Fish Fears

[lake]The mitten state is famous for its five great lakes (remember H.O.M.E.S.?) and many inland bodies of water. With warm weather finally here, people around the state are getting their fishing licenses and reeling in potential supper from these various freshwater sources. But should they be eating the fish they catch?
The amount of contamination in fish depends on the type, size and location of the fish, according to John Hesse, an adjunct faculty member for MSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and the man responsible for managing Michigan’s fish consumption advisory program for much of his career. “What people need to know is that while there are some health risks from eating certain kinds of fish, there are also health benefits that fish are known for,” Hesse said. While fish is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, that promote cardiovascular health, what about those contaminants? Do they outweigh the good stuff?
History senior Rita Stephenson doesn\’t know where the fish she eats comes from, but she\’s not losing sleep over it. “I’m not worried about contamination because the FDA is supposed to regulate that stuff,\” she said. \”I don’t know anyone who has been poisoned from seafood, so it’s not a big concern of mine.”
A mercury invasion
Mercury was once a widely used element. Nearly every American household had mercury in items such as thermostats, batteries and paint. In 1970, however, a graduate student from Norway found that mercury was contaminating the fish in southeast Michigan, making them hazardous to humans. The contamination came from a Canadian factory that discharged anywhere from 200 to 1,000 pounds of mercury into the St. Clair River daily. “This is a huge amount considering one thermometer contains enough mercury to contaminate a 20 acre lake,” Hesse said.
After this discovery, Michigan became the first state to provide an advisory about mercury contamination in fish, warning consumers (especially women and children) to avoid eating certain types of fish from the contaminated areas. Since then, mercury use in the U.S. has decreased by about 85 percent, and factories known to discharge large amounts of mercury into the environment have eliminated mercury use. Tests have shown that mercury contamination in fish in southeast Michigan downstream from polluting companies have declined 90 percent over the years. “Since mercury is rarely used anymore in the U.S., I’m not worried about contamination in fish,” anthropology senior Emily Rinck said.
Mercury, however, continues to be problematic in inland lakes. Michigan has approximately 11,000 inland lakes, and of those, 70 percent are estimated to have mercury contamination. “In the first few years after the discovery of the problem in inland lakes in 1980, we were only able to test about 200 lakes,” Hesse said. “It would take us nearly 250 years to test all of the lakes, so it’s not practical to keep tabs on all of them.” The state has been checking several lakes on a regular basis to detect any downward trends since significant deduction of mercury has occurred. Burning coal to generate electricity is the major source of mercury to the environment. “Control of this source may be necessary before the widespread contamination of inland lakes is solved,” Hesse said.
Men are from Mars, women should avoid mercury
Although mercury can be harmful and potentially lethal at high exposure, women and children (mainly women of childbearing age and children under 15 years of age) are especially at risk. A fetus in the womb is four times more sensitive to mercury poison than the mother, so even a small amount of exposure can be hazardous. Some symptoms of mercury poisoning are weakness, fatigue, memory loss, headaches, narrowed vision, hearing difficulties, numbness or tingling around the mouth, lips, fingers and toes, and in extreme cases, even death. A fetus that has been exposed to mercury in the womb could develop learning disabilities, so pregnant women are advised to watch their fish intake more than the general public.
[dinner]Mercury has a half-life of 70 day in humans, which means all the mercury a person consumes will not stay in the body forever. “The amount of mercury in a person’s system will decrease by half every 70 days as long as there is no additional exposure,” Hesse said. “It will never be completely out of their system, though.” When preparing fish for consumption, there is no way to cut and remove the mercury because it is dispersed throughout the flesh. “I used to tell students that in order to get rid of mercury in a fish, they needed to hang it upside down in a freezer so all the mercury could fall to the head,” Hesse said. “Then I told them to cut off the head to remove all the mercury. I was joking, but they were so gullible.”
Some fish must be a certain length before they are legal to catch and eat. Common predatory fish like northern pike, walleye, and bass from our inland lakes are considered too contaminated to eat unlimited quantities of once they reach the legal length. Additionally, consumption of some panfish species, like perch and crappie, should be limited once they reach nine inches in length. According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, woman and children should not eat these species more than one meal per month because their mercury levels tend to exceed 0.5 parts per million, or ppm. No one should consume fish with an amount of mercury exceeding 1.5 ppm.
