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Sushi to Blame for Piven's Mercury Toxicity

Dec 19, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

Actor Jeremy Piven has stepped down from his Broadway role in the David Mamet play Speed-the-Plow following a diagnosis of "high mercury count," WebMD Health News is reporting.  The Washington Post said Piven’s doctor described him as having “shocking" levels of mercury in his system, which, said the paper, were likely caused by eating “excessive” amounts of sushi.  Mercury News described Piven as being “seriously ill.”

WebMD Health News notes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that high mercury levels can damage major organs as well as the immune system, especially in the developing fetus.  Piven’s physician—Carlon Colker, MD, FACN, FACSM—an attending physician at New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center and Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut and chief executive and medical director of Peak Wellness, according to the LA Times, spoke with WebMD about Piven’s diagnosis and prognosis.  Colker confirmed Piven’s mercury levels were not only “shockingly elevated,” but almost “six times the upper tolerable limit and the highest” the doctor “had ever seen in his practice,” adding, "You can imagine how stunned I was," according to WebMD.  Colker described Piven as suffering "extreme fatigue and exhaustion" which “progressed to ‘profound neuromuscular weakness ... dizziness and nausea," reported WebMD, adding it was at this point that the actor was hospitalized.  Colker told WebMD, "He was eating sushi twice a day for ye
ars ... and this is the problem.”  Web MD noted that, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the most common exposure to mercury is through fish and seafood.

In early 2004, the FDA and EPA issued advice to pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant, and young children about mercury, describing which fish and shellfish to avoid, reduce, and limit, said WebMD.  This August, noted WebMD, researchers revealed that some traditional Indian—so-called Ayurvedic—medicines might contain mercury, but Colker notes that Piven was not on any Ayurvedic medicines and although he took Chinese herbs, the main culprit was likely fish.

Meanwhile, earlier this week we wrote about how the FDA changed its position on seafood and mercury saying the benefits of seafood outweigh its mercury risks, and it was urging the government to amend it long-standing advisory limiting fish consumption in certain populations.  Now, the FDA said, most people should eat fish regardless of mercury concerns, the Washington Post is reported; if the FDA’s recommendation is approved by the White House, it would reverse the standing policy.

According to the LA Times, Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, told Culture Monster: "Mercury toxicity is a real condition with real symptoms that include headache, nausea, and systemic pain.”  MarketWatch reported that a report by the Mercury Policy Project this week stated that mercury poisonings are being seen nationwide, quoting Michael Bender, director of the Project as stating that, "Unfortunately, Piven's case is not that unusual.  Our report shares stories of people who each ate enough tuna or other store-bought fish to suffer mercury's effects, according to their physicians … these stories show that seafood contamination is a very real problem that should not be ignored."  Said MarketWatch, symptoms include impairment of the peripheral vision, disturbances in sensations and mental disturbances, lack of coordination, rashes, mood swings, and memory loss.


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