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.


  1. Great information. Ty

    Comment by Richard Hsmilton — June 29, 2022 @ 5:05 AM

  2. Very interesting article.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — June 29, 2022 @ 5:52 AM

  3. What about fish oil supplements?

    Comment by Lara — June 29, 2022 @ 6:57 AM

  4. Hi, I prefer fish to meat. I grew up in the Mediterranean area; I know how fresh fish should smell and taste. In this country and the area where I live ( Bucks county, PA) it is very difficult to find healthy , good , fresh fish.
    I have, assiduously, try to find and buy the number one fish on your list: Anchovies. What happen to this fish; why is it impossible to find it .
    Fresh sardines is also a problem
    I, certainly , will appreciate an answer and education from you. Thanks,
    Susan A.

    Comment by susan — June 29, 2022 @ 7:01 AM

  5. Should medical labwork testing start to include D3 as well as glutathione or other detoxification compounds? It is hard to get positive changes made in healthcare and I don't look for it to get any better any time soon. I'm just one of the people with a poor detoxification system to start with and already dealing with chemical sensitivities. I had better luck with a complementary medical center and a IFM MD in the past two decades to find my health glitches.

    Comment by EGN — June 29, 2022 @ 10:01 AM

  6. I have been studying this for years, and because Women's Health is my medical specialty, I have known since the 90's about the Mercury in Fish. I became aware of the medication issue when I worked with a grad student who was studying epigenetics in fish, and how medication pollution was affecting their fertility. It was the worst by the 3rd generation and caused many alterations in their reproductive system. With infertility an issue world wide…if you connect the dots, you will see a connection. Fish are very healthy for pregnant women (not fish oil, that has been chemically heated and treated to remove the mercury, loosing most of its benefits). Studies from Sweden have shown that high fish consumption in pregnant women increases the IQ of their offspring. So what to do?? Personally I take a mineral called Clinoptilolite daily that attracts, traps, and removes heavy metals from the body. And it is safe in pregnancy and can be used by women to help mitigate this issue. Just thought you might want to know.

    Comment by vicki latham PA-C — June 29, 2022 @ 10:42 AM

  7. We shouldn’t be consuming carcass. Dead bodies and their secretions are not food!

    Comment by Viy — June 29, 2022 @ 10:57 AM

  8. Drugs in our fish, hormones in our slaughtered meat, pesticides in our veggies…. sounds like we reap what we sow.

    Comment by Maria — June 29, 2022 @ 12:22 PM

  9. I truly believe that NOBODY should be eating any fish or any products derived from fish, and that includes Omega3 fatty acids. I live by the ocean and I can tell you that prescription drugs are the LEAST of your worries.

    Comment by Kate Kunkel — June 29, 2022 @ 12:51 PM

  10. Is there anything left on the planet, including vegetables, that 's safe to eat…

    Comment by Diane — June 29, 2022 @ 1:22 PM

  11. I did research in graduate a few years ago while working on my master of public health degree on pharmaceutical waste in the waterways. Drugs in our water supply do indeed come from human waste as you described above. A large share comes from wastewater around hospital catchments. Additionally, some comes from medications discarded by flushing them down toilets in households. Sadly, there are few means that I am aware of for discarding unused and expired medications besides toilets and landfills, neither of which are healthy for the environment. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs such as diclofenac as well as diuretics (think – urine) are devastating to some of our wildlife. If it can kill a vulture or eagle, it is not likely to be okay for humans!

    Comment by Gail McFarland, MPH, CNMT, RT(CT) — June 29, 2022 @ 1:25 PM

  12. excellent information!

    Comment by douglas morris — May 20, 2023 @ 12:13 AM

  13. Responding to the choices for ( "safe" ) disposal of pharmaceuticals, many pharmacies have drop boxes for unused medications.

    Comment by Fiona — October 2, 2023 @ 6:44 AM

  14. as long as we are run by the pharmaceuticals and not by our traditional medicines, although how much plants can take worries me.
    we are a filthy selfish species with little awareness of how we are destroying this planet
    wonder how much time we have got?

    Comment by penny waters — October 2, 2023 @ 11:17 AM

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