Ask a Maui Doctor: How Much Poke is Too Much?
Doctors at Minit Medical answer some of the questions submitted by readers.
Each week, a doctor from Minit Medical Kahului or Lahaina will answer questions that have been submitted by readers. Submit your own medical related questions to our doctors at email@example.com.
Questions submitted will be considered for inclusion in the “Ask a Maui Doctor” column.
Q: I love eating poke but what is the limit on eating seafood to avoid the risk of mercury poison?
A: Mercury poisoning can occur from exposure to mercury, a toxic metal. The most important toxic form of mercury in seafood is methylmercury.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning are stumbling gait, difficulty speaking, impaired vision and hearing, muscle weakness, fatigue, headache and irritability.
It’s clear that extremely high consumption rates of fish with great mercury concentrations, poisoning can occur. The concentrations are in areas with high pollution.
However, Hawaiʻi is at little risk when considering the naturally occurring background levels of mercury found in open ocean fish like tuna.
In fact, no single case of mercury poisoning from the consumption of Hawaiʻi fish has been reported. Also, no cases have ever been reported that specifically implicate open ocean fish like swordfish, tuna or marlin anywhere in the world.
There is very little consensus on what constitutes a recommended daily intake of fish due to mercury concerns as studies have drawn quite different conclusions. There is some guidance for pregnant women aimed at reducing prenatal mercury exposure of their children, although those conclusions vary as well.
Pregnant women guidelines:
EPA-FDA Joint Advisory 2004: 1 meal/week
World Health Organization: 3 meals/week
Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry: 3 meals/week
Seychelle Island Child Development Study (Univ. Rochester): 12 meals/week**
* A “meal” is a 6 oz. portion of fish. **Average fish consumption without any adverse health effects
If you are pregnant and concerned, stick to the guidelines above. Otherwise, it is highly unlikely you will develop mercury poisoning from poke.
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If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. Reliance on any information provided by in this article is solely at your own risk.