The 411 on PCBs
While mercury is primarily the problem in inland lakes, polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are the biggest contaminant in the Great Lakes. “PCBs are a class of chemicals represented by 209 possible compounds, depending on the number and location of chlorine atoms,” Hesse said. “These individual chemicals are referred to as congeners, some being relatively non-toxic, and others being very toxic.” These chemicals were introduced into the U.S. in 1929, and over 1.25 billion pounds of them have been used since then. Automobile manufacturing, electrical transformers and capacitors, and heat transfer systems are among the industries that used massive amounts of PCBs. Much of these PCBs were dumped into rivers leading to the Great Lakes, and although PCBs were banned in Michigan in 1975 and banned nationally in 1979, the past contamination is still evident today.
Unlike mercury contamination, PCBs are stored in the fatty tissues of fish. “If the fish is cleaned and cooked properly, a majority of the PCBs can be removed,” Hesse said. He recommends removing all of the skin, back and belly fat, and dark fatty tissue along the lateral line of the fillet. MDCH warns consumers against consuming fish with PCBs exceeding 2.0 ppm, the current FDA action level.
For fisheries and wildlife senior Dustin Adams, doing his own catching and preparation is enough precautionary action. “I cut, clean, and cook the fish I catch,” he said. “I don’t worry about contamination because I only eat fish about once or twice a month, and I usually know where it came from.”
There\’s more than sharks lurking in the ocean
The Great Lakes and inland lakes have gotten bad publicity for PCBs and mercury contamination, but ocean seafood can be even more dangerous. Large predatory fish such as swordfish and shark contain an average of 1.2 ppm mercury. In some cases, sharks were over four times the FDA approved mercury level, and swordfish were over twice the approved ppm, yet the FDA has allowed them to remain on the market. Why wouldn’t they enforce stronger regulations or advisories? “[The FDA] lost a court battle,” Hesse said, “and they were ordered to raise their mercury standard from 0.5 ppm to 1.0 ppm due to economic impacts on important marine species like swordfish and tuna, and they have been hesitant to enforce anything since.” Regular meals of shark and swordfish may not be practical for the average college student’s budget (or it just might seem weird to have \”Jaws\” for dinner) but beware nonetheless.
[tuna]The Good > The Bad
College students obviously are not children, but most women in college are of childbearing age, so they should be more cautious when consuming fish. But don’t toss Charlie Tuna to the curb just yet, ladies; fish can pack a lot of nutrition into a balanced diet.
Eating both freshwater fish and seafood can provide great health benefits. Fish is high in protein, low in saturated fat, and high in essential vitamins and minerals. In Michigan, the sport fishing industry employs nearly 20,000 workers and brings in an estimated $1.5 billion to the economy. While there are fish that are slightly contaminated, following guidelines for fish consumption as outlined at can keep consumers informed and safe. Know what you should be eating, what you should avoid eating, and what you are eating; then adjust accordingly. “Don’t be scared to eat fish because of one contamination story you hear,” Hesse said. “Even doctors don’t always know what to suggest for fish consumption, so look to the advisory for necessary information about which fish to eat or not eat.”
Know your fish – being informed lets you have your crab cake and eat it, too.

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Stimulating Snacks

[garlic]Close your eyes and think about foods that set the mood for a steamy evening. Chocolate covered strawberries, whipped cream, and bunches of grapes probably come to mind, but what about orchid bulbs, garlic, snails, and pistachios? The libido boosters of our ancestors might seem far less appetizing, but the ancient Greeks may have been on to something – whether or not there is scientific evidence to back it up. \”If you believe that eating certain foods makes you feel sexy, then eating those foods is stimulating,\” said certified sexologist Andrew Barclay. \”It\’s not what you eat, though, it\’s what you think.\”
Students have mixed feelings about eating foods to get them excited. \”Foods that make you feel happy can definitely help in the bedroom,\” said business administration sophomore Colby Miller. But others are skeptical. \”It\’s all mental,\” said international relations sophomore Mark Bassily. \”I don\’t buy into any of that crap.\”
The effects of aphrodisiacs may vary from person to person or culture to culture. Some of the things we eat every day are considered powerful aphrodisiacs, even if we\’re unaware of their potential. Certain foods used frequently in cooking certainly seem to lack sex appeal – such as garlic, as nobody wants to kiss someone with garlic breath – but in other cultures, they are thought to satisfy physical appetite while stirring sexual appetite.
