I’d like to preface this entry with my strong recommendation to read “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie. I talked about reading this book for my Toxicology I class back at the end of October. I had finally gotten the chance to finish it before the term ended in December, and I really loved what I learned about the classes of common chemicals in consumer products. It also really emphasizes the point that while we cannot avoid completely the dangerous chemicals we have synthesized and incorporated into our daily life, it does not mean that we should not be aware and attempt to limit the amount of contact we have. A large amount of control can be done by checking the contents of what products we are buying.
Figure 1. “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health” book cover.
Chapter 5: The Tuna Feast Experiment
Chapter 5 entitled “Quicksilver, Slow Death,” examines the dangers of mercury and how easily its levels are increased. The author who took this challenge, Bruce, monitored his mercury blood levels for several weeks while eating a diet consisting heavily on fish. This means a lot of sushi, sashimi, tuna steaks, tuna salads, tuna sandwiches, ect.
Figure 2. A nice, wholesome tuna sandwich.
During the tuna feasting experiment, the author was surprised to find how easily tuna levels had doubled after just 24 hours of his meals. What is even more alarming is that as the experiment went on, mercury levels continued to increase rapidly at an exponential rate, far above the “safe” level of mercury in the blood. It seemed as though mercury is easily accumulated in the body fat, but is not easily cleared out of body via metabolizing factors or excrement. This results in a chemical build up, which consequently changed Bruce’s normal personality and mood.
Relating to My Own Life
This chapter is is a prime example of how awareness can help prevent getting sick. The chapter starts by quoting an actress who went on a Mediterranean diet, which was built around eating tons of fish, including tuna. She started having fits of dizziness and fainting, and later she realized it was linked to the high mercury content due to her diet.
Figure 3. Cans of tuna…yuck.
Firstly, I think that this brings up a good point of why diets that emphasize eating only one type of food is bad. A key to a healthy life is a balance of many types of foods, and a diet could lead to a build-up of something that can harm you. In this case, it was mercury. In fact, I have had a first-hand experience with this. During my internship over my summer, I had eaten tuna with cucumbers and crackers every single day for lunch for a quick meal between lab experiments. I would attribute my headaches and ill feelings to the humid and hot weather, but when I had gotten so bad that I was going back and forth to the doctor constantly for a recurring UTI (something that has never, ever hit me before). After taking Tox I class, I now know that metals in high concentrations can act as an immuno-repressant, leaving your body highly susceptible to foreign or “bad” bacteria invasions.
Solution & Conclusion
A point they bring up in this chapter is about bioaccumulation. Larger fish live longer and eat smaller fish that also contain mercury. Because of this, large fish accumulate a lot of mercy. Being on the top of the food chain, human beings consume this large fish and get the highest dosage of the deadly mercury. Especially in a society where bigger is always better, we need to be aware of the build-up of these harmful substances in our food or else it will immediately make a large impact on our health.
Because of the biomagnification of mercury in larger fish, the authors suggest to try to eat smaller fish as suppose to larger fish as a possible preventative action.
Figure 4. Infographic of a mercury cycle
Hope you enjoyed this! If you do not have time or are not interested in reading all of “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” below is a link to chapter summaries. Perhaps they will intrigue you to pick up the book or download the eReader version.
LINK: “Slow Death by Rubber Duck” Chapter summaries