How Did Antidepressants Get into Your Fish Dinner?

Toxins in Fish

Other than having an allergy to it, most people believe eating fish is one of the healthiest things we can do for our body and brain—which in many cases is true. Yet, while we would like to think the seafood we buy is safe for us to consume, it’s hard to know for sure if any environmental conditions have tainted the fish we’re about to cook on the grill.

To this point, a recent research project at Florida International University discovered some alarming information about the sea life they have been studying. During the past few years, scientists analyzed the tissue and blood of more than 90 bonefish in Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. On average, they found 7 medications in each fish—one even had 17 different meds in it! Antidepressants, pain relievers, antibiotics, and blood pressure drugs were among the many ones identified. The same held true for the fish, crabs, and shrimp they prey on. And while bonefish in this area are “catch and release” only, many other ocean species live in the same waters too.

Antidepressants found in seafood? Do the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks? Click To Tweet

This is not the first time medications have been found in fish. For more than a decade, some biologists have known that numerous pharmaceuticals—most commonly antidepressants—are detectable in inland stream fish too.

Aside from being disturbing, the reason for this is pretty gross.

Anyone who takes a medication eventually eliminates it through their bladder or bowels, sending it into the septic system. According to ecologists studying this problem, the technology of many wastewater plants is insufficient to eliminate invisible contaminants, like medications, before the processed wastewater gets discharged into the ocean, streams, and other waterways.



Many species of fish can also be tainted with harmful toxins like mercury and other heavy metals, PCBs, dioxin, pesticides, and PBDEs (fire retardant chemicals used in a wide variety of consumer products). Like medications, they are often leached into the environment through wastewater.


While mercury occurs naturally in the earth’s crust, most of it found in the ocean comes from pollution caused by the burning of fossil fuels—such as coal—which gets washed into the water by rain and from being directly discharged as industrial waste. Unfortunately, many types of fish now have mercury in them, particularly the large deep-sea species. They eat more and tend to live longer so they have a greater accumulation of mercury in their tissues. Therefore, eating any of the following fish should be avoided—especially by young children and pregnant or breast-feeding women:

  • King mackerel
  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • Marlin
  • Tile fish
  • Orange roughy
  • Bluefin or big eye tuna


The practices in aquaculture can also be detrimental to your health. Mollusks, crustaceans, or fish are raised in crowded large tanks, sea cages, small ponds, or other types of enclosures. Antibiotics are commonly used to limit the spread of disease. In addition, pesticides, PBDEs, dioxin, and other chemicals have been found in the wastewater from these commercial operations. Salmon, oysters, perch, shrimp, trout, and tilapia are among the species farmed in the U.S., although other than tilapia, the non-farmed versions are available too—so be sure to look for these instead.


Although information like this might make you think twice about consuming fish, the health benefits still outweigh the risks and there are many valid reasons for having it in your diet.

  • Seafood is an excellent source of protein and is chock-full of important nutrients, such as vitamin D, riboflavin (B2), phosphorous, calcium, iodine, and other crucial minerals.
  • Fish contains all the essential amino acids our bodies need. Among many other functions, these are necessary for making neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, which are critical for our brain and mental health. A meta-analysis (review of multiple research studies) published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found evidence that high fish consumption can lower the risk for depression.
  • Coldwater fish is the best dietary source for the omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, which not only support mood and attention, but they’re also important for overall brain function, immunity, and promoting better cardiovascular health.

Because most types of fish and seafood are so good for us, it’s important to know which are the cleanest and best to eat.


Despite some of the hazards with certain types of fish and seafood, there are still many good options available. As a general rule, smaller species usually have lower levels of toxins (including mercury). However, since appearances can be misleading, make sure to read the labels of any products you plan to consume and ask questions at the counter in your grocery store, so you are informed about what you are buying.

To minimize the possible risk of accumulating any toxins, such as mercury, in your body, eat a variety of different types of fish—there are plenty to choose from. To the extent possible, avoid farm-raised products and choose wild-caught seafood whenever you can. Some good choices to include as part of a balanced diet are:

  • Anchovies
  • Atlantic mackerel
  • Catfish
  • Clams
  • Crab
  • Flounder
  • Hake
  • Herring
  • Mussels
  • Oysters
  • Perch
  • Pollock
  • Rainbow trout
  • Sole
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Skipjack tuna

And if you love to go fishing, make sure you drop your line far away from water treatment plants, industrial runoff, and other sources that pollute the water. It’s also important to stay up-to-date with any health advisories regarding the conditions at and near your favorite fishing spot, so you can safely enjoy your own catch of the day.

Even though it can be difficult to know exactly what is in the seafood—or any food—you eat, try not to let every shocking news story make you feel anxious about it. Do your best to educate yourself about the foods you love and let that information empower you to make the best decisions for your health and that of your family.

Toxic exposure, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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