More than nourishing and sexually pleasing after ingested, some aphrodisiacs are simply visually stimulating. For example, a banana resembles male genitals, while an oyster may represent female genitalia, and both foods are thought to be aphrodisiacs. Additionally, certain textures add erotic pleasures. Foods with smooth, melt-in-your-mouth textures including chocolate and avocados are said to heighten sexual stimulation.
Science and sexuality
While most aphrodisiacs are attributed to myth and legend, some are backed by scientific research. Scientists have discovered that some foods with strong aromas increase the flow of blood to the genitals. Additionally, spicy foods cause an increase in heart rate and sweating similar to bodily activities during sex. According to most healthcare professionals, aphrodisiacs simply have a placebo effect, but vitamins and minerals in some foods may be the cause for a libido lift. Oysters, a classic aphrodisiac, contain zinc, which raises sperm and testosterone levels, making men frisky. Eggs, symbolic of fertility, contain B vitamins that balance hormones and relieve stress, which could mean more booty calls. Asparagus, known as an aphrodisiac mainly because of its shape, is high in folic acid, which increases the production of histamines needed to orgasm.
Say what?
Many of the aphrodisiacs thought to be the most powerful libido stimulants may not be lying around the typical college frat house or dorm. One such herb is Horny Goat Weed (the phrase \”horny as a goat\” comes from this plant), which was discovered by thousands of years ago by a Chinese goat feeder who noticed his goats\’ sexual appetite immensely increased when he fed them the plant. In Spain, Spanish fly, a type of beetle, has been used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. It is said to contain chemicals that cause women to have sensations in sensitive membranes, making them desire sex. \”I would stay away from Spanish fly because I have heard bad things about urethral irritants,\” said Barclay. \”Besides, having a burning sensation when you pee is yucky.\” The bark of the African yohimbe tree has been known for treating impotence long before Viagra hit the market. It was used for centuries in West Africa as a tea to increase fertility. \”Yohimbine is really the only known aphrodisiac,\” said Barclay. \”The reasons behind the sexual stimulation are not clear. It does appear to increase blood flow to the pelvis and provide mild irritation of the urethra.\”
Splurge on saffron
[chocolate]Some fancy foods are also considered to have a positive effect on sex drive. Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, contains picrocrocin, a chemical that makes private parts more sensitive. Ancient Greeks and Romans considered truffles (the fungus, not the chocolates) to be a turn on, but they cost over $350 per pound. The rare and fragrant aphrodisiac\’s musky smell resembles that of chemical hormones in male pigs. Foie gras, another luxurious food (which seems less luxurious knowing that it is made by force-feeding a goose for several months without allowing it to exercise, then removing its liver, which is then soaked overnight in wine or milk and then baked), is said to put consumers in a sexy mood with its high status and buttery texture. How many people are really willing to splurge for sex drive? \”I wouldn\’t spend a lot of money on aphrodisiacs because there are cheap alternatives,\” said finance junior Patrick Burgess. \”Cheap chocolates would work just as well as expensive ones.\” Poor college students do not despair; these are just a few aphrodisiacs that happen to be expensive. There are still multiple others that may cost as little as a box of Easy Mac.
Simple pleasures
So what can you find in your own home to increase sex drive (as if college students really need to worry about that)? Coffee may be more than just the beverage that wakes you up for class; it may also stimulate the mind and body for a long night of passionate lovemaking (and if that is not an option, it does still help you stay awake to study for finals…if you can concentrate). Honey is another inexpensive treat that may increase sex drive. It was believed to be the nectar of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, and ancient Egyptians used it to cure impotence. Chocolate is commonly thought to be an aphrodisiac; whether it is in the form of cake or mousse, there is something sexy and romantic about it. Aztecs believed that chocolate, with its mood enhancing chemical complex, made women lose their inhibitions and men become more energized. Cinnamon, which creates heat within the body, gets its aphrodisiac status from its sensual smell and savory taste. Cinnamon oil has been rumored to produce stimulation when rubbed on and around genitals. These inexpensive, easy-to-find ingredients can spice up foods, leading to more spice in the bedroom.
