Lou Gehrig loved pickled eels. Nobody thought it mattered much and when he got sick with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), no connection between the eels and the disease was made. Now, however, new research is shedding on light on a possible connection between the habit and the disease.
In the last decade, researchers have isolated an amino acid known as BMAA (β-methylamino-ʟ-alanine) that is known to cause certain proteins to fold improperly when it is used by our cells instead of the normal amino acids our body uses to make protein.
BMAA is normally made by most species of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria. These algae are present at varying levels in most standing water and in certain areas of the ocean, and when animals live in these areas, the food they eat is almost always contaminated with BMAA.
Amounts of BMAA in certain foods can vary widely, but reported levels are found to be very high in eels, crabs and other crustaceans and certain fish. BMAA has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease as well as ALS.
These are certainly some of the most frightening diseases that exist and most of us would do almost anything to avoid the risk of getting them. Certainly there are more factors that are involved in getting any of these disorders than simply whether we eat seafood or not, but it seems like a much easier thing to avoid regular consumption of seafood than to drop ice all over your body.
However, there is a fact that has yet to be investigated that I think is important to know. Over a third of the global sea haul is fed to pigs, chickens and cows that we then eat. It is very likely that this seafood is at least somewhat contaminated with BMAA. BMAA also accumulates in animals that eat it. So when these livestock are eating this seafood, the levels in the livestock may be much higher than they are in the seafood to begin with. Nobody has yet investigated BMAA levels in our meat supply, so caution is warranted there as well.
BMAA is a newly identified toxin, so things may change as new information comes in. The good news is, you can be very healthy without any seafood whatsoever, so enjoy your sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, peas, beans, lentils and rice without any fear of BMAA.