So when she discovered that a disproportionate number of her patients were suffering from:
and loss of concentration, she suspected mercury poisoning.
Upon asking about their diets, she found these patients regularly ate large fish, such as swordfish, tuna and bass.
Unfortunately for Dr. Hightower, none of her peers were making a connection between fish consumption and mercury poisoning. One reason for their skepticism?
Most doctors did not really have a background in nutrition. But Dr. Hightower had studied medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. It was one of the first medical schools with a required nutrition class.
“Some students thought the class was a joke,” she recalls. “Food and nutrition had nothing to do with contracting non-infectious disease unless you were malnourished, they felt.”
So she realized that while trying to convince the medical community of the mercury-fish connection, she’d be on her own.
“I had the horrifying thought that I was walking the top of the fence between the image of a nutter and that of an academically concerned physician. I would need to become overwhelmingly competent in this subject, I soon realized, if anyone was to take me seriously.”
Fortunately for us, Hightower did become an expert on mercury poisoning. Diagnosis Mercury, retraces her meticulous investigation.
It began with asking other doctors and government agencies about her findings. She was concerned that she seemed to be the only physician diagnosing people with mercury poisoning.
Working her way through an international web of political intrigue, faulty research and industrial lobbying, she tracked the mercury polluting our waterways back to:
medical waste incineration
paper and pulp mills
She then mapped mercury’s journey from our polluted waters to our dinner tables.
Bacteria convert mercury to methylmercury, the form most toxic to people.
Plankton eats the bacteria.
Little fish eat the plankton.
Big fish eat lots of little fish.
People eat the big fish.
To verify her finding that fish consumption was causing her patients’ distress, Dr. Hightower asked 67 of them to avoid fish for six months. Nearly all their symptoms subsided.
Some of them, in fact, felt so good that they returned to eating large fish — and paid the price when their symptoms returned!
Much of my recent reading has focused on meat-related toxins. Most cows and chickens carry E. coli, salmonella and other dangerous bacteria. That’s why they’re dosed with even more antibiotics than humans!
But I’ve read much less about toxins in fish. Thanks to Diagnosis Mercury, I now know that large fish also contain polychlorinated biphenyls, better known as cancer-causing PCBs.
Just one more reason to stop eating fish.