Stereotypical mood-setters
Movies, romantic novels and magazines have shown us which foods are sexy, but let\’s face it – baths in a tub of champagne and bikinis made of whipped cream are not typical in everyday life. Some household aphrodisiacs, however, barely seem appealing in the bedroom. For instance, mustard was considered an aphrodisiac by early Europeans because it causes a rise in adrenaline, similar to a sexual adrenaline rush. Celery, thought to be an aphrodisiac since the Middle Ages, contains nutrients that stimulate the release of sexual hormones. Another aphrodisiac that may be on your spice rack is basil, which supposedly increases fertility. Cultures from India to Italy regard this herb as a symbol of love. Who knew you might have so many arousing foods in the kitchen?
Sex busters
Everything on earth has an opposite, and aphrodisiacs are no exception. Anaphrodisiacs are foods that supposedly decrease sexual energy. While this list is much shorter than the list of aphrodisiacs, anaphrodisiacs seem far less obvious. Ancient mythology tells lovers to stay away from lentil, dill, watercress, water lily, and lettuce (maybe moms have alternative motives in telling you to eat your greens).
[booze]Maybe other foods are big turn-offs, too. \”Anything that doesn\’t taste good to you won\’t turn you on,\” said journalism junior Brittany Ghiroli. And, alcohol could be an obvious inhibitor. \”Too much alcohol interferes with sexual enjoyment,\” said Barclay. \”It keeps guys from getting hard, and unless you like having sex with a corpse, it\’s no fun for women, either.\” So unless necrophilia is appealing, keep the booze to a minimum.
Simply irresistible
Now that you know how aphrodisiacs work physically and psychologically, you might find yourself looking at things like cinnamon and basil a bit differently. Whether you feel like sticking to a common aphrodisiac (chocolate), trying something on the expensive side (caviar), getting some exotic herb (Horny Goat Weed) or all of the above, the practice of using aphrodisiacs is ancient, so thank your ancestors for discovering ways to spice up the bedroom.

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Don\’t be Chicken

[chickens]In a country where cell phones cause brain tumors, sugar substitutes lead to cancer and anime cartoons result in seizures, everyday life can seem saturated with health risks.
Some may have scientific backing, but others – like contracting sexually transmitted diseases from touching doorknobs – are not backed up by any feasible research. “I never buy into the so-called epidemics they show on the news,” zoology senior Jake Gunn said. “I would never leave the house if I were always scared of being sick. Life is all about risk, and I’d rather take my risk catching an illness instead of locking myself indoors.”
One health concern receiving vast media attention is avian influenza, commonly known as the bird flu. The virus has actually been in and out of the news for the last 10 years, since the current troublesome strain first appeared in Hong Kong in 1997. Although it is unlikely to become a problem in Michigan, experts are still preparing for possible outbreaks. So, should MSU students be worried that their favorite winged creature could get them sick?
H5N1, Do You Copy?
The virus, which is found in several bird species, has a variety of types. Many birds carry different forms of avian influenza that are no threat to humans; most are not even a mortal threat to birds. Richard Fulton, an avian pathologist at MSU, said the virus that is lethal in birds and has most commonly affected humans is known as H5N1, or Avian Influenza A. “Humans are not susceptible to every type of avian influenza,” Fulton said. “People just think that there is one kind of bird flu, but there various kinds of avian influenzas, H5 being the type some humans have contracted.” Humans usually contract the virus after close contact with an infected bird or raw poultry.
Associate professor of animal sciences Daniel Grooms explained that the virus acts quickly in birds, and there is no current treatment for infected birds. “Farmers have reported that chickens would act oddly one day, not eating regularly,” Grooms said. “The next day, farmers would find them dead. As soon as the virus is detected, the farm is quarantined, and all the birds are euthanized. It is done humanely.\”
[flu]Effects of H5 are far worse on birds than on humans. Symptoms of affected people include cough, sore throat, fever, eye infections, muscle aches and other normal flu-like symptoms. Only in rare cases have humans died from this virus. Grooms said that the largest at-risk groups are those with weak immune systems, including children and the elderly.
