Fish has long been considered an essential part of a healthy diet, better for you than red meat. More than 3 billion people worldwide have fish in their daily diets, and many would face starvation or malnutrition without it.
The much-revered Mediterranean and Nordic diets include fish as a favorite source of proteins and healthy fat.
However, recent research suggests that high consumption of good fish varieties can have bad health consequences.
Specifically, a new study published in Cancer Causes and Control finds a link between consuming fish regularly and the incidence of melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
Facts about Melanoma
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and the most common cancer in the U.S. Over 197,000 Americans will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2022, and more than 7,600 in the U.S. will die from it.
Worldwide, melanoma kills 57,000 people annually, and the incidence is rising. Residents of Australia and New Zealand currently have the highest melanoma incidence rates in both men and women.
According to the Melanoma Research Foundation, the lifetime risk of getting melanoma is about 1 in 40 for Caucasians, 1 in 200 for Hispanics, and 1 in 1,000 for African-Americans.
Fish Consumption and Cancer Rates
Published in June 2022, the study is among the largest ever to examine the link between fish consumption and cancer. The investigation began in 1995, and participants were followed for the next 15 years. Nearly half a million Americans participated.
Higher Rates of Melanoma
People who ate the most fish (about 2.6 servings per week) experienced 22% more cases of melanoma than those who ate little to no fish (0.2 servings weekly, or about one serving every five weeks).
Put another way, people who routinely ate more than the equivalent of a half-can of tuna each day were 22% more likely to develop malignant melanoma. The incidence of precancerous skin changes (called “melanoma in situ”) was about the same.
Researchers were quick to advise that the study reflects a trend only at this point, not an underlying cause, and doesn’t mean we should stop eating fish.
They also said that even if a direct link is eventually found, the health benefits of eating fish could merit continuing to eat fish in some capacity.
11 Health Benefits of Eating Fish
As we digest this information, it’s an excellent time to review the health benefits of including fish in our regular diet.
1. Easy to prepare
Fish is easy to cook, and most people can find some type of fish they enjoy when prepared in a particular way. Salmon, one of the most beneficial types of fish, is often baked, fried, seared, or boiled.
Consuming fish twice a week is enough to reap its most significant benefits. Wild-caught fish is healthier than farmed fish due to higher levels of omega-3 and fewer artificial pollutants.
2. Offers many essential nutrients
Fish contain high-quality protein, iodine, and other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Wild-caught fatty fish are considered the healthiest. Popular fatty fish include salmon, trout, sardines, tuna, and mackerel.
3. Contains nutrients crucial to development
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is essential for human brain and eye development. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are a great source of DHA and are recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
However, since some fish are high in mercury, pregnant women are encouraged not to consume more than 12 ounces of fish weekly and to eat only low-mercury fish such as salmon, sardines, and trout.
4. Excellent source of vitamin D
More than 40% of the U.S. population is deficient in Vitamin D, for which fish is one of the best dietary sources.
Fatty fish like salmon and herring contain the highest amounts of Vitamin D. For example, you can get 100% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D from a single 4-ounce serving of cooked salmon.
Fish products are also high in Vitamin D. A single tablespoon of cod liver oil provides more than 200% of the adult daily value for Vitamin D.
5. May boost brain health
Although a mild decline in brain function is expected as we age, severe conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease also exist.
Studies have shown that consuming more fish can slow down the rate of mental decline. Those who eat fish every week also have more brain tissue in areas of the brain that regulate emotion and memory.
6. May prevent and treat depression
Studies have shown that people who eat fatty fish regularly are much less likely to suffer depression. In controlled trials, omega-3 fatty acids significantly increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medications and help with depression generally. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids are also considered dietary allies in treating bipolar disease.
7. May lower heart disease and stroke risks
Heart attacks and strokes are the two most common causes of premature death worldwide. Fish is considered a very heart-healthy food, and observational studies show that those who eat fish regularly have a lower risk of dying from heart disease.
8. May reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy body tissues by mistake. Studies link the consumption of fish products such as cod liver oil to a reduced incidence of Type 1 diabetes in children.
Some experts believe that fish intake can also lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis in adults.
9. May help prevent asthma in children
Asthma is a chronic inflammation of the airways. Regular fish consumption has been linked to a 24% lower risk of asthma in children.
Although adults also have asthma, the studies have found no significant positive effect from eating fish on asthmatic adults.
10. May protect vision in old age
Many older adults suffer from impaired vision and blindness because of age-related macular degeneration, or AMD. Evidence suggests that fish, particularly fatty fish, can help protect against AMD. One study linked regular fish consumption to a 42% decrease in the risk of standard AMD in women and a 53% decrease in neovascular AMD risk.
11. May improve sleep quality
Increased exposure to blue light (phone, computer, and television screens) is one of the reasons that sleep disorders have become so common worldwide. Vitamin D deficiency may also lead to poor sleep.
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