Consumed widely in Asia, shark products may not be actually that healthy for humans as researchers have found high concentrations of toxins linked to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease in the fins and muscles of sharks.
“Our results suggest that humans who consume shark parts may be at a risk for developing neurological diseases,” said senior author of the study Deborah Mash, Professor of Neurology at the University of Miami in the US.
Fins and muscle tissue samples were collected from 10 shark species found in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans for concentrations of two toxins – mercury and beta-N-methylamino-L-alanine (BMAA).
“Recent studies have linked BMAA to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),” said Mash.
In a study published in the journal Toxins, the researchers reported detecting concentrations of mercury and BMAA in the fins and muscles of all shark species at levels that may pose a threat to human health.
While both mercury and BMAA by themselves pose a health risk, together they may also have synergistic toxic impacts.
“Since sharks are predators, living higher up in the food web, their tissues tend to accumulate and concentrate toxins, which may not only pose a threat to shark health, but also put human consumers of shark parts at a health risk,” the study’s lead author Neil Hammerschlag from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science said.
Shark products including shark fins, cartilage and meat are widely consumed in Asia and globally in Asian communities, as a delicacy and as a source of traditional Chinese medicine. In addition, dietary supplements containing shark cartilage are consumed globally.
“People should be aware and consider restricting consumption of shark parts. Limiting the consumption of shark parts will have positive health benefits for consumers and positive conservation outcomes for sharks, many of which are threatened with extinction due in part to the growing high demand for shark fin soup and, to a lesser extent, for shark meat and cartilage products,” Hammerschlag said.