Sushi is great, isn't it? Not only is it a great way to enjoy a wide range of raw fishy treats, but with its neat rolls, pretty portions and rice stained in soy sauce, it's a healthy way to enjoy a ton of flavors in one sitting. Not bad at all... until one day, you find your love of sushi has caused a five-foot tapeworm to grow inside you.
Which you then have to pull out of your butt.
Dr. Tania Dempsey is a primary care physician operating out of Armonk in New York, and she says that parasitic worms are just one of the more horrifying things that can happen to your body when you eat a lot of sushi. Let's see how else sushi can totally make you sick.
1. Mercury poisoning
Back in the day, we used to use mercury in a lot more places than just our thermometers, but we stopped once we realized the adverse effects mercury can have on your body. This includes memory problems, muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, tremors and irritability. That's... a lot of symptoms. Big ocean fish like tuna and yellowtail are the biggest culprits for mercury poisoning, but Dr Dempsey says a lot of the fish used in sushi could lead to the sickness. "All fish contain some level of mercury, but most of the fish that is used in sushi rolls and sashimi are large fish, such as tuna, yellowtail, bluefin, sea bass and lobster, and they have the highest amounts of mercury," she said.
2. Parasites and tapeworms
Of course, we've already talked about the sushi lover who pulled altogether too much tapeworm from the business end of his digestive tract, but this is far from the only time that's happened. Another time, a man went to the hospital complaining of abdominal pain, and when doctors took a look at him, they found a parasite suctioned to the mucus in his upper abdominal wall. "The parasite that is on the rise is Anasakiasis, or herring worm disease," Dr. Dempsey reliably informs us. "Anisakis attaches itself to the stomach or intestines and causes acute abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever. In some cases, it can lead to an allergic, anaphylactic reaction."
A serious infection caused by eating contaminated food, listeria is especially dangerous to pregnant women, and can be found in both raw and smoked fish - typically, two kinds of fish you'll usually find in sushi. Nutritionist Stella Metsovas weighs in on this one, saying: "Pathogenic bacterias like Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus can wreak havoc in your gut." When that happens, you've got nausea, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain to look forward to.
While it's certainly an understatement to say that salmonella is better read about than it is experienced, it's a sad fact of life that most of us will meet with this harbinger of food poisoning at one point or another in our lives. "Salmonella poisoning can also occur from sushi," says Dr Dempsey. "Even viral infections like norovirus has been linked to eating raw sushi."
5. Scombroid food poisoning
Yay! More food poisoning to conend with. This time, we've got scombroid, which usually rears its ugly, parasitic head when you eat sushi that's not quite as fresh and cold as it should be. "Scombroid food poisoning is another food-borne illness caused by histamine that forms when fish are not kept cold enough and start to decay," Dr. Dempsey says. "The excess histamine does not get destroyed during heating and can cause allergic reactions and even anaphylaxis."
6. Man-made toxins
In the seafood and fisheries community, there's a massive debate as to whether farm-raised fish is better for you than wild-caught fish. It's actually a bit of a Catch-22; while wild-caught fish are more likely to have parasites and bacteria all over them, farm-raised have a whole host of man-made issues to contend with.
"Toxin exposure from sushi is significant," Dr. Dempsey explains. "PCBs [chlorine compounds] and pesticides have been found to contaminate farm-raised fish as well as wild fish from the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. Ciguatoxins are toxins produced by marine algae microorganisms that affect fish that feed near reefs such as red snapper, grouper, jack and barracuda."
Fair to say, you want to steer clear of ciguatoxins; in large doses, they can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, followed by neurological symptoms, and in rare cases, hallucinations or anxiety. Not fun.
Well, folks; if you consider yourself to be a fan of sushi, then I'm really, really sorry for the last 700 or so words. This shouldn't be viewed as a condemnation of the various forms of sushi; in fact, I might just get some for lunch today. It is, however, a cautionary tale on one of life's more interesting dishes.