Turn Up the Heat
Luckily for chicken and turkey lovers, poultry can be consumed even in areas experiencing an outbreak. The H5N1 virus is sensitive to heat, which means normal temperatures used for cooking will kill the virus. All parts of the poultry must be fully cooked, leaving no pink spots, and eggs should have no runny parts.
“What a lot of people don’t realize is that the virus can easily be killed,” Fulton said. “Some of the things that can kill this virus are sunlight, soap and water, household bleach, and cooking temperatures. Once poultry is fully cooked and not exposed to the virus thereafter, it’s perfectly edible.” Like moms always say, wash your hands, brush your teeth, and don\’t forget to cook chicken thoroughly to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pandemic Proportions
Outbreaks of the virus have been found in Asia and Europe – most recently in the United Kingdom – and the U.S. government is trying to prevent it from spreading to the Americas. As of early February, there have been about 270 confirmed cases of avian flu in humans, 165 of them resulting in death.
In order to be a pandemic, around 25 percent of a population covering a large geographic area would have to be infected with the flu. Grooms said that a bird flu pandemic is unlikely, unless the virus mutates to become more lethal. If someone was infected with a human flu virus and the avian flu virus at the same time, the viruses might exchange genes. This could result in a new strain of the virus that could be easily transferred among humans.
Research has shown that the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic was an avian flu virus. It killed 50-100 million people in just 18 months, making it the most deadly flu pandemic in history.
The World Health Organization is currently categorizing H5N1 as a phase three pandemic – a virus new to humans that is causing infection, but one that does not spread easily from one person to another. At this time, the bird flu appears to be a minimal threat, and doctors have been able to keep it under control.
A Foul Migration
The U.S. exports more poultry than it imports, and there is a list of affected countries from which poultry imports in to the U.S. have been discontinued. Some of these countries are China, Thailand, and Indonesia.
“The only way that chicken or other poultry from those countries that have had outbreaks would get across our borders would be through illegal importation,” Fulton said. This may be a problem, as police already seized over 1,600 pounds of chicken and pork in a warehouse in Troy, Mich., in 2006. The meat and poultry were from areas in China known to be infected with the virus. No one has reported contracting avian influenza from these smuggled foods.
Besides imported poultry, migration has also been a concern. Birds that migrate from Asia to Alaska in the summer could potentially transport the virus, but Fulton said that this is an inadmissible problem. “In Alaska, scientists took samples from 16,000 birds, and none posed a serious threat,” Fulton said.
Hot Shots
[store]Government agencies in Michigan have been working with local farmers and wildlife experts to keep the bird flu out of the state. The Michigan Department of Community Health is not at all concerned that a pandemic is near, but they keep a close surveillance over farms and livestock to make sure nothing serious develops. By keeping a constant watch for signs of H5N1, farmers and health officials hope to stop any viruses before chickens become infected and lose any chance of becoming a Happy Meal.
There are vaccines and antivirals for people if the bird flu does become a problem, so if you fear shots, be glad that the virus is currently tough to catch (sorry, but doctors still recommend getting regular flu shots). MDCH has a checklist to help people prepare their homes or businesses if a pandemic breaks out, but this is unlikely unless the disease crosses the border.
Poultry Love
Avian influenza may still be a health risk overseas, but in the U.S. it looks like KFC lovers can relax for now; the Colonel’s crispy chicken sandwich will not be causing you to grow feathers anytime soon.
“People should not isolate themselves in fear of getting sick from the bird flu,” Grooms said. “They need to be educated and aware about the threat and learn how to protect themselves if needed.”
So has the fear of bird flu stopped MSU students from ordering poultry?
“If there was a bird flu outbreak in Michigan, I might give it some thought,” English senior Justin Schramm said, “but it hasn’t affected my life even a little bit yet.”
Next time you order chicken nuggets or extra turkey on that sub, be thankful that the U.S. has not fallen victim to the bird flu. But you might want to cut back on the anime.

For more information on avian influenza, visit The Michigan Department of Community Health website at

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