a very, very elevated level of mercury” in Mr. Piven’s blood - five to six times the upper limits typically measured.

A mercury overdose can result in heart problems, kidney failure, cognitive and memory problems or even be fatal.

This week Piven was hospitalized with exhaustion after his condition worsened.  William H. Macy will take over Piven’s role for the rest of the play’s run until February.


Mercury Contamination

Naturally some scoff at the diagnosis, but mercury is one of the most dangerous toxins on earth. Exposure to a fetus can cause permanent brain damage. Inhaled, mercury can cause death. Swallowing mercury can cause permanent kidney damage or death.

And the buildup is cumulative over years.

Speaking to the NYT, Dr. Roberta F. White, the chair of the department of environmental health at Boston University said, “The higher the fish is on the food chain, the more methylmercury there is likely to be,”

High on the food chain – swordfish, sea bass and certain tuna.



Treatment for a cumulative body load of mercury might involve chelator drugs that bind to the heavy metal and force it to pass out of the body.

Chelation involves IV treatment and is controversial.   Testing for heavy metal toxicity can be done by using chelating drugs to absorb heavy metal ions from the tissues and excrete them in the urine.  The urine is then tested for metal ions.  

The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine is currently undergoing a national Chelation Therapy study.

The Healthy Skeptic, reporting in the Los Angeles Times warns that chelating agents can be risky.


What Consumers Should Do

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), is a nonprofit organization that has taken the lead on environmental health research into mercury, recently ran head-on into the Bush Administration, which is trying to soften the recommendation on fish consumption.  

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a long-standing recommendation that pregnant women and young children should limit their intake of fish to avoid exposure to potentially harmful amounts of mercury.

But internal FDA and EPA documents obtained by EWG show the agency is mounting an eleventh-hour drive to suggest that the benefits of eating fish outweigh the mercury concern.  A 270-page draft of a study suggests pregnant women should eat at least 12 ounces of fish per week, which is a complete reversal of the current guidance.

This recommendation was met with opposition from EPA scientists as well as the EWG.

“Once a fearsome protector of public health, the FDA is now nothing more than a patsy for polluters,” said Richard Wiles, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, in a statement. 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), and other advocates put pressure on the FDA and EPA in 2004. As a result, both agencies issued a warning that advised women and young children should limit seafood consumption to no more than 12 ounces a week and albacore tuna to 6 ounces per week.

The warning advised against the consumption of: king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish due to their high mercury levels.

Bio-monitoring studies suggest as many as 1 in 6 pregnant American women have excessive mercury concentrations. The placenta carries mercury to the developing fetus, which can cause permanent damage to the developing brain and nervous system.

The EWG says if women were to follow FDA proposals that suggest consuming more than 2 servings of fish per week, they would have seven times the concentrations of mercury than women who avoid fish consumption. 

The agency should redouble efforts to encourage women to eat a balanced diet rich in low-mercury fish and other safe sources of omega-3 fatty acids, including shrimp, walnuts, margarine and wild salmon, according to the EWG. #

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