sealPurdue Science and Health Briefs

August 2000

Go fishing for fun, but eat more from the store

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – If you're trying to add more fish to your diet, grab most of it from the grocery store shelves, says Charlie Santerre, a Purdue University professor of foods and nutrition. According to his research, you're less likely to find contaminants in store-bought fillets than in fish pulled from local streams and rivers.

"After reading stories about contaminants in catfish, we decided to start collecting data on farm-raised fish," says Santerre, who was part of a team of researchers working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Southern Regional Aquaculture Center. "We tested catfish, red swamp crayfish and rainbow trout that were headed for the grocery store, and we found that they're safe."

In the most comprehensive study of its kind, published in the March issue of the Journal of Food Science, Santerre and researchers from seven other states tested farm-raised fish and crayfish for more than three dozen pesticides. In almost every case, contaminant levels in pond-raised fish were lower than levels of those same pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls in wild-caught fish from similar studies, Santerre says.

During the two-year study, Santerre tested 257 pond-raised catfish, 33 pond-raised trout and 38 pond-raised crayfish and found that they met FDA standards for PCBs, DDT, chlordane, dieldrin, hexachlorobenzene, heptachlor epoxide and several other pesticides. The first year, 10.5 percent of the catfish contained more chlorpyrifos than allowed by the FDA. By the end of that year, producers quit using the pesticide near ponds, and all catfish fillets were free of chlorpyrifos after that. No trout or crayfish had chlorpyrifos residues.

Because many of the catfish and trout fillets that end up on ice in the grocery store come from farm ponds, Santerre says, you can feel safe when you pick them up at the store.

And you should be eating fish, he says. They are a good source of protein and are full of omega-3 fatty acids. Health researchers have linked omega-3s to improved bone growth and decreased risk of coronary heart disease and some cancers.

If you fish for your own supper, however, you'd better beware, Santerre says.

"If you're going to catch fish out of rivers and streams," he says, "check the state fishing advisory to see if you should eat it, or how often you should eat it. Many waterways in many states are contaminated. In some streams and lakes along the Great Lakes, for example, PCB levels may be 10 times higher than the FDA action limit. In other waters, residues may be very low, so the bottom line is that anglers should check with state agencies before consuming wild-caught fish."

Fishermen can start by checking out the Environmental Protection Agency's online database, Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories, or the EPA Consumption Advisory Web site, which has links to downloadable consumption advisories.

CONTACT: Charlie Santerre, (765) 496-3443,

Web medicine: The new 'apple a day'?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – The Internet has the potential to dramatically affect the way medicine is practiced in this country, but surfing the Web is not going to replace a visit to the doctor's office any time soon.

That's according to James Anderson, a professor of medical sociology at Purdue University who has studied the impact of computers on medicine.

"The Internet has changed the way we communicate with each other and the way we gather information," Anderson says. "In the case of medical information and services, it's a bit of a double-edged sword. There is plenty of well-documented research available that can give consumers a leg up in understanding the complexity of their health-care issues, but there is also plenty of misinformation that can be misleading or just plain dangerous."

Anderson says consumers must first and foremost be vigilant about the reliability and accuracy of the Web-based information they are using to make health-related decisions.

"Web sites operated by reputable organizations such as the National Institutes of Health or the Mayo Clinic are going to be more reliable than others," he explains. "A recent survey of 60 Web sites offering treatment suggestions for the relatively common ailment of childhood diarrhea found that 80 percent of those sites contained inaccuracies when compared to official information from the American Academy of Pediatrics."

Anonymity is another concern, because consumers who seek medical advice online have no way of checking on the credentials of the person providing the information.

"Even if you are exchanging information with actual clinicians, it's very likely that they are not specialists in the area you need," Anderson says. "There is further debate about the safety issues involved when doctors prescribe medications over the Internet without ever having seen the patient, not to mention the fact that the Web is giving Americans access to foreign Internet pharmacies that dispense drugs that haven't been tested or approved for use in the United States."

Anderson says it will take time for regulations and the ability to enforce them to catch up with the current technology.

"The American Medical Association has made it clear that it opposes the dispensing of medication in this manner, but the Boards of Medical Examiners just don't have the resources necessary to properly investigate the number of Web sites providing diagnoses and prescriptions."

Another issue for consumers to consider is the possible conflict of interest that exists when a health-related Web site is financially supported by a pharmaceutical or herbal supplement company.

"If a company is sponsoring the Web site, it follows that its products may be heavily promoted or exclusively prescribed," Anderson explains.

But the one factor that is likely to determine whether online health-care service goes mainstream is the status of third-party reimbursement.

"Right now only the smallest fraction of health-related services available on the Web are covered by insurance," Anderson says. "That fact alone will keep most patients in waiting rooms rather than at home in front of their computers."

CONTACT: James Anderson, (765) 494-4703;

Compiled by Susan Gaidos, (765) 494-2081; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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